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Thursday, June 5th, 2008

I don’t know what possessed me—I chronicle most of the stuff I’m reading / watching / looking at / listening to on my tumblelog and twitter and muxtape—but here’s a big bunch of stuff that I’ve dug in the past couple of months:

what it is by lynda barry

What It Is by Lynda Barry

What more can I say about this book?

It’s collage, it’s a writing textbook, it’s a memoir…it’s everything. It’s big. It’s hardcover. It’s awesome.

beach house devotion

Devotion music by Beach House

Quiet, soft, and beautiful. Lots of organ and reverb. Good hangover music.

and then there were none

And Then There Were None… by Agatha Christie

There was something magical about an island — the mere word suggested fantasy. You lost touch with the world — an island was a world of its own. A world, perhaps, from which you might never return.

Hmmm. A group of strangers stranded on a mysterious island, all with shady pasts that come back to haunt them…sound familiar?

My wife is an Agatha Christie nut. This was the first thing of hers I’ve ever read. 173 lightning fast pages. Fun read.

away from her

Away from Her a film by Sarah Polley

So sad, but so good. And the first time directing for Sarah Polley. She was quoted as saying the film was about

the opposite kind of love than we usually celebrate in films, which is new love without knowledge and without hardship.

It’s also a terrific example of how short stories fleshed out (as opposed to novels being compressed) make better films. (See also: In The Bedroom)

My favorite line (from the Alice Munro short story):

She said there ought to be one place you thought about and knew about and maybe longed for but never did get to see.

giant

Giant a film by George Stevens

PT Anderson was once asked to name 3 films that he loved but no one had ever heard of. He replied,

I like films that people HAVE heard of: The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Giant, The Big Lebowski.

I recommend all three, too. Giant is a 3-hour epic set in West Texas. (Shot in Marfa.) James Dean. A gorgeous, young Elizabeth Taylor. What’s not to like?

knockemstiff by donald ray pollock

Knockemstiff by Donald Ray Pollock

I first heard about this book last year when my parents sent me clips from their local newspapers.

This is the book I wanted to write as an undergrad: an updated Winesburg, Ohio set in the Southern part of the state. I grew up about 30 miles from the real Knockemstiff, but I never really belonged there, not the way Donald Ray Pollock belonged: he worked at the Mead paper plant in Chillicothe for 30 years before he started writing, and got his MFA at Ohio State. He knows his place and writes about it beautifully.

This is a strong first book — but it can tough to read all the dark stories (note: it’s full of sex, booze, foul language, and drug use) at once. I recommend spreading them out. Standout stories for me were “Real life” and “Discipline.”

no more heroes

No More Heroes a videogame by Suda51

This is a violent videogame for the Wii, in which you play a hipster assassin with a lightsaber. It’s basically a GTA ripoff, but the art is great, and the game is full of little side missions which really make it entertaining. A good buy for $30.

pilot g2 gel pens

PILOT G2 BOLD POINT GEL PEN

Holy crap these things are awesome. If you want to lay down a big fat line, these babies will do the trick. 1mm > .07mm.

some like it hot

Some Like It Hot A film by Billy Wilder

Billy Wilder is quickly becoming one of my favorite directors: I especially love The Apartment, which also stars Jack Lemmon. And Marilyn Monroe is gorgeous, of course…

thoreau at walden by john porcellino

Thoreau at Walden by John Porcellino

John Porcellino is definitely in my top 5 favorite cartoonists, and his simple, zen lines are perfect for adapting Thoreau into comics.

lykkeli-youthnovels

Youth Novel music by Lykke Li

I can’t really describe her music. I always play it when I’m walking to the bus…

dan in real life

Dan in Real Life a film by Peter Hedges

If Eddie Campbell says something is good, you know it’s good. This really surprised me. It’s a story about nice people who get into a genuine conflict. Probably why it didn’t get very good reviews: no explosions or incest or whatever…

Phew. That was too much work. I think I’ll save this kind of thing for the next year-end lists.

What stuff are y’all into right now?

PUNX, PA: CUE THE MELLENCAMP

Saturday, February 11th, 2006

After watching GROUNDHOG DAY last week, I said to Meg, “Everybody talks about the religious implications of this film, but I wonder if anybody has written about the fact that this storyline could only happen inside the world of a small town?” I dug around, and sure enough, I found an essay by a film critic named Mario Sesti that beat me to the punch:

…the suspicion that behind the calm facade of small-town life hides an invisible presence or god…that may sooner or later make the place degenerate into horror has become a recurrent idea in American cinema….[Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania] is a carillon world, a universe in miniature, perfect and crazy, happy and diabolical-as if infinite repetition were the only form of eternity that our imagination knew how to represent….

Sesti goes on to describe how the character Phil Connors somehow becomes the author of his own story, as he maps the terrain of the place, gets to know his cast of characters.

A small stage, a set, a contained world in which all the characters are known, the geography is mapped, strangers come to town, and small changes are impossible not to notice: this is what the small town has to offer as a setting.

THINGS ARE LOOKING GRIM!

Wednesday, February 8th, 2006

Original trailer for Grim Fandango.

REVEALING MY INNER GEEK

Tuesday, February 7th, 2006

grim fandango.jpgMy inner geek let himself out this week, and I downloaded GRIM FANDANGO, one of the few LucasArts adventure games that I missed, and a truly beautiful piece of art. (No kidding.) The world is the Day of the Dead festival meets 1930s art deco meets a Raymond Chandler novel. You play Manny Callavera, a Grim Reaper/Travel Agent who uncovers a nasty plot of corruption and murder in the Aztec Underworld.

As a kid, one of my dream jobs was a computer game designer for LucasArts. Don’t know what ever happened to that dream (I think maybe I discovered rock and roll and girls), but it all makes sense to me now why they appealed to me so much. The games are little worlds that you drop into: the art is fantastic, the stories are all smart and funny, the music kicks ass, and the greatest part is that they’re fun to play (LucasArts’ philosophy was that the player should never die, and never reach a complete dead end).

With DOOM and the massive success of the 3-D first-person shooter, LucasArts decided that dinky little 2-D adventure games with great storylines and characters were undesirable, and switched their efforts instead to lamo Star Wars games. Despite all that, there’s still a huge cult following on the net for the old games: check out the LucasArts museum, Grimfandango.net and Mixnmojo.com.

WORLDBUILDING WITH TIM SCHAFER

Saturday, February 4th, 2006

Over at Gamestudies.org, there’s a fantastic 2003 interview with Tim Schafer, creator of some of my all-time favorite LucasArts adventure games. Schafer studied computer programming at UC Berkeley, got bored with computer programming and thought about becoming a writer, then landed a job with LucasArts right out of college. He worked on Day of the Tentacle, Full Throttle, and Grim Fandango, and then opened up his new production company, Double Fine Productions, which last year put out the game, The Psychonauts, which, though it didn’t sell well, ended up on tons of top-10 lists.

In the interview, Schafer talks about worlds being the initial inspiration for his games, and characters being the motivational force to keep players playing. “The goal,” he says, “is really to create this total immersive fantasy experience, where you’re sucked into a strange world, where you are the character, and you’re having all this fun, and you get to do anything you want.”

CP: I’m curious when you’re starting a new game and inventing a new world, what’s your process? How do you go about creating a world?

TS: Well, often, the world is the initial inspiration for the game. One day I was listening to someone tell me their stories of spending the summer in Alaska. They had hung around this one biker bar, with these people with names like Smilin’ Rick and Big Phil. And I thought, “Wow, what a crazy world that is.” It’s so apart from everybody’s life, and yet it’s right there, it’s so mundane in a way. And that’s where Full Throttle came from. The world was the starting point. And Grim Fandango, also, seeing the Day of the Dead art, that was the starting point too. So it wasn’t so a game idea, and then “let’s make a world to fit it.” You sort of stumble upon some world, and thing – that’s something that’s never been brought to life before. Let’s bring it to life. Wouldn’t it be fun to run around in that world?

I found all his thoughts about making games to be easily transferrable to the crafting of fiction or comics. Eventually, I want to teach the old LucasArts adventure games right beside novels and comics in creative writing classes. Problem is, it’s hard to get some of them to work on new computers (I never have been able to get Grim Fandango to work). Some clever fellows have created engines to help out: check out SCUMMVM and QUICK AND EASY.

UPDATE (3 days later): Since some Studio 360 intern reads my blog and steals my ideas, here’s Kurt Anderson interviewing Schafer about the Psychonauts.



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