Monthly Archives: April 2009

Infinite, Round Table – Vol.1

Hey kids

In my continued effort to bring valuable work to this blog while juggling my other responsibilities, I failed to produce a full entry this week. I’m about half way through my first draft and it looks like it is going to work out, but due to the complexity of the topic, its going to take me a few more days to get to a draft I’m comfortable publishing. I take what I post on here very seriously and would not want to rush a piece to make a deadline that isn’t there. I can promise that this piece will be something very special and unique, and I hope the wait is worth it. That said,  I had an idea at the beginning of this that didn’t quite work because literally no one was reading it (sometimes logic escapes me), but I believe we have the readership (and the quality of readership) to start posing questions to you.

So, here’s topic #1:

When adapting an existing story, should the adaptation’s reverence to the source material have a direct relationship to the current popularity and relevance of the work?

Vinny’s Thoughts:

I believe that it is fair to modify less popular and/or relevant narratives more radically than those that have maintained their place. Many characters who previously had little importance have been saved through that method. However, those are rare cases and do not make up the majority of  adaptations. There is rarely a valid reason to adapt anything that is not relevant in the first place. Additionally, I am often disturbed by Hollywood’s penchant for praising a story, buying the rights to make a feature film of it and then telling a totally different story in the film.  Aside from the task of reinvigorating a dying property, which typically is more of a business decision anyway, the question really should be whether something is worth adapting in the first place.

Okay, your turn.

-Vinny

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You’re Only as Worthless as the Games You Play

or Learn By Fragging: Part II

Like books, television and movies, games have become an excellent way (if they’re done properly) to convey complex ideas and develop useful skills. But how can a kid explain to their nagging parents that a game actually does something beneficial for them? The prevailing notion (among parents/naysayers/disinterested politicians) is that most games lack social and intellectual value. They couldn’t be more wrong.

Why shouldn’t games teach as well as entertain? To explore this idea a bit, I’ll break games down into a few basic, popular genres and discuss some of their more practical and intellectual implications.

First Person Shooter: Since the release of Wolfenstein 3D in 1992, and later Doom, the FPS genre has become an important staple in gaming. Originally they were nothing more than run n’ gun marathons with very little in the way of plot; one was basically told that for whatever reason, an unholy army of the night was running wild, and it was up to you, the player, to wipe out every last pig-man.

Of course, as technology progressed, so did the complexity of the games, and the basic plots were replaced by well written and appropriately paced stories. Through games like Call of Duty (and its many sequels), we’ve managed to catch believable glimpses of World War II, frantically moving from cover to cover and dealing with the deaths of some very convincing characters. BioShock’s dystopian city Rapture was a playground for cautionary tales about genetic therapy, mind control and what happens when rich people are allowed to do whatever they want. Story has replaced what used to be games that only threw ever-more-difficult waves of monsters at you.

There are also team-based games like Counter-Strike, the Battlefield series, Left 4 Dead, that all encourage, and in many cases require players to communicate and work together in order to have the most fun with the game. If effective cooperation isn’t one of the most important aspects of being human, I don’t know what is. Yes – we can get all that from a game.

Role Playing: I wasn’t officially introduced to RPG’s until a friend of mine started playing Final Fantasy VII, and after getting a taste of the story, I was hooked. My father asked me once what the fun of essentially playing through a book was, and at the time I couldn’t come up with a good answer. Now, though, it’s much clearer. If shooters are interactive movies, that makes RPG’s interactive novels. They’re designed to be longer, more intricate, with more characters and more dialogue.

A good RPG gives players the option to make decisions that impact the way characters react to them, and ultimately the way the game’s story plays out. The actual story content in an RPG takes on a big role, whereas many shooters can get away with delivering their message, but being short and overly driven by special effects.

Take the original Knights of the Old Republic, for example. BioWare captured the essence of Star Wars in a game that takes longer to play through than it would to watch all six movies. The characters are fleshed out in painstaking detail. Side-quests reward the player for delving deeper into the story and the overarching tale is so compelling that I wished it never ended. Even if the game is just another Star Wars story, it’s still a good story, with all the trappings of self discovery and the individual’s battle between light and dark.

Open-ended RPG’s like Oblivion are also important. It offers many quest lines, allowing the player the freedom to decide what kind of person they want to be. They can answer the question, “What would I be like as an evil mage?” or “What would the life of an honorable thief be like?”. Sure, these questions will only be answered in relation to the game, but the fact that the game is open enough to allow players that kind of latitude in decision-making shows that some games do, in fact, challenge us to think.

Strategy: I’ll discuss two types here: real time and turn based. While many titles have strived to provide the player with compelling stories (ala Starcraft and every hammy cut-scene from the Command & Conquer series), the meat comes from thinking through a situation.

Unfortunately, single-player campaigns in RTS games tend to be short and the missions predictable. This leaves skirmish modes and multiplayer to make up for the lack of game play, and though RTS’s should be applauded for letting the player create his or her own strategy, competitive matches end up being won by the person with the best, fastest build-order and the quickest clicks – not thinking on one’s feet. Some have taken steps towards fixing this problem, like last year’s Sins of a Solar Empire, which added empire-building elements and slowed the pace of the game to make strategy, rather than rushing, the necessity.

Turn-based strategy titles, however, have always been the ultimate thinker’s game. Sid Meier’s Civilization series gives players the opportunity to lead many of the Earth’s greatest nations from the Stone Age all the way to modern times. The player makes all the decisions here: when, where, why and how to build a city, raise an army, declare war, sue for peace, make/break alliances, and so on. And though it doesn’t teach history, a recent article on Kotaku suggests that its value is in “understanding the dynamics of history.”

Tell that to your parents, kids, and you might win your gaming habit some credibility.

Honorable Mention

Sports – I don’t think sports games really have anything they can “teach” us, especially when picking up a basketball and playing outside way more worth the effort. However, a good sports title embodies the spirit of competition, and if played with friends is almost always fun and exciting (memories of late-night NHL 98’ abound), and when played in teams, can foster an environment of cooperation and coordination, at least on a small scale.

Dishonorable Mention:

Author’s Note: Due to popular sentiment against the tone of this section, please note: I recognize the fun aspect of “Guitar Hero”-type games and their social connotations. This is only a counter-point to the rest of the piece. The point: some games have something we can take away on an intellectual or cultural level; other games are just fun – which is fine. It’s also meant jokingly, as I mistakenly thought the “Dishonorable Mention” title would convey. If you are offended or surprised, I apologize in advance. You have been warned.

Rhythm – Ah, the so-called rhythm genre. On the one hand are games like Dance Dance Revolution, which at the very least requires players to stand up, stomp their feet and raise their heart rate. Exercise is important, and if DDR can get kids off their lazy bums, it’s a good thing.

Then we come to Guitar Hero and Rock Band. Don’t get me wrong – I love rock music and I think having a good sense of rhythm is important – if you intend to use it. Rhythm is important for dancers, musicians, and having sex. I have a feeling that most Guitar Hero nerds are doing none of that.

Really – it’s just song after song of clicking buttons and flipping a picking switch. Oh, you got the highest score? Great. Does that mean you can shred like Kirk Hammet? No. Does it mean you’re making millions of dollars? No. Does it mean you have any real musical talent or understanding? No. It means you can push buttons, hit drum pads or sing (probably off key) at just the right time.

Want to feel special? Pick up a real instrument.

-Alex

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Letters to the Internet

Dear Chaos Collage,

I’m so sorry I have neglected you for this long, but I simply could not find the time to write between my job, the fiction piece I am currently working on and the four hours of Street Fighter IV I play per day. Since we have so much to talk about I will do my best to keep this entry well organized and to the point, much like the wonderful entertainment section in my local newspaper.

I. Television

With Batman: The Brave and The Bold on mid season hiatus and new episodes of Battlestar Galactica a thing of the past, I have not been paying much attention to episodic fiction recently. What I have been watching (aside from wrestling) is the wonderful “reality” based programming on Spike TV. This includes such shows as Vice Cops Uncut (which is of course very cut), DEA and the new king of Discovery Channel style investigation, Deadliest Warrior. What historical investigation could be more satisfying than one focused on how adept different warriors from different eras would be at killing each other. Have you ever wondered how a Viking would fair against a Samurai? Me too! Finally, we have a resource to find out! What a relief.

II. Movies

…So, Drag Me to Hell comes out in May. Okay, so we aren’t in 2008 anymore and things have slowed down. I guess that writer’s strike finally hit cinemas. The aggravatingly disappointing Watchmen came as quite a downer, probably the first film I was truly disappointed with since before the release of Iron Man. Aside from a couple of decent comedies, it looks like things won’t be picking back up until the edge of June with Sam Raimi’s return to horror Drag Me To Hell. From there we have numerous films to look forward to such as Michael Mann’s Public Enemies, JJ Abrams’ Star Trek and Quentin Tarantino’s long awaited Inglorious Basterds (I know how to spell, that’s just the name of the movie). With these films on the horizon and promises of Iron Man II, Green Lantern and Stallone’s The Expendables for 2010, I’m sure we can make it through The Revenge of the Fallen and The Rise of Cobra. In order to keep hope alive, I will provide a trailer to watch and enjoy.

III. Those Comic Books that rot your brain and/or turn you into a Commie.

Bruce Wayne is gone and it is all Grant Morrison’s fault. He’s not dead though, just gone for the time being. I will not spoil  his replacement for the following reasons A) I think this story will be better if its integrity is kept intact and B) I have no idea who his replacement will be. What I do know, without ruining it for the TPB crowd, is it seems like it won’t be Tim. On the other side of the DCU, the lead-up to Blackest Night is picking up and boy does it look like its going to be good. Geoff Johns’ events lack the rarely deserved self importance of Mark Millar’s or the progressively less satisfying introspection of Bendis’ big story work. Both Morrison and Johns posses the rare ability to not only create inventive plots for beloved characters, but to distill what made us love them in the first place. It is this difference that has defined the best of DC in recent months. That said, Marvel has perhaps the 3rd best writer for this, Ed Brubaker. Both Daredevil and Captain America have rarely missed a beat since his run began and the stories are far from small.  On the Mighty Marvel side, Norman Osborn has taken control of the United States and things are not pretty. I mean this in both a philosophical and editorial sense. Yes, great books that deal directly with the issue are coming out (Thunderbolts being the strongest at the moment, though I have a soft spot for the in-continuity Punisher) but there are way too many stunt books or books that are becoming stunt books (Bad Avengers, sorry I meant Dark Avengers, Mighty Avengers, New Avengers, Avengers: The Initiative, Dead Avengers, X-Avengers, Bad X-Avengers, X-Forcevengers, The Secret Avenger-Defenders, The Force Works Avengers, Two-Gun Kid and His Westvengers, Iron Man and The Reb-Bot Avengers, Rick Jones’ Rockin Avengers and of course Kevin Smith’s Late Avengers Annual). Okay, I made most of those up, but you get my point. Yes, events are made to be exploited but when you can’t even keep continuity between books referring to the same events, you really need to slow down. Take that sales department! On a happier note, all three of the IDW GI Joe books are a lot of fun and should counter act the damage the upcoming film may do to my brain. Dynamite’s current licensed properties and Ennis’ The Boys are still kicking monthly.

IV. Rasslin’

WWE’s Wrestlemania was worse than the next night’s Raw, TNA is a joke and ROH appears to be rotting from the inside. I unfortunately have very little to say aside from that. I am seriously disappointed in both the E and TNA’s inability to create great product with fantastic rosters. In happier news, it looks like there will be a new Hart Foundation on ECW.

V. Music

Typically I isolate an aspect of music or the music industry through an artistic lens, but for this entry I figured being more practical would be better. What I would like to note is the amazing amount and quality of live music hitting the New York/ New Jersey Area in the next few months. Aside from the big guns like Bruce Springsteen and Elvis Costello hitting the road, the area (which is the home of both writers on this blog) will also be hosting such acts as Jenny Lewis (Music Hall of Williamsburg, June 9th), The Get Up Kids (Blender Theater, May 1st) on their reunion tour and hometown boys done good, The Hold Steady (Bowery Ballroom, June 8th & 9th-Music Hall of Williamsburg, June 10th and 11th). Even Green Day will be playing a theater show this spring (no, I don’t know when and I can’t get you tickets). In addition to these exciting travelin’ troubadours, local act The Neutron Drivers will be hitting the Big Apple’s famed Knitting Factory on April 30th. I hear there’s even a free sandwich and cheap beer for the die-hard early crowd.

Well, that’s it for now. Hopefully I will come up with some amazing insight for my next piece.

Love,

Vinny

Vinny’s Unrelated Video Post of the Week!

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We Apologize For The Delay

Dear Readers,

Due to an abundance of time-consuming offline activity, we here at Chaos Collage have been unable to sit ourselves down and get angry about anything. However, after a bit of a shotgun meeting last week, Vinny and I have agreed that we will resume our righteous rants as soon as possible.

Thanks for understanding.

-Alex

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