My opinions seem to not follow the status quo of many others, which is something I am getting accustomed to. So when I heard about the negative press Suicide Squad was getting, I didn’t mind. I means sure, it meant that I wasn’t going to be in for the blockbuster I hoped at the beginning of the year, but I wanted to see it. I knew that I would likely enjoy it – and enjoy it I did. But I am not afraid to point out the already well documented flaws of the title.
It’s funny what you learn when you do research for other things.
In the process of putting together last weeks article Lovecraft, Films and TV I looked a little into John Carpenter’s The Thing, a classic mixture of body-horror, paranoia and cosmic horror. The concept of an immensely powerful creature descending from the stars with the power to devour us all has some rather eldritch horror elements, and while the origins for this story are more strongly tied to John W. Campbell’s “Who Goes There?” there’s no denying the impact of the Lovecraft contemporaries from a few years prior.
Did you know it was part of a trilogy?
I didn’t! (more…)
Despite the interpretations of Cthulhu that have rather missed the point (or understood it and gone cutesy anyway), the cultural impact of Howard Phillips Lovecraft is unmissable even if you don’t fully comprehend what you’re seeing. Computer games seem to be the chosen platform for recreating the mythos of his particular horror style, being able to properly immerse the player in the role of someone seeing their world view broken wide open, the shadows deepen and reach into their very soul. It’s effective, and may even have a more profound impact than the original literature, but there’s still so much that has yet to be explored. (more…)
UK residents, are you looking forward to Captain America: Civil War in a few days? You’re probably looking forward to quite a few films this year, as well as having enjoyed some absolute whopping films so far. But what’s left for the rest of the year and what films am I looking out for in particular? Join Timlah as we look through a few upcoming geek films which might be worth a watch! (more…)
When is big too big?
A story should grow as it develops, but too often a story can peak too soon and then the climax that follows ends up feeling… well, anticlimactic. Can you have a war in the middle of the book only for the final showdown to take place between hero and villain in a cave somewhere? The stakes could be higher, but the grandeur is lost. When you’ve bested a dragon, can rescuing the princess from the stumpy lord who you passed her onto be just as awesome?
Scale can be an important thing to plot ahead of time when preparing any new piece of work, be it the dramatic impact of a scene, the ramifications of a particular deed, or even working out how to leave yourself somewhere to go when you still have a long way to the finish line.
In any narrative with multiple dramatic moments there should be peaks of excitement and tension separated by lulls of recovery. You simply can’t keep building tension, fear or whatever emotional pinnacles you’re pursuing, your audience will get bored of the constant rising drama. “Oh, somebody else has died? Who’s nex- oh her! And now everything’s on fire. Great.”
In between there must be time to process each event as it passes, a release of tension so that the viewer/player/reader can be built back up, and perhaps further this time. Horror films, slashers in particular do this exceptionally well, each kill is followed by more of the confused and terrified teenagers trying to work out what’s going on in that mysterious old diamond mine, as shadows creep along the wall, strange creeks, plans are made that will inevitably lead to one person being separated from another, or an ominous door to be opened and then BANG! Or possible crunch.
This kind of story structure is essential, and not because it’s a familiar and safe format but because the contrast of rise and fall makes each event so much more incredible, and the “come down” gives us a brief moment to feel satisfied before we start the cycle again.
Level 1 is practically the same in any fantasy RPG. Goblins, kobolds, giant rats, basically nothing much taller than waste high for a few levels until you can take on something as big as you are, then on to the dragons and whatnot, the big scary things with glowing weak points. The largest thing you’ll face at that stage is another person. Now here we must surely be able to make a few changes. Escalation in terms of threat needn’t only be represented in terms of size, but in terms of cunning or the threat represented.
For example, when you’re faced with a dragon your choices are fairly obvious. Point the biggest, meanest, most damaging thing you have at it and pull the trigger. But when your nemesis is little more than a face in the crowd with the power to bring a nation to its knees, you can’t be so forthright in your approach.
Where size really matters is when your protagonist is concerned. As time progresses and situation demands, guns should get bigger, magic powers should get more epic. While in game terms your character may only be chasing larger numbers, it helps a lot if they’re represented by a bigger boom, making the development more abundantly obvious. Perhaps it isn’t their individual power that matters, but the influence they have over others, the size of their group, their army, or the power to change a nation, which brings me to my final point rather neatly…
Many times we see a story about one very particular and seemingly insignificant thing turn into something far more dramatic. Harry Potter can be held up as a prime example, the mystery of the Third Floor Corridor being so very Enid Blyton in its make-up, becoming a step along a path towards open and highly climactic warfare, with clearly marked levels of importance along the way. With each book something more important is at stake: The lives of students, an escaped convict, international relations, soon the very magical governing body becomes the focus of attention.
There are only so many times you can save the world. It’s ok to save the farm first, or even save yourself for now until you get the bigger guns to come back and save the world, the galaxy, or even time itself. As the drama increases, so too should the burden of responsibility on your characters, the amount of power they wield in terms of both combative strength and political sway contributing to the tension, the drama, and the scale of the plot.
Need I break down episodic and serial storytelling styles?
No, I thought not, you’re intelligent people, you don’t need such basic things explaining to you.
Ahh, what the hell, I’ve got time to kill.
In an episodic series, each episode is a self contained story, beginning and ending within the confines of the time-limit. Usually they’ll present a familiar cast of characters and put them into a new situation. Once the episode is done, all is resolved and reset to square one, like The Simpsons, Star Trek (mostly, but I’ll get to that), or Monopoly.
It’s easier to jump straight into an episodic series because you need next to no prior knowledge to follow the narrative. You can discover the characters over time, developing a stronger appreciation for the content as you go and revisiting old episodes to discover what you might have missed, what that scene was really about, what those significant looks meant, or maybe you’ll get more of the jokes than you did the last time around. There’s very little gained or lost by watching episodes in chronological order, but these days there’s less chance of ever missing an episode of anything these days.
From the perspective of the writer, it also gives an opportunity to try lots of stories, to truly explore the characters and world they live in by putting them through a wide variety of scenarios that allow both the writer and the viewer to see them from different perspectives, to test their limits and discover their strengths.
The problem with such an insular structure is that it can be very difficult to build a well structured story within whatever time-frame you’re working with. Having to foreshorten a story can make it feel rushed, or require unrealistic resolutions to bring it to an end – looking at you Star Trek, you know what I’m talking about! The need for multiple narratives can also put a strain on creativity, which can diminish the quality over time in long-running episodic series.
Serial story telling relies on multiple episodes linking together to form a singular story, each picking up from where the other left off and ending openly so that another episode can continue. Usually each episode isolates specific events so that they have natural start and end points, often leading from cliffhanger into resolution rather than from one dramatic lull to the next. The cliffhanger based structure is by far the more common for its ability to make viewing the next chapter compulsive.
Especially when comparing television series to films, serial stories have a wide advantage on creating complex and engrossing stories, taking characters on journeys that change them permanently, making them more believable and – generally speaking – more likeable or detestable. We can become invested, form emotional attachments, fair judgements, and even begin to speculate on the future… at length, on forums.
However, a serial story can be difficult for new viewers, almost impossible to jump into the middle without getting there the hard way. Fans of a series frequently become groups who identify themselves as such, and while the community spirit is great any in-group creates an out-group, and that can be a little exclusionary. The story by its very nature isolates people who might have potentially been fans just for being late to the game.
You’ll almost never see any show, book, film or game series that falls completely into one or other category. Episodic series will often introduce new characters, or include stories that extend through multiple episodes to create richer and more dramatic narratives. The dramatic ebb and flow of serials lends them to creating smaller stories, side-dramas and isolated incidents. Dexter and American Horror Story are near perfect examples of half-and-half, each series representing individual arcs with little link between them. The Elder Scrolls is similar, each sequel presenting a new period in Tamriel’s history.
Soap operas – as deeply flawed as they are in terms of writing, and a weird combination of stagnation and escalation, like a drowning man fighting harder for the surface – also represent a neat balance between episodic and serial structure. The proper name is serial drama, but within them are layers of stories interacting and character groups going through isolated stories that might last months or years, rise and fade as events demand. There is no end, no conclusion in mind, only one story leading into a different story.
It’s worth considering how the differences in structure can effect design in your own creations, especially if you have plans to make them extensive. Games having varied length of gameplay allowed writers a lot more freedom regarding their story but had to incorporate interactivity, and ways in which the player can impact on the stories they create, and now episode-based game series are on the rise they bring their own alterations to the structure. More and more film series are structured so that they link together, such as the MCU, planned series and two-part films. The internet itself is changing the way we tell stories, with instant-release series the nature of the writing has become very different.
As a D&D player it’s interesting for me to create stories that can vary in length from a single session or one-shot, or creating story arcs that form the length of a campaign despite being contained within themselves.
Just an idle thought.
We know it all, we’ve seen it all happen over the last few years so I’ll skip the spiel and get into the heart of the matter. It fails in both directions:
Now the problem here is a matter of timing. Licensed titles are designed to be released shortly before the film upon which they’re based, but because the projects start roughly when the production of the film is well under way it cuts deeply into the production time, leaving us with rushed messes filled with glitches and lacking any kind of innovation as the development team try their hardest to cobble together something that will roughly match the feel of the film or the general themes.
And that’s the other side of the problem. It’s very difficult to take a fixed and flowing narrative and wedge in some interactivity. It’s easier to take the characters and the world that they occupy and put them into a more game-oriented story than it is to try taking a story and gamifying it. For example, American McGee’s Alice took the characters from Lewis Carroll’s surrealist story and made a modern day classic. Telltale’s Walking Dead and Game of Thrones series have both taken the worlds and themes and created original adventures within them.
Uwe Bol may be bringing down the standards, but he’s really only adding to a far larger problem. Paul W.S. Anderson too, but it’s not exactly his fault.
Half of the problem is the exact reverse of the licensed game issue. The appeal of games is the interactivity, and the fact that a game can reveal a great deal more through the hours of gameplay than it can in those periods of time dedicated to story-telling. Much like a book adaptation, much of a game’s content is condensed or removed altogether to allow for time constraints, leaving fans unfulfilled. Doom and Max Payne appear to have suffered most heavily under this issue, both films demonstrated at the very least a respectable attempt at bring their games to big screen, but felt clumsy and lacking (right up until Carl Urban’s FPS scene in Doom).
Worse is the all-to-common issue of the writers, directors and producers not fully understanding the title that they’re working with. Boll may be a travesty of a director but at least he seems to enjoy games, whereas other attempts seem to be cobbling together plot from cutscenes or simply joining dots on what they’ve been told about it.
At least one film has been made that came close to a true representation of the game upon which it was based: Silent Hill. All the key elements were there, the fog, the horror, the themes, even the story came very close, but even that had it’s critical flaw. Where the games created nightmares from the innermost corruption of the main character, the film constructed a narrative where the young girl had created a private hell for those who had condemned her, sending away a better part of herself to drag someone new in so that the audience had someone to follow. Even then, Silent Hill was a good film, and not a horrendous sequel either.
And so to the future! Warcraft has a film incoming, and while we’ve seen promising trailers let us down in the past (looking at you Agent 47) we may yet have the beginnings of a revolution on our hands. It took a long time for the comic book hero to see proper representation on the silver screen, and games have a similarly long burn to get through, trial and error, lots of error, until finally we begin to strike gold.
Sidenote, I think Assassin’s Creed has potential to make a good film, but a lot of other games have had potential and failed hideously. There are some thing Michael Fassbender just can’t fix, and the lousy relationship between video games and films will take more than a couple of successes.
That’s right, December 31st, 2015, and I end it on a bad pun, truly in the style of GeekOut South-West.
We have posted something once a day, every day this year, and the results have been more than a little gratifying. We’ve seen a steady rise in views and viewers, and I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all of you for making this one of the most uplifting years of my life.
I’ve been ill the last couple of days, so inspiration is sadly low, but what do you post at this time of year? Nothing really nerdy to say, we all know that next year is going to be a massive drain on the wallet to anyone who wanders too close to a cinema.
There’s also a battery of new games coming up that I’m genuinely looking forward to for first time in a while, Dishonored 2, Total War: Warhammer, and Battleborn. Considering that this is the year I’m determined to spend as much time as possible playing games it could well be a fun 2016.
Happy new year everyone. Don’t get too hammered.
We’ve all watched Dicken’s Christmas Carol retold a thousand times in a thousand different ways, the same with It’s A Wonderful Life, which in many ways is the same film – guy gets a new appreciation for life when a supernatural entity tells him how great Christmas is. How many more times must Santa be saved? Must we all learn the harsh reality of the joyous fleeting moment by watching our magically animated friend perish beneath the sun’s paradoxically life-giving rays? Can the true meaning of the season be learned anywhere other than Charlie Brown’s piano?
There’s a lot more films out there than those that are brandished at us all December long. From the undervalued or apparently unseasonal, there’s loads of films that fill you with as much of the joy of the season. So let’s look at them, and then maybe watch a few while everyone else starts yelling about the Grinch. (more…)