Funny How the Road Works on You…

When I drive, often times it feels like an escape.  Provided it’s a highway, my mind finds this sense of peace wherein it’s myself, the road, and the world.  Driving home from Louisiana, that wasn’t always the case.  When I was driving a van of 10 people, silent, sleeping, amid the nighttime “kathunk kathunk kathunk” of open road, my mind wandered to the past.  Maybe it was the lack of music.  Maybe the hardships we’d seen.  Maybe, also, the lack of real scenery (nighttime can do that).  However, it was brought on, I found my mind being pulled to things I’d sooner let go.

I try not to dwell on regrets, but for those driving stints, I kept thinking about things I had done I wish I hadn’t.  Things I’d said.  Friends I’d lost for certain action or inactions.  I wouldn’t be writing you this, except for the thought which brought me back.  It’s funny how experience changes a person.  There are times in our lives when we are put in such straits that we find ourselves saying or doing things which later upset us, but we can only really see them after we have passed through the particular trial we were facing.  There are also times in our lives, when our experiences moment by moment, change our behavior and our mindset.  Refining us and honing us into ever better images of the self we are inside.

That’s really the core of this entry:  It’s funny how the road works on you.  It’s funny how experience, like Michaelangelo’s chisel, works away the pieces of excess material to reveal the work we are, ever present, never changing, but sometimes hidden.

Session 9

A disappointment but worth the experience.

I came across Session 9 when I was researching the inspirations of Team Silent (the group who created the original Silent Hill games at Konami). Session 9 is a USA Films production written and directed by Brad Anderson. The film is set in the former Danvers State Hospital in Danvers, MA. The plot revolves around a small hasmat team hired to remove asbestos for the institution’s renovation as a community center.

Session 9 has got some great ideas, the most important one being the usage of the actual, real life Danvers Hospital. The complex itself is the central character and its natural allure, mystery, and disfigurement permeate the film so effectively, I could just watch a film touring the structures. Unfortunately, the setting is really where the virtues of the production stop. Session 9 could have been so much more, but really, what it comes down to is a lack of craft.

Directing. It’s obvious, from the first 5 minutes of the film, something is lacking in the character relationships. They just don’t feel connected. Some may say this is intentional, to show their familial dysfunction. If that was the case, it was too soon. My feeling is that so much more could have been brought out if the director focused on building the relationships before the first scene, like The Shining, and then letting the plot unravel the connections.  From the very beginning, I just don’t believe in the characters’ histories with each other. They feel stilted. If you can’t believe in the characters, you can’t believe in the film.

Cinematography. It doesn’t matter how gorgeous the set is, if the cameras don’t see properly, all that production value is lost. In the first few minutes of the film, I became skeptical. Two characters, Phil and Gordon are sitting in a van in daylight. The outside is blownout so badly it detracts from the van interior where dialogue is happening. Very often, depth of field is overlooked. There are many shots where it would have lent much more dramatic effect to focus on the foreground character elements and leave the background blurred and then rack focus to elements of interest as they enter the character’s attention. This would have better placed the audience in the film, allowing them to see things only when the characters themselves see them. Finally, a more realistic image would have been captured with a different selection of lenses. There were many close up shots (and I’m going back to the opening scenes in the van) where the lens was too wide and the shot was suffering from optic distortion.

Preproduction and Post. However the script was written, it felt too simple in the end. The resolution and meaning of “Session 9” just didn’t fulfill me as a viewer. I didn’t feel a build up in rising action or a real climax in the plot. There were disjointed events that should have been better brought together.  In watching the “alternative ending” and other deleted scenes on the DVD, I get the idea there were other possibilities as far as the film’s protagonist and climax. In a plot, these elements are the real cornerstones. If there were other possibilities being shot then I wonder if the script was really fully baked. I understand if there are elements left to improv and inspiration (David Lynch is my favorite director), but this film is really a ghost story, and as such you can’t afford to go in without a well defined map. Maybe these decisions were made in the edit room. In any respect, I was let down by the simplicity of the resolution. The significance of “Session 9” was little more than a voice over, which is a last ditch device to tell the audience the film’s meaning, as opposed to really allowing them to experience it.

Though I’m pointing out areas to improve, I’m glad I watched this film. There were moments when I was pulled in to the set, the lighting, and mood and my heart got moving. However, these moments of trance would be broken again by lack of attention to craft. Visually, there are some gems well worth seeing, but I think they are much more to the credit of the hospital than to the production. If you are a student of the genre, do watch this. It’s worth the experience and analysis. If you are looking for a good ghost story, though, Tale of Two Sisters is still in the top of my list.

Afro Samurai

I’ve been meaning to see this film for a long time, and finally, my friend Andrew came along with a copy and we just watched it on my projector.  Daaaaamn.  If you want to read up in detail on the origins and plot of Afro Samurai, check out Wikipedia’s article here (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Afro_Samurai)

First off, the story.  It’s the traditional “boy avenging father” plot.  On the road to vengeance, our hero has had to sacrifice feelings and friends:  universal concepts which make for good drama.  However, it’s what’s built upon this simple construct that really makes the film stand out. 

Our samurai/hero is not the traditional “Yojimbo”-looking character.  He’s a silent hero sporting a loud afro.  It’s never explained what he’s doing in Japan.  He just is (in the same mythic sense I love in Kurosawa and the Spaghetti Westerns of Sergio Leone).  The hero has an “imaginary friend” embodying his repressed feelings and desire for family.  Both the hero and the imaginary friend are played by Samuel L. Jackson with the flare that just is the man.  The script is full of jive and Americanisms that are funny and just cool set against a quasi-feudal Japan.

Imagery.  The visual style is fairly unique in my experience with japanimation.  The frames are very detailed with a literal edge/contrast in the color pallette that feels like a mix between ink and watercolor.  Obviously, the “inks” tend to lend themselves towards red.  Poses of figures are very exagerated.  The film actually looks more like a graphic novel in its attention to detail and style.

Music.  The soundtrack was assembled by RZA of the Wu-Tang Clan.  The hiphop rhythms go beyond Samurai Champloo‘s lauded beats into a sound that fits tightly with the visual world and character stylings.  

All in all, if you are into japanimation, this is a film to see.  If you’re like me, and just into japanimation if it’s “really something special” (along the Ghost in the Shell, Paranoia Agent, Big-O strain)… then you too will find some serious enjoyment in this 5 episode film.

Washington, DC

I just got home from 5 days in DC for the Satellite 2009 show.  Obviously, most people don’t know what the Satellite show is.  “Satellite” is a gathering of vendors and professionals in the satellite communications world.  Hands down, it was one of the best shows in my career with KenCast, which is a bit counter intuitive considering the economy, nevertheless, I’m told attendance was actually up from last year’s exhibition.  We had some incredible traffic at the booth and everything just clicked together.  But I don’t want to talk about work…

I want to talk about Washington.  DC is another unreal city.  Of all the places I’ve driven, DC is the most unique.  It’s the only place I can think of where you can expect to find a succession of 3 traffic lights within one intersection.  It’s also the only town I’ve driven where I really need a GPS to make sense. 

Stick Figure Survival Horror Game

Stick Figure Survival Horror - SethPerkins.com

A rather glorious weekend is coming to a close.  As I write, it’s about 10:30 at night and I’ll be turning in shortly.  Snowed hard Friday.  Therefore, the neighborhood has been rather quiet.  Skies mostly overcast and with the snow, the outside is basically tones of black and white.  Maybe that’s partially responsible for the content of this article.:)

I spent a few hours Sunday playing a game call Obscure for the PS2.  My brother gave it to me last Christmas (along with a significant stack of other games which I did play much sooner).  This one, ended up on the bottom of the pile and I never got to it.  Anyway, sometime I’ll do a writeup on the game.  I will say here that I have been rather impressed!  It’s more or less a survival horror in the tradition of Resident Evil and Silent Hill but with some interesting twists.

Well, another thing I played with this weekend was my Wacom tablet.  I bought it used about two months ago and haven’t really gotten around to getting acquainted with it.  I decided I’d do some doodling this weekend.  Well, you take some grey-tone days, survival horror games, and charcoal / watercolor and you get the drawings below!

I started thinking “Man, it would be cool to make a flash-based game like this”. . .   CS4 has some special links between After Effects and Flash.   Wouldn’t it be cool to build a game like this.  All action.  Simple Simple Simple.  Get some people excited on the web and allow them to contibute their own screens?

Anyway.

Stick Figure Survival Horror - SethPerkins.com

Stick Figure Survival Horror - SethPerkins.com

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ClockTower 3

I recently completed Clocktower 3 by Capcom.  My feelings?  Interesting story told in a very heavy-handed manner.  Gameplay was fairly straightforward and enjoyable albeit linear.  Graphic environments were well executed, however background music / sound did not live up to the task.  Cutscenes were excellent.  The overall experience was fun, though brief.  With the exception of the final boss, the game took me less than 6 total hours of gameplay.  

On a scale of 1 – 10? 

Graphics = 8

BG Music / Sound = 4

Sound FX = 7

Story = 8

Fun Factor = 7

Replayability = 4

 

Overall Rating = 6.3

 

The major opportunities for improvement, in my mind, would be music first.  The loops were way too short and simple.  They actually distracted from gameplay. The issue with “replayability” is really a matter of the linear nature of the game.  Now that I know the puzzles, the only real challenge is surviving the bosses when their difficulty is increased.  The linear construction particularly conflicts with replaying the game, in this case, because the game is focused on avoiding conflict (unlike Resident Evil), therefore, the player doesn’t have that action experience moment to moment to relive.  Clocktower is really about solving puzzles and beating one boss per stage which just doesn’t provide a decent incentive to replay the game when the puzzles have been solved.  A problem like this, though, can’t be solved after the fact.  This is something that had to be addressed way back during the initial design of the gameplay.

The final boss was a wicked pain, but once I figured out the rhythm, he’s wasn’t that bad.  (It just took me a long time to figure out the rhythm!)  One of my apartment mates took this video of my victorious moment.

{flv}Seth_Rocking_Clocktower_3{/flv} 

Tesla Motors

All right.  As long as I’m on the automotive kick, I’ll make one more quick entry.  I’m traveling right now and was on the road in Century City in Los Angeles.  I saw my first Tesla Motors dealership!  Ok. . .   I am not a gearhead by any means.  Yeah, my last entry was about BMW and believe me, since I read case studies on them in school, I have huge admiration for that company and their vehicles, however, if (big IF) I ever were to spend serious money on a vehicle (and I don’t see myself doing that any time soon as I have other priorities) I would invest in a Tesla machine…  Here’s a link to Tesla Motors’ website : http://www.teslamotors.com/.  Basically, they’re a Silcon Valley group taking on Detroit with an all electric car that out performs a Porsche.  Pricey, sure, but they have ambitions to market a 4 door family sedan.  Really really cool company.  As a geek (again, not a gearhead), I can’t help but be blown away.

 

Tesla Motors Roadster - - Image by Tesla Motors

 

Review: The Brown Bunny

I like to consider myself an appreciator of film.  I watch all kinds, not just for enjoyment but because I want to broaden my mind and my creativity.  To this end, I’ve become a customer of NetFlix (woo).  This week’s selection?  The Brown Bunny  by Vincent Gallo.

Ok, if you’ve seen this film, or heard of it, you know the controversy surrounding it.  If you have no clue what I’m talking about… well, good.  I’ll get to that in a second.

I started my brief Vincent Gallo kick by watching his previous film, Buffalo 66.  It was incredible!  I really went into that film with no expectations and walked away with a feeling that I’d just experienced something truly unique.  Gallo has a style that’s his.  It certainly draws on great influences (Goddard would be a likely candidate), while at the same time, Buffalo 66 had those elements that make a great film: characters that you believe in, a story that carries you through, and a progression of events that bring about a real change in the characters.  Buffalo 66 had those elements in spades.  The Brown Bunny does not!

The story is basically encapsulated in : Despondent motorcycle racer drives van across country while pining for lost love.

1.5 hours could easily have been condensed into 10 minutes.

The majority of the film has no dialogue (not necessarily bad : a matter of style), no plot progression (bad), and is more or less non-stop portraits of Gallo himself (who, by the way is writer, director, lead actor, editor, and cinematographer).  It’s like watching someone preen them self in the mirror over and over and over.  Not to mention the final minutes which finally show some progression in the story, but only through the device of a very graphic sex scene and a (I’m sorry to say) rape scene.  It goes beyond over-the-top.  It was just revolting.  Rape, as an idea, as a word, in and of itself is horrible enough and conjures things that scare and upset the audience in ways that make the point; there was no reason to depict it on film.  I’m not being some kind of censor here.  I’m not out to say what’s decent or indecent.  I am out to say that moments in a film are like words in a book : they need to serve a purpose.  Showing a rape scene served no purpose.

But wait…  I’m not going to be negative about the whole experience.    As I told my brother, who watched the film with me, I’m glad I watched it just for the education (I mean, even when I eat something I end up disliking, I at least feel good that I tried it).  The Brown Bunny is not anything I would recommend to anyone.  Buffalo 66, yes, but not this film.  I am glad I saw the cinematography (it was beautiful at many moments).  The editing created a definite unease which was very masterfully handled : however that unease, like the movie as a whole became redundant and self-serving.  That’s really what it comes down to in my mind: this movie was self-serving and not, in any balanced way, designed to serve the audience.  However, I don’t want to overlook the fact that a man got in a van and made a movie.  Vincent Gallo put together a guerilla project that he believed in, and I think that’s an accomplishment in-and-of itself.

 

Videogame Design

Well, most people who know me post undergrad believe my time for videogames is non-existent: it is, except when it comes to something that’s really good.  There are some games out there many of us will just play for fun or as part of the social atmosphere, but there are a handful of games that I play just because I really really need to see them through: beginning to end like a good book.  What makes the Best Video Game in my mind?  Well, graphics, gameplay, music, sound all have to be well crafted, but before any of this stuff can come to fruition, what I want first is story.  What kind of stories grab me?  Anything involving zombies, mystery, and adventure.  It’s got to have solid characters and a plot that pulls you.

What fits that criteria?

The Silent Hill Series (Playstation 1 – 2)

Hands down one of the best pieces of video game “art” out there.  

I’ve got a screenshot to the left from Silent Hill 2 and one of its famous cinematics.  This game has it all : characters you believe in, a plot that grabs your attention, antongonists who make you jump (not laugh).  Moreover, the crafting of this game was just as finely and completely executed as some of the best movie directors yielding a complete, unbroken dream in which the player can lose his or herself for hours.

 

The Fear Effect Series (Playstation 1)

I was upset when this series was discontinued.  It had those classic elements of story, and moreover, it had some flairs that just made Fear Effect something unto itself.  The creators drew on chinese mythology and aesthetics in their settings.  Kronos coupled this with their own brand of technology for creating immersive environments called Motion FX.  The results were gorgeous.  The distinct feel merged so tightly with the plot, music and overall experience that one can look at a screeshot and easily identify, just from the cell shading and colors, that it’s a Fear Effect screenshot.

 

 

Resident Evil Series (Playstation 1 – 2)

 Everyone who plays video games knows the “Resident Evil” name, and even those who don’t play know the Resident Evil movies.  I was in highschool when my little brother and I saw the cover of this game with the crazed charicature of some guy, a gun, and a spider.  It just looked nuts!  For all intents and purposes, at the time, the first Resident Evil was nuts!  It was something new and, as most authorities tend to agree : the real beginning of a genre (alongside Silent Hill) of what’s become known as “Survival Horror”.  

Resident Evil has that plot which just latches on.  As time has progressed the environments, graphics and gameplay (Resident Evil 4) have evolved immensley, and underneath all that is still the continuation of plots that I, as a player, really want to see unraveled.

 


Haunting Ground (Playstation 2)

 My brother got me this game for Christmas.  I’m embarrassed to say, I hadn’t even heard of it until I played for the first time.  Reviews on this game  are fairly polarized.  I’m among the group that considers this an incredible play and a great piece of work.  The story has a similar element to Silent Hill 2 in that it revolves around revealing the forgotten history of the main character.  Sometimes selective amnesia can be a cliche, but in this case, it just works well.  The quantity of antagonists is significantly less than Silent Hill or Resident Evil, so the focus is more on the quality of the individual characters and the dramatics inherent.  

 

 

 

 

 

 Phantasmagoria (PC)

This was the game in my library for a long time.  I had a 486SX, upgraded it to a DX4-100 and tacked on a whole 8 Megs of RAM to run this!  7 CDs!!  It was amazing.  Live actors in a gorgeously rendered 3D setting.  The story was incredible.  In retrospect, the acting might’ve been “B” but it WORKED!  It scared the heck out of me!  I just couldn’t stop playing.  I think I flew through this in two days or so of nonstop enjoyment.  That’s how I often like a game : being sucked in and not being let go until I’ve seen it through, saved the day, turned the last page.  This game is a classic and Roberta Williams is one of my favorite game designers.  By the way, she is also known for her King’s Quest Series which was another jewel of the adventure games genre.  

What Makes the Best Video Game

All right.  Well, most people who know me post undergrad believe my time for videogames is non-existent.  It is, except when it comes to something that’s really good.  There are some games out there that many of us will just play for fun or as part of the social atmosphere, but there are a handful of games that I play just because I really really need to see them through: beginning to end like a good book.  What makes the Best Video Game in my mind?  Story.  What kind of stories grab me?  Anything involving zombies, mystery, and adventure.

What fits that criteria?

#1 The Silent Hill Series

 

Reach out and make a friend