Archive for August, 2011


There have been numerous articles today on the issue of game pricing in this new mobile age (such as the one above).  Nintendo has just announced the release of Tetris: Axis for the Nintendo 3DS for what Gamestop currently lists as $34.99 (note: this is still a placeholder price as the actual MSRP hasn’t been announced yet) while EA has announced the release of Tetris for free on any Android system.  Many gaming journalists have questioned or downright pointed fingers at Nintendo as having a problem (something that has been a constant debate for the past two years).  Is the $30-$50 gaming model on portables (let alone on consoles and PCs) still justifiable against these new mobile business model?

Nintendo and the other dedicated gaming publishers on the DS/3DS/PSP would argue, as seen in their prior interviews/speeches/etc., that their model still is viable because content is still king and their target markets will care about the actual game coming to the platform.  On the other side, mobile developers on both the App and Android stores, would proclaim that Nintendo and the others are part of an old dynasty, much as older stores in other series of merchandise like Borders or Blockbuster, that are simply too attached to a dying business model.  Instead, they push forward free-to-play and incremental pricing schemes that have been popularized by the advent of smart phones.  Now, both sides have acknowledged their own faults as well, whether it is Nintendo trying to push forward their own online shop harder or how mobile developers know that their marketplace is severely impacted by the set pricing scheme and quantity.

The bigger question that should be asked if two separate, viable markets are still viable in the portable gaming space between the dedicated gaming portables versus the smart phone space.  For dedicated gamers such as myself, of course I want both spaces to coexist since not only do I play quick, casual games available for cheap prices but I also play some great, dedicated portable gaming products as well.  However, as the smart phone market grows (nearly 468 million for 2011)*, a huge gap is potentially looming as the casual gamers that once played Nintendogs and Tetris DS in the prior years may stick with cheaper (or free) alternatives on their smart phones while mobile game developers will continue to fight a marketplace that is still based too much on price and early mover advantage.  Dedicated gaming publishers need to both be more open to the mobile space (Nintendo’s one instance of releasing a free Pokemon app for mobile phones shows some promise) and pushing for an innovative, open online marketplace while mobile phone creators (both from the Android and iOS sides) need to start to investigate new ways to push for a marketplace that allows for a quick, cheap casual game and a quality, complex product to coexist.

*: http://mobithinking.com/mobile-marketing-tools/latest-mobile-stats


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There has been some relatively negative comments about the cancellation of the Capcom 3DS game, ‘Mega Man 3 Legends.’  Whether it has been on television (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sWun5ikum2Q) or on the Internet, commentators have been disparaging the fan movement to reignite a cancelled game.

Here is a quick introduction to the situation.  Mega Man Legends 3 is the sequel to the Mega Man Legends series that began on the Playstation.  The last entry of the game came in 2000.  A spin-off of the main Mega Man series, these games adopted a more action RPG-type style to a 3D arena.  Mega Man Legends 3 was announced October 2010.  Along with being a long-awaited sequel by its fans, the other interesting aspect about the game was its marketing campaign.  Capcom announced the game clearly before it was green-lit for complete production.  Instead, Capcom started a blog and media update of a pre-alpha game from development team interview to early sketches and footage.  Along with this initiative, the development team tried to integrate fan input into the game, putting up polls that actually impacted who and what would be included.  An example of this can be found here.  The final big announcement before the game’s cancellation was a paid demo release on the Nintendo 3DS eShop in which players would be able to play as a new character around the town.  Soon, however, the slow demise of the game started to trickle through.  The demo was held up indefinitely.  Then, the new struck on July 18th, 2011, the project was terminated.

Soon, big fan movements started to appear.  The largest response was the Facebook fan page which is trying to reach 100,000 members (it currently stands at 40,000).  However, the response was more than double-sided as various gaming commentators and even marketing/PR divisions of Capcom itself started to comment on both the fruitless nature of the campaign and placing blame on the fans themselves.

So what’s the big deal?  I feel that not only were these disparaging comments unprofessional but damaging to a media community that feeds and necessitates communication with its consumers.  First and foremost, the fans’ reactions felt more or less just because of the expectations that Capcom set.  Although the marketing process was very transparent and open, an expectation was set by Capcom that the digital campaign would a.) garner a large following and b.) create lots of direct interest.  Indeed, Capcom definitely filled many video game websites with lots of news and garnered an interest as can be seen by the numbers who came to comment and potentially vote.  However, as can be seen in the comparative numbers of the new Facebook group that is trying to recover the project and the numbers that were actual members of the site or voting, the gap is far and large.  Even in comparison to Capcom’s other game blogs, the numbers were minuscule.  Perhaps worse, there was miscommunication between the company’s expectation and their messaging (as noted here) which suggested that both participators and lurkers were both more than welcome.

On a second note, the fan movement here was fairly well-organized and clear.  Yes, there are cases where fan movements are nothing more than fanboys and girls flaming and trolling the Web and creating disappointing scenarios.  However, if you take a look at the previously mentioned Facebook group, their strategy, and eventual response, there was a civil discussion and movement going forward; save for the disdain for the cancellation and some fanboyish remarks.  It got the attention of both Capcom staff as seen here along with creating some news headlines in the process in the gaming community.

Finally, I believe that we have moved past an age of disregarding fans and fan movements as simply a fleeting afterthought.  We, as online users, have all entered an age in which direct communication is possible, especially between those that used to be ‘unreachable’ and the consumer.  The very notion of social media and other direct channels of communication symbolize this natural progression.  The gaming industry, especially, has both heralded direct communication with its users, utilizing both means on the web and on their own software/hardware, although as seen in this case, still has much to do on this front.  So why do comments like this still exist that disparage these movements?  There has already been precedence that fan movements make a difference in all type of media fronts such as the ‘Save Chuck’ campaign which had fans literally buying footlong subs at Subway and mailing the show to save it for another season.

In the end, these disparaging comments from videogame journalists only serve to hurt everyone in the industry.  They unsettle fans who are passionate (and paying) for gaming; they misdirect video game companies who are trying to understand how to utilize a new level of fan interaction; they continue to belittle the still-infant video game journalism with comments that create more distrust and unreliability; and finally, they hurt the overall notion of what the Web brings for all users: an arena of open communication and positive interaction.

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Note: This review is still pending its release on Collegetimes.us so I thought I might as well post it up here to continue some good word of mouth in case some haven’t seen it yet.  Enjoy!

In the present day, reboots and prequels are made usually with the idea that a franchise not only still has life to garner an audience but is an easy, creative outlet.  Many times, however, this means the final result of the film is a mess of marketing ideas mashed with little creative freedom.  Rise of the Planet of the Apes (save its long-winded title) is the complete antithesis to this notion.  Utilizing some great motion-capture technology mixed with a strong emotional core, Rise is a great movie unto itself that may be lacking in some of its periphery character development and plot twists but is an exciting and intriguing movie from beginning to end.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes follows a research scientist Will (James Franco) who is attempting to discover a cure for Alzheimer’s.  To do this, he must test on apes with various experimental medicine.  After an ape goes loose and getting close to fired by his boss, Steven Jacobs (David Oyelowo), all the experimental apes are exterminated.  One of the ape handlers, Robert (Tyler Labine), gives Will a baby ape, which has been passed down the experimental serum from its birth mother, to raise until a suitable home is found.  What Will discovers is that the ape not only successfully reacting to the serum but also exhibiting smarter behavior that exceeded his expectations.  With the help of a veterinarian, Caroline (Frieda Pinto), Will raises the baby ape and names him Caesar.  The film continues to follow Caesar’s growth and development until fate puts him amongst his own kind against the world.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes weaknesses stem from its lack of attention to the periphery characters and its overall lack of commitment to a more complex and thoughtful plot.  The first problem is the lack of attention to the human stars.  Sure, there necessarily should not be complaints about a lack of commitment and breadth to ‘human’ characters in a film about apes and its brethren, but the complaint is still valid.  Many, if not nearly all, of these humans are very one-sided and undeveloped in terms of their character.  From Pinto’s lack of actual screentime (which results in a flimsy love interest) to the stereotypically greedy and ‘bad’ Oyelowo, the film is rife with these very obvious caricatures.  Even the best of these characters, Franco’s scientist with a cause, is left to create some smart serums to cure the world’s woes but oddly bereft of much common sense in his actions.  Perhaps that is the problem of the general script which lacks much complexity and thought into its actions.  There are moments littered throughout the film that are a bit puzzling to figure out why it was included.  From the odd (and again, stereotypical) hatred of animals from Tom Felton’s zookeeper character to the eventual idea that Franco has to set Caesar free, the complexity of the ideas seem as if they were shafted in order to keep the plot simple and easier to follow than allowing it to fully explore the potential of the world and characters set.

When the film comes to its core, however, and the general progression from start to finish into its central character of Caesar, the film moves above its more typical trappings into a memorable and unique film.  Perhaps most appropriate to discuss first is the motion capture technology.  There are moment in the film that break the illusion between computer graphics and reality, but those moments are few and far between.  In fact, it is incredible how great the apes look, especially Caesar.  Andy Serkins, who did the motion capture for the main ape, Caesar, did a magnificent job, along with the CG artists, of making the ape look and feel believable from beginning to end.  This believability is continued into how the character of Caesar is developed.  As much as the humans were shafted of much character development, Caesar is a phenomenal character all-around.  Yes, the basic character progression is simplistic, relying on a lot of situational cause and effect situations, but Wyatt really makes sure the audience understands why certain events transpire the way they do and give rise to some of the more interesting complex wrinkles that go on within Caesar.  The emotional core is linked as well to the film’s smooth pacing.  Rise of the Planet of the Apes is brisk in moving to one scene to the next but has control in raising the tension or the suspense to really feel the impact of an important scene.  A confrontation that involves Felton is a crowd-pleaser and really shows off how well the film moves.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes is another entry in a strong summer of big surprisingly good films.  Propped by its strong motion capture technology and a great direction, this prequel/reboot thrives on really surprising the audience with its strong emotional core and great pacing.  There are a number of minor problems that hamper the film from becoming an outstanding film; namely in the one-sided, stereotypical human characters and a couple of strange plot developments, but these should not prevent anyone from seeing a film that truly plays with the origin story in unique ways.  Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a great summer film and one of the better surprises of the year.

Director: Rupert Wyatt
Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 105 Minutes

The Wie muses: *** ½ out of *****

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Director: Spencer Susser
Rated: R
Running Time: 106 Minutes

Sometimes, the best films come out of a mishmash of strange ideas.  A rat in Paris who wants to be a cook created the terrific Ratatouille or for a more dramatic example, Sucker Punch, a girl who is forced to live with a terrifying general escapes into a fantastical realm in order to complete a mission.  Hesher is a conglomeration of some equally disparate ideas; namely heavy metal, a growing up tale, a headbanger, and Mary Poppins.  It may not be a great film, persay, as it runs into issues with some wasted characters and a meandering plot, but Hesher is a fun indie project that has heart and zaniness mixed together.

Hesher follows TJ (Devin Brochu), a boy that has recently lost his mother and lives with a depressed father (Raain Wlison) and his kind grandmother (Piper Laurie).  After losing his mother’s car to the tow truck service, TJ unexpectedly angers the headbanger, the heavily tattooed Hesher (Joseph Gordon-Levitt).  In a fit of revenge and necessity, Hesher follows TJ home and forces him to tell his family that he is his friend.  Involving the timid nearby supermarket clerk, Nicole (Natalie Portman), TJ is taken off on an unexpected and turbulent ride of redemption and growth.

The biggest element of the film that  Hesher has difficulty with is its meandering plot.  The strangely act-to-act story could be understandable if the film simply touched on a more sporadic, day-to-day sort of plot progression.  However, the opposite occurs in which the film adopts the direct, point A-to-point B structure.  Hesher has a lot of trouble finding its footing and clearly stating its purpose to the audience as the plot seems to wonder back-and-forth with scenes that seem more situational than filled more with purpose for any of the story or characters.  This weakness is amplified by two elements.  One is the meager roles of the side characters, especially from Portman and Wilson.  These players unfortunately get very little screen time and in turn are given such an abrupt character progression.  It’s understandably difficult to get all these periphery characters much face in light of the main characters, but the balance between all of the characters is jarring enough to notice and creates some imbalance when a plot point dictates a character to act in a certain way.  This extends even to Levitt’s role as Hesher, who has some important character progression within the duration of the film.  Although the screen time is given properly to the role, some of the transitory moments do not feel as smooth as they could have been and undercuts some of the believability of his scenes.  Perhaps it has to do with the limitation of a lack of any background-related scenes on Hesher or how some of his latter actions come off as a bit more uncharacteristic, but there are certainly some problems within this arena.

On the other side, however, Hesher delivers on an emotional and acting front that makes for an enjoyable and thoughtful film.  Although some of the characters did not receive much attention on the screen, the actors behind them were great to watch.  Portman plays one of her more fascinating roles since Garden State as a bubbly and clueless shop cashier while Brochu gives a fairly interesting performance as a troublemaker yet emotionally conflicted child.  Best of all though is Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s performance as Hesher.  There is a certain charm about his aloof and insane demeanor that plays well off of all the other characters that play it more straight or at least slightly off.  Although his transition in the last few acts comes off a bit more odd, the heavy metal and careless attitude is played so straight by Levitt that one cannot help but be amused at how the situation turns out surrounding him.  In turn, the acting really contributes to how the emotional core is really key to making the film so enjoyable.  Hesher really is the story of a depressing and ineffectual situation being turned upside down by an unexpected stranger.  Within Mary Poppins, the plot works because of its fantastical and intriguing relationships that the stranger, Poppins, forms with the inhabitants within the film.  Within Hesher, the plot works because of such an odd event of occurrences marked by a complete and unexpected ‘nanny.’  The film rarely feels tasteless or unexpectedly vulgar as it instead really works to form bonds between Hesher and TJ along with the rest of the cast to really make the emotional moments count and the main character progression work well.

Hesher is an odd conglomeration of pieces that, strangely enough, works to create one of the more unique stories of the year.  Weakened by some script and pacing problems, the film runs into issues with itself and finding ultimately the message and themes it wants to portray.  The final product, though, is a fascinating watch because of its diverse characters and good emotional core.  A heavy metal Marry Poppins is the last type of film I expected to watch this summer, but Hesher definitely deserves some nods for its interesting take on life, family, and all the problems in between.  

The Wie muses: *** out of *****

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