Tuesday, June 27, 2017

'Life is Strange' is a fairly solid interactive game.

A couple of weeks ago I noticed that there was an interesting story driven game available on Playstation Plus. Anyone who had an active subscription on the network, was able to download a PS4 version of 'Life is Strange' for free.

Naturally, since the game had received pretty good reviews, it wasn't a difficult decision to give the game a chance. I had to check how good it was and whether it was worth the praise that it had gotten from most of the critics.

Having now completed the game, I have to say that I was mostly positively surprised by how well it was made. In most aspects, 'Life is Strange' is really engaging and makes you care about its characters and what happens to them.

One of the best things about this interactive game is that it pays attention to the basics and things that matter. Its storylines revolve around themes and issues that most of us can relate to and can empathize with.

When it comes to its characters, its main protagonist is an art student called Max. She, as a female protagonist is a likable person, who tries to help others and tries to save them from getting into trouble in their lives.

What makes the story and the game so interesting and engaging, is that our main protagonist has an ability to go back in time. She has an ability that allows her to go back in time when something bad and unfortunate happens.

Over the course of the game, she finds herself in numerous situations where she tries to change things for the better. She not only tries to change people's lives and save them, but she also has to deal with something bigger too.

Trying to do all of things at once, of course, is much easier said than actually done. As we as players of the game eventually notice, for every action that she makes, there's a reaction and a consequence that has to be dealt with.

At least when it comes to me, I enjoyed playing 'Life is Strange' the most during its first three chapters. This is when the story and the characters are at their best and when the storylines feel really plausible and relatable.

Especially when it comes to what happens at the end of the second episode, I have to admit that scene is likely the most touching that I've experienced in a game. The ending to this chapter is genuinely that moving and touching.

However, when it comes to the last two chapters in the game, it has to be said that the story starts to drag a bit and doesn't always make sense. There are certain problems with the characters and their motivations that cannot be ignored.

This is especially true in the last chapter, where it becomes obvious that the main story arc isn't strong enough. The main storyline becomes a bit too muddled and the 'choices' that you can make aren't that plausible or interesting.

Still, despite these somewhat obvious flaws in the game and despite the game having some tonal and 'choice' problems, I mostly enjoyed playing it. It manages to engage you and is also surprisingly moving in certain places.

In that sense, if you're like me and enjoy playing story and character driven games that manage to be down to earth, maybe you should give it a chance. You should give the game a chance and see how much you'll like it.

After all, 'Life is Strange' - at least in my case - managed to surprise with its sincerity and honesty. It surprised me and showed that you don't always need explosions, action and gun fights to keep you entertained and immersed in the experience.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Oliver Stone's Putin Interviews on Showtime.

I don't know about you, but when I heard that Oliver Stone was going to make a four part interview with Russia's president Vladimir Putin, I was pretty excited. I was looking forward to learning more about what was going on in Moscow under Putin's leadership.

After all, Russia and its president have been all over the news lately. It's hard to imagine anyone not having heard about Russia's alleged election 'hack' in the United States, their involvement in Syria or their recent annexation of Krimea.

Having now seen all four parts of the documentary, I have to say that as a whole, this series about Oliver Stone talking with president Putin is pretty well made. It manages to keep you interested surprisingly well and is fairly entertaining too.

When it comes to the documentary, very likely the most interesting aspect of it has to do with its access and openness. At least seemingly, president Putin gives Stone an access to see a lot of things that are currently going on inside Kremlin.

In the film, probably thanks to Stone's reputation as a curious and an honest person, Putin gives a tour inside the executive office building. This complex, that is situated in Kremlin, has been strictly off limits for most westerners for decades.

During the visit inside the offices, Putin seems like a jovial and an every day person. He even apologizes to Stone and the crew for not having cleared the place for visitors, which gives an impression of openness and spontaneity.

Later on - while Putin and Stone discuss Edward Snowden - he himself drives Stone to his summer house, 'dacha'. This beautiful and historic place is where they continue their discussion about history and Russia's current policies.

Over the course of the documentary, Putin also invites Stone to watch himself play ice-hockey with legendary russian hockey players in an annual gala game. This is where Putin gets to show his skills, even though he isn't much of a player himself.

In order to show how trustworthy Russia is as a 'partner', Putin even lets Stone and the filming crew watch a live feed of an on going air strike in Syria (picture above). This, if anything should convince that Russia is open and can be trusted.

When it comes to this film's substance and things that matter, I guess a case can be made that the documentary isn't that hard hitting. It's fairly obvious that the purpose of the series isn't to be too hostile or confrontational towards Russia.

In fact, Stone's documentary is so Putin friendly, that it has been purchased by one of the state controlled networks in Russia. This clearly indicates that people in Kremlin are fairly happy with how the the series turned out.

Still, Stone being mostly cordial towards Putin in these discussions doesn't change the fact that the documentary has merit. At least in my view, Putin manages to make a lot of good points over the course of the film that are hard to argue against.

For example, when it comes to Ukraine and the annexation of Krimea, Putin has a relatively good explanation for it. The annexation - at least in his view - was more or less a consequence of a neocon/CIA-backed coup attempt that didn't work as planned.

When it comes to Nato, it's not a secret that the defense organization has been aggressively expanding towards Russian borders over the last 10+ years. Almost all the countries that were part of the Warsaw pact have switched sides and are now against Russia.

When it comes to Russia battling Isis in Syria, it's true that Russians are doing most of the air strikes. Even though they're also responsible for most of the collateral damage, they're the only country operating there at the behest of the Syrian government.

Naturally, the most currently 'important' aspect of the documentary has to do with the U.S presidential election and how Russia supposedly 'hacked' the election. This is what might probably interest the U.S. audiences the most.

Even though it's apparent that Putin doesn't seem convincing when he talks about the Russians not spying on the U.S. government, these hacking claims still seem far fetched. They don't seem likely considering all those other things that we know.

After all, as Putin keeps pointing, the biggest reason for the hacking claim is to distract us from what happened during the democratic primary last year. Hillary's victory against Bernie was a result of cheating and unfair electioneering.

According to Putin, even if Russia was responsible for the DNC hack, everything that was leaked was factual and correct. These leaks were truthful and showed how the fix was in for neoconservative Hillary Clinton.

Putin argues that this is one of the main reasons that the neocons and the so called mainstream media in the U.S. are so firmly against Russia. These exposes of corruption are the reason why the U.S. corporate media is all about blaming them 24/7.

At least in my opinion, these arguments that Putin makes, are mostly fairly logical and make sense. Even though one might not agree with everything that he says, I think it's safe to say that he makes at least some good points.

In that sense, if nothing else, this documentary about president Putin serves as a reminder of how little in general we know about current world affairs. It serves as counter propaganda against what we see on the news and read from the mainstream press.

As a whole, even though it's true that Stone doesn't always follow up with his questions, that doesn't mean that the documentary as a whole doesn't have value. It doesn't mean that it doesn't inform its audience or challenge our view points.

On the contrary, one of the best things about the series is that it shows how incredibly knowledgeable and informed both Stone and Putin are about history. Both clearly know what they're talking about and put us in the audience to a test.

In the end, the series leaves it up to us to decide what is true and what is not. It's up to us to decide as arm chair historians how much of it we're willing to believe and what are the views that we might and might not agree with.

In that sense, if you feel like spending time with a respected film maker and the leader of the Russia, you should probably give the film a chance. You should give it a chance and check how good the series is and how much you'll like it.

As a whole, Oliver Stone's interviews with president Putin not only is an informative documentary, but in my opinion, it's also a documentary that keeps you entertained and makes you want to learn more about history and current world affairs.

Monday, June 12, 2017

There are no shortcuts in interactive storytelling.

Anyone who knows anything about storytelling and writing, knows that it's not an easy craft. It's not easy to come up with a story and characters that your audience is going to find relatable and worth following.

This is especially true when it comes to storytelling that has to do with gaming. It's not easy to come up with a story based pc or a console game that has the ability to keep you entertained throughout its 10 hour plus length. 

So knowing that creating a story driven game isn't easy, it shouldn't come as a surprise that there have been attempts at finding new solutions to the craft. There have been attempts at finding new ways to tell a story in games.

Very likely the most 'ambitious' new approach to storytelling has had to do with 'choices' and how we as gamers are supposed to be more in charge of the story. We are supposed to be able to make decisions that affect how the game turns out.

What this basically means is that when we're playing the game, at some point we'll face situations where we get to choose what happens next. We get to choose between a couple of options that have to do with what our protagonist does.

This means that during the game, perhaps our main character wants to make a decision where he saves another character's life. Or perhaps he simply decides to take another route to a destination, thinking that it would be the best way to solve the problem.
  
When it comes to this kind of approach to gaming, it needs to be said that it hasn't been met with universal praise. Lots of gamers have pointed out how this 'let the gamers choose' doesn't work nearly as well as one might hope.
 
For example, gaming companies tend to exaggerate how much players can actually affect the storylines in their games. In most cases the important parts in the story can't be changed at all, no matter how we choose over the course the game.

Yet, a much bigger problem with this concept has to do with how the writers and the producers might get too preoccupied with the concept. They might get too invested in it and forget the basics of the game and how storytelling really works.

For example, when I played 'Quantum Break' last year, it was obvious that the producers had forgotten the basics of storytelling. They didn't pay enough attention to their story and their premise so that the characters and the storylines would have worked.

Instead of making sure that the story as a whole was coherent, the writers were too obsessed with how 'precious' their idea and concept was. They kept micromanaging their story threads and 'choices' that we as gamers would be making.

Not surprisingly, Quantum Break tanked when it came to both its critical reviews and its sales. Despite a massive push by Microsoft, the game didn't manage to sell even 10% of the copies that Uncharted managed to sell on Ps4.

In that sense, when it comes to writing and producing games that have to do with interactive 'choice' storytelling, we should be cautious about how we approach the concept. It's a challenging idea that requires a lot of effort and talent in order to work.

As far as I'm concerned, letting gamers 'choose' what happens too easily leads to writers cutting corners. It too easily leads to muddled storylines that feel derivative and contrived instead of feeling organic and natural.

Even though it's true that the concept might require a lot of effort and planning from writers, that by itself doesn't mean that much. It doesn't automatically mean that the end product is going to be any good or that it's going to make sense. 

On the contrary, we shouldn't forget that quality storytelling always has to do with simplicity and making things as easy and as enjoyable as possible. It's about coming up with storylines and characters that are clear, well motivated and relatable.

In that sense, if you're not willing to take these aspects of the craft into consideration, things aren't going to work out for you. Your 'ambitious' project won't work, no matter how hard and no matter how much you're willing to work.

Instead of creating a solid product that almost everyone can enjoy, you'll create a disappointing and a lackluster game. You'll create a game that lacks quality, because you didn't pay attention to the basics and because you didn't pay attention to things that matter.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Cursing doesn't make your show 'cool' or 'edgy'.

Even though I'm someone who's a proponent of free speech, I'm not someone who likes to read stuff that contains unnecessary bad language. I don't like when people use profanities without having a good reason for it.

This standard also applies when it comes to watching television shows and movies. Even though I do enjoy watching current shows like South Park, when it comes to entertainment, in general I'm not a fan of obscenities.

In that sense, it shouldn't really surprise anyone that I don't like watching HBO's 'Veep' at all. I have huge problems watching this series that tends to derive all of its hipness from its excessive use of bad language.

By that I mean is that whenever I try to give 'Veep' a chance, watching it more or less makes me feel physically ill. It makes me sick in my stomach to watch all those characters using foul language for no reason at all.

For example, the latest episode that aired a week ago was so full of profanities and ugly language that I had to stop watching it. I had to go for a short break before I managed to continue and finished the episode.

As a whole, this season 6 episode 6, 'Qatar' was so obscene, that I managed to count no less than 50 instances where inappropriate language was used. All those things happened during this episode that lasted 27 minutes.

Over the course of it, there were so many cases where an f-bomb was dropped for no reason at all. Curse words like f*** and s**** were used by almost all of the characters more than three dozen times during the length of the episode.

Even worse than the frequent f-bombs were the sexual references that were used to describe characters and their actions. It was simply shocking to watch Julia-Louise Dreyfus spout stuff like 'Do I need to pull out my c**t and cut it in half?'.

Needless to say, not once during the episode did I feel that the use of foul language was justified or made sense. There wasn't a single case where I felt that using these obscenities made the script or the episode better.

On the contrary, in every single instance it was blatantly obvious that the writers had absolutely no clue what they were doing. They used foul language as a crutch to fool those in the audience who didn't know any better.

As far as I'm concerned, there were no storylines or characters in the episode that held your interest. There were no redeeming qualities that would have made you think that this series and its actors were creating something that was worth your time.

As a whole, it's super embarrassing to note that Veep actually has managed to win the best comedy series Emmy two times in a row. It's so incredibly embarrassing that the academy has fallen for a show like this.

I mean, do these Emmy voters seriously think that it's awesome and cool that characters behave like they do here? Does anyone actually believe that this kind of stuff makes things better when it comes to getting quality shows and getting people to watch tv?

At least when it comes to me, there's nothing cool about using obscene language like it's used here. There's nothing funny about constantly making fun of others, cursing and humiliating them using words that would make any reasonable person blush.

In that sense, the fact that the writers and the producers on 'Veep' so willingly resort to awful stuff speaks volumes about them. It's so sad that they think that using foul language and obscenities would make them look good.

Unfortunately for them, the excessive swearing and the use of obscenities doesn't work. It doesn't work and makes it even more obvious that the series is so hopelessly toothless and that it doesn't have anything meaningful to say.