Saturday, June 22, 2019

Godzilla: King of nothing much in particular

at 1:55 AM
Finally! caught up with this. It's not hard to see why everyone's already lost interest - I didn't think it was especially bad or good, just a hodgepodge of interesting ideas, fanservice, dumb politics and mediocre family drama, none given enough time to stand out. Particularly the loudly iterated but never explored themes of can we live alongside monsters, is there a natural order, who is responsible for making this decision, etc. These are good questions, and good questions for a Godzilla movie, but after the establishing 30 minutes everything is exploding so quickly that no one has a moment to think.

What works: Rodan looks better than ever, I loved the fiery redesign and trailing embers. Took an indistinguishable giant flying thing and made it into a true fire demon. Ghidorah's and Godzilla's designs are perfectly passable, although the new potbelly (a GMK reference?) does Godzilla no favors. The Mothra CGI is weak. The movie is full of incredibly striking frames of monsters-as-gods in conflict, clearly taking visual inspiration from mythological artwork and succeeding with flying colors. The most garish and also the coolest is Ghidorah atop a volcano with a leaning cross in the foreground. Oddly, each of the monsters gets an opportunity to menacingly emerge from darkness (ocean/ash/stormclouds//waterfall), and those individual shots are like lightning.

I liked most of the fanservice too (like a protest sign reading DESTROY ALL MONSTERS), and in that vein I'm glad that they recognized this was the correct moment to open up the floodgates and start bringing in the crazier genre elements of the franchise. If you'd told me at outset that this movie was going to end with a dozen monsters kneeling and bowing their heads in front of Godzilla's throne, I'd have said fuck you. After the return of the bird machine, the oxygen destroyer, G-Force (basically... Monarch even has a flying fortress, not called the Super X), Ghidorah being a confirmed alien, and best of all, thermal Godzilla, I still wasn't fully sold on the moment, but I was willing to nod and say okay.

The right visuals, the right elements, so what went wrong? The script is fine enough. It gets the roles the characters should be in, how to relate people to the monsters, and how to establish a rising threat. But the movie is incredibly busy and noisy, the perennial Hollywood shaky-keys in front of a crying baby. So much effort, energy, and animation is put into simple establishing action like "a helicopter lands and the characters get out" (already a rather loud way to open a scene) that the movie is bulldozed into a pile of atonal rubble. The camera is constantly swinging, the soundtrack is constantly blaring, the lighting is constantly shifting, all to the effect of a quickly tiresome movie wasted on moments where nothing spectacular is happening. I expect Godzilla movies to have boring parts, and I expect dumb characters and pointless conflicts, but I'd rather them be sleepy and sobering than blaring and melodramatic, because the way this movie is, the actual monster action I'm here to see doesn't stand out, and I have no time to process it.

Which is of course not helped by the incessant cutting. Jesus is this poorly edited action. Is it too much to ask for 30 uninterrupted seconds of a single shot? Or even 30 uninterrupted seconds without shifting locations? All of the fights are chopped up with asinine crap like landing a helicopter with no characters on it in an airplane that has unclear problems solved by an otherwise useless protagonist. The only thing as galling as the editing is any scene with the nonsensical Emma, a character that is maybe supposed to be a villain, or maybe supposed to be a hero, but I can't tell because the actress and/or mannequin in the role doesn't move a single part of her face or body during the entire film. Also, can anyone explain why Sally Hawkins is in these movies? It was so weird seeing her *yet again* show up to give a single scene of backstory exposition.

Given Michael Dougherty's history (I like Superman Returns and X2, but don't love either), I think he was just fine to write this film, and as with Superman and X-Men he seems to get the characters and make sure their traditional presence is maintained (Ghidorah is an intelligent evil alien, Mothra is a benevolent martyr who always loses her fights, Rodan is angry). I would've much rather seen Gareth Edward's take on that script, but as such, KoM doesn't do any real harm to the franchise.

Friday, April 5, 2019

Jordan Peele's THE US

at 1:01 PM
What a letdown. I missed GET OUT so this was my first look at Peele, and if this is the new face of horror I'm not sure where I fell off the bus. The last thing I was expecting was a reboot of mid-00's slasher reboots, complete with overplayed pop songs (sometimes used *ironically*!), explicit references to older horror movies, too many scenes set inside an SUV, a twist designed entirely not to make sense (explaining why the final girl and the killer are bound by fate), and flatly irritating expendable meat (who make our heroes look psychotic, both by being friends with these people and being happy when they die (and this extends into the core family - if any characters but the mother and son had any sympathetic traits, please fill me in)).

There's so much character-burning comic relief that this ends up significantly north of most Adult Swim shorts in a comedy/horror mapping. That's an even bigger problem when you're already riding the line with black humor (is the line "we're Americans" meant to get a big laugh, like it did in my theater?) and have drawn a clear SAFETY line around the main characters. Comedy is a black hole that sucks in everything close enough to count, why beg for laughs like that? Most of the third act plays like an SNL sketch. It all makes so absurdly little sense that I can't believe it draws attention to itself that way (you don't see SUSPIRIA trying to explain what the fuck just happened).

What's most disappointing is that the concept is so terrific and a small handful of shots so perfect (opening credits, a roadside accident) that I hated watching it wasted on just another slasher (parody?). Replace the clones with Michaels Myers and the whole thing plays out the same. Maybe the subtext falls off, but I ain't giving out subtext points til you can pass on surface text (and anyway, I'm really not sure it does need clones to make sense). I'm not even going to start listing the missed opportunities, because a doppelganger movie without a single case of mistaken identity says it all. The clones being kind of stupid and extra hard to kill makes them more like zombies anyway, and if I start comparing this to Night of the Living Dead I'm going to need to lie down.

Just terrible. At times almost so-bad-it's-good.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Come on, God of War isn't a brawler, don't be ridiculous

at 10:00 AM
Sorry there are more enemies in God of War than grunt and minotaur? They must've been hiding behind the sheer millions of grunt and minotaur corpses when I was playing. You haven't even gotten to the part where it's two straight hours of grunt fights ("the whole game lol!" no you don't even know). Pretty much everything about God of War's brawling is wrong, so starting from enemy variation is far too high on the chain. I think that's one place where it's bad, but not unforgivably so. The fact it's so noticeable is more a symptom of the failure of everything else.

Why doesn't combat with a single enemy work? The omnidirectional i-framed-up dodge move means position doesn't matter, so the game space is reduced to one dimension. Then the grab trumps everything (if you haven't already discovered), so we're in a volitional difficulty situation. Survival is only challenging so long as the player voluntary limits their options. Feedback on moves is near impossible to read because the chain is just a giant swath that hits eight enemies at once and conflates all their states (plus might have different effects based on distance). Who fucking knows how much damage anything does. Not to mention every combo looks like the exact same noisy mess. Then dial-a-combos for button mashing heaven, but also free interrupts (dodge) because it started to get hard. Stuff like "there's a launcher" is typical "we don't understand what is happening in the combat and why it isn't fun, what's something else that Devil May Cry has?" I couldn't tell you exactly from game to game within the series, but I believe the launcher is completely useless almost always. You can dodge to get out of combos, why would you need to be in the air? 1D game space. I think the toughest the game ever gets is when there's a boss that has an attack you're supposed to block, and you have to remember what button is block again.

But all that is totally beside the point, because God of War doesn't expect the player to take initiative and explore offensive capabilities within the combat. God of War is a game about having violent semi-realistic animations applied to spectacular mythological creatures. Everything else about the game flows from that. You can contend that Devil May Cry is a game about having a cool anime guy do stylish sword swings at demons; granting that this is of course wrong, the difference is that Dante's "style" is his offense, it is the sequence of moves he performs and that the player controls. God of War is centered on the baddies. This is why its primary novelty is extended cutscene kills, and why executions are the only thing it bothers to incentivize. It's why the boss fights aren't even beat-em-up style half the time. It even kind of explains why grab is so OP (it has a unique animation). The button mashing is just there to connect the dots.

I've played a few dozen 3D beat-em-ups at this point, and I can fairly confidently say that God of War is the worst. The only thing giving me pause is that I can't clearly remember the story mode from Tekken 6. But I don't think God of War wants to be compared to Devil May Cry - in its mind, it belongs to the same genre as Uncharted. To be clear, I don't think it's successful as a cinematic experience either. There's no excuse for filler, and it has especially arbitrary quick-time events (on part with RE4). Asura's Wrath is basically the same idea done correctly, though I think GoW2 and GoW3 are a lot better too.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

A thought on strategy in Armored Core / Daemon X Machina

at 7:00 AM
It occurred to me in considering Dick Terrell vs. Daemon X Machina that an appealing, if uselessly vague, way of describing strategy games is "puzzle games with statistics instead of rules". Decisions are weighted and evaluated in parallel rather than binary in series. 

Armored Core is in a sense the apotheosis of that idea, since there are so many decision points (equipment) weighted across so many variables (the stat sheet for a mech has a dozen or so parameters in the first game and probably 50ish by AC5), yet they are all codependent (since there's only one mech per mission). If you think about buying/loading gear as the fleet-building stage of Sins of a Solar Empire, with the choice of arm/leg/missile/etc corresponding to choice of frigates/cruisers/carriers/etc, I think they line up fairly well in terms of what the player ought to be calculating and trying to predict. There's more pressure in the action phase of Armored Core because the player is in full control of the mech, which is the advantage (design-wise) of unifying all the statistical parameters. The player needs to design a mech that they are also capable of piloting, and some decisions will be based on accomodating that (for instance, a novice might prefer a slow machine with higher armor because they find the controls clunky and can't take advantage of the ability to dodge). On the flipside, there's more pressure in the decision phase of Sins, because the entire game is played out in real-time. The action itself is almost completely automated, sheer number-crunching.

It makes me wonder what a mech game with real-time mech building would play like. Probably similar to a traditional RTS (StarCraft), since Sins and AC are kind of sitting at two extremes. StarCraft does have full unit control, it's just - there are so many independent elements that the technical bar for maximizing strategic efficiency is incredibly high, and the casual level of play relies on a lot of Sins-style automation. For the real-time element (in this theoretical mech game) to make sense, there'd probably need to be some kind of resource race, and the mech would need to be upgradeable on the fly (since there would be no additional/replacement units to build - otherwise resources would become irrelevant as soon as combat began).

Actually, if you took the standard RTS model (building drones and exploring a map to gather materials), this starts to look a lot like a MOBA. MOBAs after all were built from an experiment with WarCraft 3, asking what would happen if the player controlled just one powerful "hero" unit instead of a bunch of disposable little ones (the original Defense of the Ancients, if I'm not mistaken). MOBAs just tend to have really boring/convoluted combat, since they use an action model designed and for decades optimized for controlling dozens of independent units in parallel. They don't do nearly as good a job as Armored Core at taking the aforementioned advantage of unifying your parameters. The Dynasty Warriors/Musou games are somewhere in the middle here - only a few player units and combat more complex than League of Legends, but much simpler than Armored Core. They don't have much of a prep phase, though, and therefore play more like tactics-action than strategy-action.

Huh. So what really obvious game am I forgetting about that does exactly what I'm describing? What about if we add a metroidvania backtracking structure, roguelite procedurally generated encounters, and soulslike boss battles? Tune in tomorrow to find out. 

Monday, February 18, 2019

Back in the CCCR New Mario Revisited

at 10:04 AM
you can turn off the jump/twirl dual mapping by holding in the left control stick for a few seconds on the title screen

what the fuck