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Something Something Diversity Something Star Wars

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Apr 09 2016 · 258 views

Essays, Not Rants! 212: Something Something Diversity Something Star Wars

There’s a new Star Wars trailer out, this time for Rogue One! Now, when they announced it to be about a ragtag band of Rebels stealing the Death Star plans; that got me excited. I’m all about ragtag teams pulling off heists. But then they announced the cast. We’ve got Felicity Jones starring and, in addition to Forest Whitaker, people with last names like Luna, Yen, Wen, and Ahmed. If there’s one thing I like as much as ragtag teams, it’s multinational ragtag teams (see: Atlantis: The Lost Empire, Big Hero 6, X-Com: Enemy Unknown). So I was excited for the trailer.

And it delivered. But, with the second new Star Wars movie in as many years, it also shows a commitment to a new direction being taken by the franchise. In The Force Awakens we had a female protagonist along with a far more diverse cast than Star Wars is known for. Rogue One once again has a female protagonist and what’s shaping up to be an even more diverse group of people.

This is important.

Which is something I say a lot about diversity, but this won’t be beating a dead horse until diversity stops being a special thing that only happens sometimes.

But what’s so wonderful about (the trailer for) Rogue One is how darned effortless they make that diversity. Because yes, diversity is easy, it just requires you to stop and think about it for a while. Somewhere along the line during Rogue One’s production the decision to bring back a Rebel leader had to have been made. Now, there are a bunch you could have; Jan Dodonna, General Rieekan, Admiral Ackbar, heck, you could even bring back Jimmy Smits as Bail Organa. But instead they went with Mon Mothma, also known as the One Other Named, Speaking, Female Rebel Who Isn’t Leia. It’s a small, almost arbitrary decision, but because of it the trailer just about passes the Bechdel Test, something that the Original Trilogy never did. Is passing the Bechdel Test that big a deal or even necessary? No. But the friggin’ teaser for the new Star Wars movie does what a surprisingly large number of major films fail to do. It’s a small thing (albeit awesome) that really showcases what the new status quo is.

On that note, let’s go back to that cast. Because dude, that cast. Again, the folks at Lucasfilm have made a conscious to ask the simple question of “why not?” when casting. Why not cast Donnie Freaking Yen as the space-samurai? Why not let Forest Whitaker be the guy in epic bounty-hunter looking armor? Why not have the seemingly lead male character be played by Diego Luna? It’s small, yes, but holy Cyprinidae is it awesome.

Let’s just look at East Asian characters first, since that’s important to me as that’s what I usually pass as. In the Original Trilogy, literally the only Asian character was a Y-Wing pilot during the Battle of Endor who got two lines and a couple seconds of screentime. The Force Awakens added X-Wing pilot and Admiral to that list. But on Thursday I got to see Donnie Yen, an actor I know from Hong Kong kung-fu ‘flicks, not only in a Star Wars movie but beating up Stormtroopers. It’s hard for me to put into words how freaking cool that is for me. When Big Hero 6 came out I got to see a superhero movie with a protagonist who looks like me. And now there’s a Star Wars movie coming out with a character I could cosplay and not have to add the prefix ‘Asian.’

I’m so psyched for this movie for so many reasons. A bunch of my friends think Rogue One’s looking to be even better than Force Awakens (my jury’s still out). When it comes down to it, though, how often do you get to see the stories you grew up with not just continue but to become as progressive as this?


Hey, wanna support diversity and science fiction in student films? Check out the teaser for my new movie here, support me on Kickstarter here, and like it on Facebook here. And tell your friends!


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Josh Kinda Just Wants To Talk More About Star Wars

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Apr 02 2016 · 156 views

Essays, Not Rants! 211: Josh Kinda Just Wants To Talk More About Star Wars

The Force Awakens’ planet-obliterating Starkiller Base is powered by absorbing its system’s sun and firing it as a weapon. This mechanic allows fighter pilot Poe Dameron to utter the phrase “but as long as there’s light, we got a chance” without it feeling remotely hollow or contrived. It reflects, as well, the standoff going off in another part of the planet and, even bigger, the general concept of the Star Wars saga as a whole. See, Star Wars is about the Light Side and the Dark Side, good and evil, all that. It’s a cosmic conflict, one that’s rendered all the more powerful when given a distinct visual flair — it’s no coincidence that when the climactic battle is at its bleakest the sun has disappeared and it’s in victory that it comes back. The understanding of the climax, then, is that the heroes lost all hope (note which scene we’re in when the light fades for good) but were still able to win in the end. Talk about story-theme-image synergy.

That a line like that can be worked so effortlessly into a story is a mark of director Abram’s mastery. By rights, it should be too corny to work, and in all honesty, yes, it is pretty darn corny. But we don’t care (or at least I don’t) because it fits perfectly in with what’s going on. Poe isn’t lecturing about some deeper issue; he’s appraising the battle’s situation.

Now, it works for Star Wars since the franchise, at its best, wears its heart proudly on its sleeve. But it doesn’t make being able to work its central theme so effortlessly any less impressive. It’s not something a lot of movies can do, but is one that Star Wars can because, well, science fiction.

So here we are again, talking about how the silliness of scifi (a weapon powered by absorbing a sun?) allows it to go places non-genre fiction can’t. Heck, not just scifi. Life of Pi is all about stories. Because it deals with such an outlandish situation (in a lifeboat with a tiger. Also mysterious floating islands), Pit’s retelling of it to the company men at the end forces us, as readers, to reconsider all that happened. Ultimately, we’re left with the same conclusion that Secondhand Lions came to: the factualness of a story is less important than the Truth of it. But because we’ve been with Pi throughout his adventure, him asking the company men (and us) what makes the better story feels downright natural.

You can’t just throw ideas at a thing and hope it sticks. Avatar tried its darnedest to embed a green message in its narrative, but it felt heavy handed because it had so little to do with what the story was really about (finding your true self in another culture that— okay, so maybe Avatar would have benefitted by keeping the green theme more front and center). The best themes are so well worked in that you only realize them subconsciously at first.

Anyway. I'm still exhausted from my movie shoot. And my copy of The Force Awakens gets to my apartment in a few days and I can’t wait. And I love that Abrams was able to work that line into the movie so effortlessly.

What movie? Check out the Facebook page here!


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Four Years

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Mar 27 2016 · 118 views

Essays, Not Rants! 210: Four Years

I’ve had this blog for about four years now.

Four years.

And I’m pretty sure this is the first time I’ve missed my self-imposed midnight EST deadline.

Why? I’ve been hard at work on my movie, The Conduits, and today marked us being half done with shooting. Which is good. In the meantime you should check out the Facebook page (linked back there) and the Kickstarter here. And tell your friends.

But anyway, keeping this blog has been a real experience. Bene help at developing a voice and it’s forced me to really look deeper at some things. Especially fiction, and why we tell those stories.

I want to write more today, I really do, but I’m exhausted and need to get some sleep.

Expect more next week, folks; and thanks for reading these rants essays.


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Fear of The Unknown

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Mar 19 2016 · 124 views

Essays, Not Rants! 209: Fear of the Unknown

One of the wonderful agonies I found when I started watching Lost years and years ago was the show’s tendency to show a character’s reaction to a revelation/object/monster rather than the revelation/object/monster itself. It became characteristic of the show, and something emblematic of Abrams’ style.

Granted, J.J. Abrams had little involvement with Lost past the pilot, but he did work with Damon Lidelof to lay much of the show’s groundwork. Including, presumably, Abrams’ love of the Mystery Box. See, according to him, there’s a certain level of suspense and wonderment to be found in not knowing something. That there is a mysterious monster is more frightening — and in some ways more beautiful — than what it is. It’s less important what’s in the hatch than that there is one. The best horror writer is the one in your head, coming up with all sorts of half-formed possibilities for why something might be the way it is.

More than anything though, it makes us want to see what’s going on. Take Predator, due to the alien’s stealth, we spend much of the film not knowing what’s killing Dutch’s squad. Simply knowing something’s out there, something we can’t see and something deadly enough to take out an elite band of mercenaries, is terror enough. Alien does the same thing, withholding a good view of the Xenomorph as long as possible, leaving us to fill in the gaps on this monster. It’s effective, so much so that finally seeing the titular alien would be a letdown were it not for H.R. Geiger’s inspired design.

Point is: there’s something to be said for being restrained.

Cloverfield, that found-footage monster movie produced by Abrams, is in actuality a magnificent exercise in restraint. Rather than doing what Godzilla and virtually every other monster-invasion movie does, Cloverfield focused only on a small group of friends trying to survive on the ground. There’s no sweeping shots or frantic discussions in a war room. The found-footage nature of it forces the filmmakers to keep it small and, in turn, the audience in the dark. We see the monster’s limbs, we see smaller monsters, and all the time it’s scarier because we don’t see it in full. The possibility of it all is far more frightening.

Keeping in that sensibility is the not-a-but-kinda-sequel 10 Cloverfield Lane. Trapped in a bunker with a captor/savior while Armageddon might have happened outside, protagonist Michelle — and the audience — is left to fill in the clues as to what happened. We don’t know what happened outside, we don’t know if Howard is really doing this out of the kindness of his heart, heck, we don’t know what his angle is at all. That the movie is not particularly forthcoming on any of this makes every hint of malice or mystery terrifying. There’s nothing scarier than not knowing what’s going on.

10 Cloverfield Lane earns this, however, by making sure we know Michelle on at least some level. We aren’t totally in the dark, we have a handle on our protagonist and thus we can react with her to all the crazy stuff going on. We have a touchstone, a constant, a frame known to counter the unknown. Without that, 10 Cloverfield would be more frustrating than gripping.

Y’know, I’m not a fan of horror movies. Too much reliance on squick and pain and how downright creepifying something can be. But what 10 Cloverfield Lane, Alien, and Lost did are much more my jam. The simple fear of the unknown taken up to eleven, an implacable fear that you can’t quite put a finger on. Now that is terrifying.

Also, 10 Cloverfield Lane is a dang fine movie you should check out and I wanna rant about, but won’t because the less you know the better. Like I said, it’s scarier when you know less.


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Of Zootopia

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Mar 12 2016 · 192 views

Essays, Not Rants! 208: Of Zootopia

Stories are often a reflection of reality. Star Wars was a reflection of the existential threat posed by the Cold War. The Hurt Locker was, quite obviously, a discussion of the human cost of war. The Revenant reflected Leonardo DiCaprio’s all-consuming want for an Oscar.

And then there’s Zootopia. Which holds an unrelenting, condemning-yet-hopeful mirror to modern America. Which you wouldn’t exactly expect, because it’s a major Disney movie. Nonetheless, couched in this story of bunny cops is an incredible exploration of prejudice that your ‘deep’ friend on Facebook wishes they could have written as a status.

In Zootopia, anthropomorphic animals live in a city. But unlike any other story about anthropomorphic animals, the fact that they are animals is actually a big deal. A rabbit (like the protagonist) is tiny and water buffalos are massive. Foxes are predators, and sheep are prey. With these differences comes the logical divides and ostracizing; prey think predators are dangerous, and big animals discount the efforts of smaller ones.

The movie seems to have some very simple analogues. Judy is a rabbit and the first rabbit on Zootopia’s police force which leads to some dismissing her joining the team as just the diversity initiative paying off. So right off the bat the movie seems posed to position Judy as the Other. She, because she's a rabbit, is bullied and downtrodden on by other animals. The arc for the story seems clear enough: Judy will have to overcome the prejudice against her species and prove that she's as good a cop as anyone else. So like that Jackie Robinson movie no one saw, but with a bunny cop instead of a black baseball player.

The movie could have built the whole thing around that premise and we'd have gotten another movie about overcoming adversity and all that. Done deal. Nothing wrong there.

But Zootopia goes further.

When preparing to move to the titular city, Judy is warned by her parents to be careful of 'those people,' in particular foxes. She pushes back, but it's made clear that prey too hold prejudices against predators. Especially foxes who are in general seen as being sly and dishonest. The general consensus on foxes is that they’re, for the most part, a bunch of good-for-nothing louts. Something Judy’s pretty sure she disagrees with.

Now hold on, you (like me), may be thinking. The simple analogy of Zootopia is starting to break down. If the rabbits are the people-group who are oppressed, why then do they hold their own biases against foxes? And shouldn’t Idris Elba’s water buffalo get along with Judy since they’re both prey?

Zootopia is so much more complex than it lets on. Within the movie, everyone has prejudices. Judy’s own relationship with Nick the fox sees her trying to prove that he’s decent, then having her fears come true, and then getting to know him for who he is and not just as a fox. And that all happens within the first half-hour. See, the movie crafts a world where it can overtly discuss, well, racism, without necessarily pointing fingers at anyone.

I can’t overstate how amazing it is to see Zootopia tackle this topic head on with such nuance. This is a movie where the hero’s loss of faith isn’t losing a friend, being fired, or what have you, but when Judy is forced to realize her own innate prejudices. What comes next is the realization that someone can be a good person and still be prejudiced, but also that people can change.

Thats the beauty of stories. They’re trojan horses that sneak profundity in where you least expect it. Zootopia’s got incredible world building and is beautifully animated, but it uses it all to tell a beautiful narrative about overcoming your own prejudices. It’s magnificently done; we need more stories like this.

And holy cyprinidae, this is a kid’s movie!


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Living in Science Fiction

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Mar 05 2016 · 127 views

Essays, Not Rants! 207: Living in Science Fiction

Is the movie Gravity science fiction? This was the discussion a friend of mine and I were having while talking about science fiction and fantasy winning Oscars — Gravity got Best Director, but is it really science fiction?

Wikipedia, IMDb, and such call it science fiction, given that it’s, well, in space. That’s usually the threshold for science fiction.

But something in space is hardly imaginative anymore. An astronaut who just returned from spending an entire year in space. SpaceX launches rockets on the regular. Of course, there is the room for an outlandish situation; Moon was grounded, but had mining on the moon, countless others have aliens. Gravity, though, is about someone being stranded in space because of a freak debris field. For all intents and purposes, the setting of Gravity is as much science fiction as Apollo 13. That is to say, it’s not, it’s really not.

Gravity is, in many ways, a more modern Castaway. In both stories relatively unqualified people are, due to an event beyond human control, stranded in the middle of nowhere by themselves that then prove the resilience of the human spirit by making their way back to civilization. Granted, Gravity takes place over a far shorter period of time, but that’s kinda due to the fact that it takes place in modern reality where people can’t breathe in space.

In other words, labelling Gravity science-fiction is a product of an outdated standard that something in space is automatically considered science-fiction. That’s something that makes science-fiction so weird as a genre: what’s scifi might not always be scifi. We don’t consider the first episode of Sherlock science-fiction, even though its heavy use of smartphones would definitely qualify it as some sort of techno-thriller were it produced in the eighties. Same with Gravity; it isn’t science-fiction today, but to, say, the sixties it’d be what The Martian is to us today.

Science-fiction, at least the sort inhabited by movies like Moon, The Martian and Ex Machina (more fantastical fare like Star Wars and Star Trek are another matter entirely), are rooted in having some bit of futuristic technology. Moon’s got lunar mining, The Maritian’s got a Mars base, Ex Machina incredibly advanced AI. But if we were to develop any of those technologies the fiction part of the science would be closer to the events surrounding them. If we were to develop both rogue AI and hover cars, the biggest incongruity in Blade Runner would be that Atari was supposed to still be a major brand.

I think that’s one reason why I’ve always loved science-fiction — there’s this air to it of asking what if. What if there was something new that would change the world. It takes what you know and twists it to be something, well, more. It’s a dreamer’s genre. What if you could live on a submarine deep beneath the sea? What if we made contact with aliens? What if there were giant monsters trying to kill us and so we made giant mecha to fight back? What if we could carry phones out of the house and in our pockets?

So is Gravity science-fiction? If it is, it’s still a good movie, but it’s pretty low-grade science-fiction.Yes, it fully utilizes the genre’s capability for telling parables, but it doesn’t really do anything with the almighty What If. Not to mention it’s something that, given the right circumstances, could happen tonight. I realize I’m going back on what I said some time ago in another blog post (the one I just linked to), but no, I don’t really think Gravity should count as science-fiction.

‘cuz we’ve already got people in space doing space things on space stations.


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Differently Normal

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Feb 27 2016 · 144 views

Essays, Not Rants! 206: Differently Normal

I’m currently in the middle of my second game of Subterfuge, a wonderful mobile strategy game rife with cunning, manipulation, and, er, subterfuge. Within the game our Specialists, special hires which essentially let you bend the rules of the game. While most everything in the game is depicted abstractly, the Specialists are all given little portraits. And here’s where the game’s art design shines: LOOK AT THAT DIVERSITY! For a wonderful change, ‘white male’ isn’t the default look and no one’s role is limited by their race; the Navigator’s Asian and the Princess is black!

There’s a misconception that making a character not a white dude means having to make it a story about not being a white dude. Which is a real pain. Sometimes it’s nice to get to just be seen, no strings attached.

Look at Big Hero 6, which I liked for a number of reasons, in no small part because I got to watch a movie with a main character who looks like me. Another reason I really liked it was that Hiro’s race was completely inconsequential. Hiro’s half-Asian (like me!) but he still gets to be the everyman. His race has no more to do with his arc than Luke Skywalker’s. And that’s cool!

See, when ‘white and male’ is subliminally registered as the default, chances are you’re going to go with a white dude when you need someone relatively nondescript and ordinary. So when you need an everyman — y’know, that person who could be anyone — you end up going with a white guy. It’s why Bruce Willis played the ordinary cop who had to save the building in Die Hard. It’s why Bruce Willis played the ordinary cab driver who had to save the galaxy in The Fifth Element. It’s why Bruce Willis played the ordinary driller who had to save the planet in Armageddon.

But you can shake things up and make, say, a woman the chosen one. Or a black dude the guy who decides to try and fight for something more. And a Latino the ace fighter pilot. Guys, I really like The Force Awakens. But it’s important, because it — and this is crucial — means anyone can be anyone.

I’ve been watching The Expanse later, because I’m a sucker for spaceships with excellent worldbuilding and interesting politicking. What’s also caught my attention is the show’s bent towards inclusiveness. Most obvious is the Undersecretary of the UN who’s played by an Indian woman — and dresses the part. She’s hardly a simple ersatz Gandhi, though; Chrisjen Avasarala is afforded the same complex goals and characterization of Cersei in Game of Thrones. In The Expansive we find an Indian character with depth and complexity well beyond what’s usually afforded non-white characters in Western media. There’s more, too! In one episode we hear reference to the Captain of a Martian warship. When we meet her, she’s Captain Yao, a small Chinese woman who’s first name is essentially ‘Captain.’ That is to say, her identity as ship’s captain is in no way impacted by her race: she’s not a Chinese captain, she’s a captain who happens to be Chinese. The distinction here is crucial, it means that these characters’ identities can be defined more by their jobs and personalities rather than the color of their skin.

Look, there’s a time and place for stories about race. But if the only stories about people who aren’t white is about being non-white, it’s just another form of discrimination where only caucasian people get to be ‘normal.’ We need more Hiros and Avasaralas, characters who get the depth and complexity no matter what they look like. Let’s make the everyman anyone.


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Tarantino, Iñárritu, and The Art of Indulgence

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Feb 20 2016 · 276 views

Essays, Not Rants! 205: Tarantino, Iñárritu, and The Art of Indulgence

I finally saw The Revenant this week. I also saw The Hateful Eight the same day and it’s really interesting to have seen them back to back. Both are by directors who are arguably auteurs, both are classified as Westerns, and both are covered in their fingerprints.

Filmmakers have their trademarks. Something by Joss Whedon will be rife with witty dialogue. J.J. Abrams’ stories will have mystery and wonder. A Michael Bay movie will have explosions and questionable depictions of women. You’ve got these people who’ve developed both a reputation and a style such that you know what you’re in for when you see one of their movies.

Quentin Tarantino and Alejandro Iñárritu are both directors who have their own very distinct style. Tarantino takes pulpy subject matter, throws in wall-to-wall banter, and a plethora of references to other films. Iñárritu does Art with a very important capital ‘A.’ Their newest movies, The Hateful Eight and The Revenant (respectively) are both them given an incredibly long leash and them making movies that are very much them.

For Tarantino, it means a movie that rests almost entirely on the dialogue. Hateful is sparse on locations and heavy on dialogue, telling a story that’s essentially what if Tarantino got to have a go at Clue. Though clocking in at three hours (including an intermission!), it doesn’t feel overlong courtesy of the twisting plot and engagingly sociopathic characters. Tarantino plays to his strengths. So yes, the movie is Tarantino-esque to the point of indulgence, but it doesn’t get in the way of telling a good story. Laden within the layers of dialogue and duplicity is motivation and hints as to what’s to come.

The Revenant is an entirely different beast. Iñárritu, as shown in Birdman, has a very clear idea as to what constitutes art and his latest movie takes it to a whole new level. There are long epic shots a plenty with a mind boggling level of complexity to them. Then knowing that the whole thing was done using only natural light and there’s no denying the considerable talent behind the movie. The Revenant lets Iñárritu really go wild with it, putting his visuals front and center so everyone can know what he really considers Art.

Thing is, for all its gorgeous imagery, The Revenant feels something like an exercise in futility. The craft is incredible, the plot is meandering. And that’s an issue: all the pretty pictures in the world don’t mean jack if your story sucks. The second act of The Revenant is essentially Leonardo DiCaprio’s character crawling through the American wilderness. Stunningly executed? Yes. Incredibly boring? That too. Stories need statue changes to keep things interesting — Luke goes from Tatooine to the Death Star to a Trash Compactor and so on. The Revenant has Leo crawling in snow here, then snow there, this river, and then that river. Everything about the film exists to showcase the cinematography. Iñárritu’s indulgence means a relentlessly grim movie that exists almost to say “see how much a better moviemaker I am than you.” As a friend of mine said, the only thing missing from it were the words “For your consideration” right after the closing shot.

There’s that saying about necessity being the mother of invention. I’m pretty sure there’s a corollary to that adage about how limitations force you to do better. Look at the Star Wars prequels for an example of an unrestrained writer/director compared to the original film. Indulging in what you love as a storyteller also means knowing when to cool your jets. Tarantino, in The Hateful Eight, knew to not just write banter for the sake of showing off, but to also keep the plot moving along at quick pace. Hateful Eight mayn’t be a perfect movie, but it’s still a darn enjoyable one. The Revenant, on the other hand is Iñárritu’s unbridled pretension mixed with DiCaprio’s Oscar desperation indulged to the point of maniacal self-absorption.


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Juggling an AK

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Feb 13 2016 · 200 views

Essays, Not Rants! 204: Juggling An AK

I’ve had some brushes with virtual reality before, through prototype Oculi and Google Cardboard — working at a game center has its perks. It’s really cool to be able to see a world around you and look around it; one game in particular had a PS3 controller hooked up so you could move too. All very neat stuff, a little gimicky, sure, but it’s exciting to see that level of immersion.

Then I had the chance to play Epic’s “Bullet Time” tech demo today.

And wow.

Lemme break it down. You’re wearing an Oculus Rift, a VR headset that also senses your head’s movement so turns with you within a simulated 3D space. In your hands is the Oculus Touch, something sorta like a traditional console controller split in half mixed with a remote. There’s also a sensor that tracks where your hands are, so if you move your hands up, then the hands you see move up too.

“Bullet Time” uses the Touch’s triggers to control your character’s fingers: the one by your middle finger holds on to things, the one beneath your index finger pulls triggers. So if you see a gun lying around (in the headset) you reach towards it (in real life) and grab it with the controller and you grab it in the game. Pull the top trigger to fire, let go of the lower one to drop it. Once you get the hang of it, man, it is immersive. The physicality of it sucks you in like you wouldn’t believe and it’s a fantastic time.

But where it really shines is the sheer number of verbs VR offers.

Games have a certain number of verbs; in the first Halo those verbs are move, shoot, jump, throw a grenade, swap guns, drive, turn your flashlight on/off, and a couple more. The things you can do are limited to the controller and, for the most part, it’s enough for a great game. “Bullet Time” has a different set of verbs, there’s still ‘shoot,’ but ‘move’ is dropped in favor of the ability to teleport to different pre-defined spots (it is a tech demo, after all). The fact that you can move your arms independently, however, are where things get really interesting.

In a normal shooter, you shoot where you’re looking. In “Bullet Time” you shoot where your gun is pointed. Can you shoot behind you? Yes. Can you grab two pistols and fire them in opposite directions? Yes. Suddenly there’s a lot more freedom to how you’re doing the shooting in what could be a very normal on-rails shooter.

The grab mechanic, though, is what really opens it up. You can grab bullets fired at you out of the air and throw them back at the shooter, something that gives you a whole lotta satisfaction — I actually paused for a second the first time I grabbed a bullet, pleasantly surprised that I’d actually managed to catch it in what felt like my hand. You can grab and throw grenades at people or, if you want, guns. The game registers the force behind your motions and translates it appropriately.

So naturally I asked myself a very simple question: If I lightly tossed an AK-47 in the air, could I grab it with my other hand? Turns out that yes, you can, and juggling a virtual AK is a lotta fun. A sorta fun that probably wasn’t intended by Epic when they made the game.

Having a wide range of verbs allows for a huge amount of freedom. Look at Dungeons and Dragons; it’s table-top and imagination-based nature lets players do anything their Game Master will let them. Video games are, for the most part, limited by the number of actions developers can map to the controllers. But VR like the Oculus stands to really change it all up. I can honestly now say that VR’s really cool tech and I do look forward to what it means for games and art — imagine that, a 3D space you can interact with at will.

A Holodeck might just be closer than we thought.


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Window Dressing

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Feb 06 2016 · 143 views

Essays, Not Rants! 203: Window Dressing

Taxis are in a rush. That’s a known fact (that I thought as I did my usual ritual of staring down a cab driver today). It’s also a vital part of the game Crazy Taxi. The arcade-style driving game has you speeding around a time, picking up customers and dropping them off as quick as you can. It’s fun, and an excellent time and/or quarter sink.

But how vital is the taxi part of Crazy Taxi? Sure, speeding around an ersatz San Francisco and dodging trucks is great, but does it need that taxi-ness — that surrounding narrative — to work? Strip away all the window dressing and the game’s mechanics are quite simple: the player drives around an area getting objectives which, when completed well, nets the player more points and time. Could be in space, could be blocks moving around, you could throw Mario on it and call it a day. Instead, you play as a crazy taxi driver dodging traffic.

So what does the narrative window dressing of a cab driver bring to the story? Why is setting it in contemporary (ca. 1999) America better than setting it in space? Because then it’d be a different thing. I mean, obviously. It’s why The Magnificent Seven and The Seven Samurai can tell a similar story and yet still be completely different movies. Look at The LEGO Movie and The Matrix. Both adhere to Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey with a religious ferocity: a nobody turns out to be really special, goes into a different world, acquires new skills, and saves the day. One’s plastic toys and the other’s a cyberpunk dystopia. They have what’s essentially the same mechanics with different window dressing and thus gives them each different narratives.

Look at The Matrix: it filters the Hero’s Journey through a cyberpunk aesthetic and a decidedly blatant Messiah analogy. All these details — the window dressing — lets The Matrix mix in Plato’s Allegory of The Cave and a critique of consumeristic culture. George Lucas’ rendition of the Hero’s Journey (Star Wars, duh) doesn’t lend itself to that commentary — The Matrix's aesthetic is incredibly important to its narrative.

Because The LEGO Movie is about, er, LEGO, it can play fast and loose with its setting and characters (Batman leaves a pirate ship to join Han and Lando in the Millennium Falcon? Awesome!). It also means the film can tap into the general collective consciousness concerning that plastic toy and what it has to do with being a kid. Imagination is a big part of playing with toys, especially LEGO ‘cuz, y’know, you build stuff. Mix that in with the child-like love of storytelling that lends the film’s live action segment its earnest seriousness and you have a wonderful movie that’s simultaneously similar to The Matrix and yet nothing like it. All because the same structure got given a different coating.

This is, in part, why Crazy Taxi works so well. We know that cabbies are in a rush. That’s a given. So it makes sense that if we’re gonna get to play as a cabbie, we’re gonna be rushing about the place. It’s what gives it an urgency that dressing the mechanics up as, say, a postman or a waiter wouldn’t. It’s because of the whole narrative surrounding speeding cabs that makes the game work.
That and, y’know, it’s just a whole lot of fun.






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josh

twenty-five


grew up on a ship


studied Narrative (Re)Construction

at New York University


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

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