Archive for Editorial

New Moon Opening: Oh the Irony

I’m sure that by now anyone who’s even remotely in the know of entertainment today is aware of the release of The Twilight Saga: New Moon, second Twilight film adaptation.  The previews and trailers indicated a possible improvement over its predecessor, which for just about any sane movie fan meant something above lousy.  As such, expectations for the film seemed to be of a fairly moderate level, with potential for some profit to be made in the first few days of its release.  A fair opening seemed to be the most likely outcome, nothing groundbreaking at all.

Of course, when you’re living in a generation that has certain award shows (ahem, MTV) give the first Twilight a Best Picture award over The Dark Knight and even the merely above average Slumdog Millionaire, any ludicrous events can come about.

And sure enough, we wind up seeing New Moon rake in high numbers and even break records.  For those who might not be up to date, here are the film’s opening numbers and previously set records for comparison:

Midnight Showing

New Moon: $26.27 million (from 3,514 theaters)

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: $22.2 million (from 3,003 theaters)

Full Opening Day

New Moon: $76.27 million

The Dark Knight: $67.2 million

Opening Weekend

New Moon: $140 million

Spider-Man 3: $151 million

The Dark Knight: $158 million

Additionally, the film grossed $118.1 million, which brings its current worldwide total to over $258 million already.  Even if you actually happen to be a fan of the films, those are some rather shocking numbers, especially given it broke two records and now has a bronze medal for best opening weekend.  The irony of these results, however, is with the reception the movie has garnered, holding a 30% on RottenTomatoes (4.8/10 average from 162 review) and, at the time of this post, a 4.5/10 on IMDB from just less than 16,000 votes.

Now, although I’m aiming to make a career out of reviewing common entertainment productions, I refuse to spend my hard-earned cash on either of these films to earn no compensation.  But even without know how good or bad New Moon would be ahead of time, I think it’s quite absurd how well it’s done already.  Even Summit Entertainment (which produced the movie) is surprised at how much money it took in.  The target audience is about as cliché and shallow as a movie can get, and it seems everyone who possibly could’ve been turned on by this wound up seeing it.

Tragically, this is only going to lead to subsequent adaptations that will be as bad, if not worse and because the studio(s) now know they can bring in plenty of money, they don’t even have to worry about effort.  Can we get a round of applause for our generation, ladies and gentlemen?

And to think Robert Pattinson, who did a more than adequate and praise-worthy job in Harry Potter in the Goblet of Fire, has become little more than a make up mannequin who acts like a soap opera lead.

A Call of Duty, A Call of Conflicts Part II (The Call to Serve)

Much can go on in the mind of a single individual when engaged by a videogame.  The level of interaction that this form of entertainment continues to offer (and at times promote) is really unmatched by just about any other type of media.  So when a level inclusion is brought into the light such as the No Russian level from the recently released Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2, a lot can strike the player at once.  And to my surprise, this is exactly what happened with me when I first saw the then-leaked footage of the airport shooting.  What’s interesting is how the content struck me when I wasn’t even playing the game, which meant there could be any number of thoughts and emotions going through my head when playing myself.

Without dragging the build up much further, sitting down and playing the level was perhaps the most uncomfortable gaming experience I’ve ever had.  It’s fairly evident that there’s a bit of a difference between watching the killer and being the killer.  Taking part in the killing of these defenseless civilians (some crawling before being executed) was, in the words of my store manager, “awkward.”  Even though I felt that I shouldn’t take part, you’re placed into this level after completing a couple missions; meaning you’ve already gotten the impulse to kill what moves before you.

The irony of the killing on this level, however, is that from the get-go you’re told to try and avoid killing civilians, yet here you (and a few others) bluntly kill anything besides each other.  As per Makarov, the game’s antagonist, “remember-no Russian.”  And once the bullets from the people you’re among start firing, you know that the blood has been shed and all you’re left to do is take part.  Although the mission doesn’t seem to mandate you taking part in the killings, instinct did begin to take over and, at points, I’d kill someone crawling, as if saying to myself “put them out of their misery myself rather than at the hands of the real terrorists.”

“It will cost you a piece of yourself.  It will cost nothing compared to everything you’ll save.”

My anticipations were that I’d play this level for the sake of experiencing it, to see what it would offer, what it would feel like-never to return afterwards.  Now that I’ve played the game in its entirety and given the online multiplayer some time, I can safely say I’ll be abiding by those expectations.  No Russian is a level for those who aren’t squeamish, are engaged by what the game offers and want the full blown treatment.  It feels about as close as any of us might think of getting to one of the traps in a Saw film (more specifically, Jeff in Saw 3).  We might be immersed when watching the events unfold, but creating the events ourselves is far from the experience we necessarily want.  In my previous blog, I said that I couldn’t come to a conclusion as to whether I supported the inclusion of the level or not and truth be told, this still holds up for similar reasons.

Thankfully, Activision kept to their word in the level being optional (you’re prompted the option before heading to the main menu and offered to be reminded before the level comes).  I’ll say that the game overall is a very solid experience and the campaign, despite lacking focus, managed to handle its emotional aspirations very well.  It will be interesting to see if other developers follow a similar style to this, though I’m sure most won’t simply for the sake of avoiding controversy (unless they want infamy).  Unsurprisingly, the game is currently banned in Russia altogether and Activision are looking to release a version of the game with the No Russian level completely omitted.

Once again, I welcome any and all respectful thoughts.

A Call of Duty, A Call of Conflicts

Just about any gamer who’s in the know of anything is looking forward to Modern Warfare 2, the latest in Activision’s popular Call of Duty franchise.  The game is due for release tomorrow but certain GameStop stores have started selling the game before the street date.  Regardless of how this might affect the relationship between the two companies, what’s almost guaranteed is that this will be the hot selling game for the year.

With the high anticipation and sales likely to follow suit, most who’ve been following the game have likely seen a leaked video from late October.  For those who haven’t, the video shows the player with about five other terrorists taking part in the killing of unarmed civilians at an airport in-game.  The video was been posted on several websites though subsequently removed shortly after.  Needless to say, the video has drawn quite a bit of outrage with its content and the supposed reminiscence of the Mumbai killings in India last year.  Now I’m here to talk to you about the video and my thoughts on it.

Modern_Warfare_2_cover

When I first started watching the video a few days after it was first leaked, I actually stopped watching about halfway through.  While I’ve never been a squeamish individual (Blood Diamond, Schindler’s List, Rambo, the Saw series-all films I’ve managed to comfortably watch), something about seeing that video for the first time just struck me.  The unfolding massacre which you take part in during this mission felt so wrong to me.  Looking back, I think the key reason it struck me so much is that instead of seeing other characters kill or commit horrific actions, you’re the one doing so instead.  People running, screaming, crawling on the ground after being shot only to be coldly killed-it all contributed to me not wanting to continue.  As I closed the video, I said to myself “that’s too much; it shouldn’t be in the game, it’s unnecessary.”

Now that I’ve mustered seeing the video twice in its entirety, I’m looking back at my strong reaction in a rather confused way.  But that’s for a different discussion.

The point I’m trying to get at, however, comes from the conflict of my feelings and statement with my previous thoughts towards killing in videogames.  Games, namely shooters such as the sadistic Postal and the always controversial Grand Theft Auto games, have often come under fire for causing individuals (usually teenagers) to commit violence acts, such as the Columbine and even Virginia Tech shootings.  Among the outspoken individuals is attorney Jack Thompson, who’s often first on the scene for targeting games as the catalyst for people to commit these crimes.  Videogames are essentially becoming targets like heavy metal from the 80’s, 90’s and even today (eg. the Judas Priest trial of 1990).

Let’s compare: the above video of random killing in Saints Row 2…

In just about every instance where a videogame has been targeted for driving someone towards violent acts, I’ve come to the defense of the games.  I even wind up defending games at home whenever my mother sees me taking part in the killing of either AI bots offline or other human players during online matches.  Oftentimes, my arguments are that the killings are just of fake characters in the game, little to nothing more than detailed and colored pixels or polygons for the sake of entertainment.  Sure, this might seem to be a form of fun that can seem outrageous, but then again what’s half the reason people see horror or action films such as Rambo?  And truth be told, I have always and completely felt this way; the idea of a game pushing someone over the edge just sounds ludicrous to me.  Similar can be said for the content in these games.  Dead Rising, Call of Duty, Saint Row or any other game which has you killing people I find the content to be fitting and not in the least bit unnecessary.

So why is it that this eight minute video during which you take part in the massacre of innocent civilians (much like the freedom you’re given in Grand Theft Auto) seemed to disturb me?  Ultimately, I think it has to do with the circumstances.  With games such as Grand Theft Auto or Saints Row, you can go ahead and kill whoever you want; the choice is really just spontaneous behavior on the count of the player.  This level in Modern Warfare 2, however, essentially tells you to assist in a large, terrorist homicide mission with either a sadistic, domineering motive or no sane reason at all.  The choice of free killing in Saints Row will almost always come out of the desire to just screw around (for lack of a better term) and have fun.  Conversely, the murdering from this airport level feels more like a shooting gallery that bluntly has you kill.  It’s this that I’m having a tough time deciding why someone would legitimately want to do since Activision have said that this mission is completely optional and not representative of the overall gameplay experience.

But this is no different from the other games I’ve defended, right?  After all, they’re just detailed polygons and pixels made into a fictitious game.  It would seem that this inclusion of a level is starting to make me question my previous thoughts.  In the long run, the civilians you kill in this game are the same as any other AI bot in-essence; all that’s changed are how they’re designed.  This is similar to how society has tried to decide if all humans are in fact the same or equal.  Just look at blacks and slaves from the earlier years of America.  The people might look different, but they’re still people.  Yet it isn’t just the AI characters but the player, which brings back how I’m puzzled someone would want to do this.

To the terrorist killings in Modern Warfare 2.

My only guess for why players would take up this mission if it does turn out to be optional is simply for the sake of curiosity.  I’ll probably pick the game up after release and play through this level simply to see what a replication of terrorism is like.  However, once I’ve done that for my first playthrough I’ll likely have a tough time saying to myself, “I want to play the airport mission and kill those civilians.”

Developer Infinity Ward’s reason(s) to include this level in the game is still puzzling to me and in all honesty, I’m not entirely sure what to think of it.  On one hand, I think the level is ultimately senseless and that we could have easily done without it.  Yet if I say that I think it should absolutely be taken out for the content then this essentially contradicts my previously firm beliefs in defending videogames.  With all of this in mind, I’m not sure if I’d rather see this section of the game taken out or not.  It seems to test how I’ve decided to defend games such as Grand Theft Auto which I do think is good since I begin to question what I think and try to weigh things in a different manner.  As of now, however, my final verdict is still undecided.

I’m curious to hear your thoughts on this level as well, so if you have anything to say about it please share it in a professional matter.  Thank you.

Off Topic: The Zune Nightmare Part I

microsoft-logo1

Microsoft become more and more like Skynet every day.  With one key difference.

The popular are always easy to pick on.  They have the money, they have the fame-they have everything.  Sometimes it’s actually fun to go after those in the spotlight and give them the vocal version of stoning.  However serious or light-hearted these attacks may be, there is always that possibility some of us might be overreacting even in the slightest bit.  We might not want to admit to this likelihood more times than not (how many of us are actually selfless?) but in the end, most of these so-called “criticisms” are without much point or purpose and lack necessity.

Sadly, there are points when what might seem like insults are actually well deserved and, dare I say, not adequate enough.

We all know Microsoft.  The company who essentially gave us computers and, more recently, Windows Vista, Xbox 360 and the Zune media player line.  But there is something that these three releases had (and still do have) in common: nil reliability.  From inconsistent running to Red Rings of Death to constant firmware issues aplenty, all of these Microsoft releases have left sour tastes in our mouths.  Take it from somebody who’s dealt with a since crashed Vista-equipped slimline PC and laptop along with five Xbox 360’s and five Zunes in less than four years.  Do the math and I think you begin to see what I’m trying to emphasize.

RROD

Three years to almost resolve an issue that’s plagued well over 60% of Xbox 360 owners doesn’t exactly translate to good credibility.

The issue at-hand has shifted from products that are only prone to problems upon release to why these setbacks have yet to be (completely) resolved and, in some cases, continue to pop up.  The Xbox 360’s and Vista have all been criticized for their problems (and rightfully so), but it seems the Zune line has gotten significantly less attention.  Whether this is due to a lack of care or fanbase for the devices or Microsoft’s seeming intent to release newer models to try and avoid responsibilities for older versions is still up in the air.  Allow me to take you on a little trip of my experiences with the Zune; starting back when I was still in high school.

At the time, I had only owned two portable music devices (a CD player and iPod Shuffle 1G), but their simplicity essentially meant there were no worries in the form of defects.  Although I had gotten my hands on full models of the iPod time and time again, it never felt right in my hands.  The circular click wheel was never to my liking, the menu interface was boring and the opposite of fun to navigate around and they just never struck me as a particularly reliable product.  But then I heard of a new player coming out, called the Zune, being made and sold by Microsoft.  Although I had a bad run-in with my first Xbox 360 getting the Red Ring of Death after six months I ultimately shrugged it aside and figured the Zune would be a nice alternative (it had a style and interface that I immediately loved).  When I did finally get my own Zune (the Halo 3 version I might add) it was pure bliss.  Music on the go couldn’t be any better.

However, after a year of use and finding out about more bands, my demands for something a bit…more began coming out.  And conveniently enough, Microsoft were announcing the Zune 80, an 80 gigabyte upgrade to the first generation of Zunes.  Ecstatic, I decided that I would purchase one ASAP and essentially ditched my old Zune 30.  The new look was definitely nice and although it was different using a touch pad, adapting to it became easy.

zune-vs-ipod-classic

It certainly looks like a more than worthy competitor, but we all know how much looks alone matter in the long run.

Fast forward another year and we begin to truly see some cracks in the design.  I’ll start with the software which was definitely an inconvenience to install at first but all told it functioned well enough and the issues I had were at a minimum.  However, once more prominent updates came in the situation only declined.  The software would take a while before finally starting up, brief freezing was a commonality and the sync times only worsened as time went on (especially for movies).  But this was nothing compared to what I’d face with my device and, subsequently, the its three heirs.

Quote of the Day: “A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it. Fifteen hundred years ago everybody knew the Earth was the center of the universe. Five hundred years ago, everybody knew the Earth was flat, and fifteen minutes ago, you knew that humans were alone on this planet. Imagine what you’ll know tomorrow.”-Tommy Lee Jones, “Men in Black”

MGM: What We Want in Future Rock Band/Guitar Hero Entries

Both Guitar Hero and Rock Band have essentially become household names.  With an almost overwhelming amount of songs made playable amongst several games, iconic replications of instruments and the sheer fun factor, both franchises don’t show any sign of dwindling any time soon.  But these games haven’t been perfect and although every demand can’t and likely won’t be met, we at MGM are going to give three changes/improvements that we feel should be incorporated into future installments.

What Matt Wants

While I love both Guitar Hero and Rock Band both series have had the same issue and has yet to be resolved: good instruments (namely the guitar controllers)!  Additionally, what feels like a complete tease is how the controllers from both franchises have only nailed a proper controller feel halfway.  First, there’s Guitar Hero.  What I love about the Guitar Hero controllers are the strum bars-they’re stiff, strong and extremely durable (the only way to really bust one is by hitting it with fists for each note).  However, the fret buttons have almost always been lousy.  It’s either the buttons are stiff and clunky or soft but demand you crush the guitar neck for the game to detect notes.  With Rock Band, it’s the opposite.  The fret buttons feel precise since they take up the entire neck but the strum bars are “smushy” and, as a result, have a very inaccurate feeling.  For future entries/bundles, I want to see the controllers improved both ways (give us the Rock Band frets and the Guitar Hero strum bar, it’d be amazing).

rock-band-guitar-hero-vs

Instead of choosing between two half-decent controllers, why not give us a truly complete controller?

What Greg Wants

I’m not sure about all the other fans of these franchises out there, but for me, knowing how to improve at certain songs (namely difficult ones) is something I strive for.  Harmonix were quick to realize that a practice mode was necessary after not putting it in the first Guitar Hero.  While it has since been tweak and improved (save for Guitar Hero 3), there’s still something missing: a side-by-side note chart comparison.  For some of the tougher songs or song sections I try to get the hang of I sometimes feel as if I’m hitting the notes but the game isn’t registering them correctly, despite calibration tests.  So for the sake of avoiding frustration and adding convenience, I think we should be given comparisons of what the game detects we played next to the actual note chart (do this for both playthroughs of songs in Quick Play/Career and for sections in Practice mode).  This would definitely help the less experienced players realize what they may or may not be doing wrong as well as help the more experienced gamers see what they need to change to perfect their technique.

To this day I can’t get past the second solo, I think you can tell why.

What Michael Wants

Something that I’ve always wanted in the Guitar Hero games was being able to play previous content on future entries so the changes and improvements could be seen in the songs.  Although Harmonix understood this loud and clear by transferring (most of) the songs from Rock Band to its sequel, Neversoft are still playing catch up.  Essentially what I want to see for all future entries for both franchises is what Harmonix have already put into effect: transfer/install songs for use in subsequent releases.  I’m sure that whatever full-blown Guitar Hero games come out will have some nice touches for improvement but I’d like to play previous material on them (being able to play songs from Guitar Hero: Metallica on new games without having to swap discs would be much appreciated).  And given how many Guitar Hero discs have been released, I think I can speak for a lot of people when I say that avoiding this would eliminate much inconvenience (part of why MP3 players made CD players obsolete).

guitar-hero-smash-hits-boxart

Don’t just give us a bit of the previous content; let us have it all with the tweaks made in later installments.