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Posts tagged “Films

Horror And Perspective

The first person view is the easiest way to instil fear in the viewer, the forced perspective makes the experience a lot more personal. The found footage subgenre is great at forcing us into the eyes of the victims and helping us share the experience side-by-side with them, and video games are starting to borrow a few tricks from found footage, such as camera tilting and jolting. Amnesia started those tricks early, having the camera drop to the floor in panic and crawl through a short and boring corridor.

There’s a growing amount of games that bring horror into new perspectives, Limbo, Little Nightmares, and Deadlight are all prime examples of platform horrors that shift the view of the player so that they act as witnesses, rather than active participants, but they employ some rather different methods to inspire dread: (more…)


Top 10 – Schools and Colleges

GeekOut Top 10s

Let us educate all of you here, a school or a college is an institution that has an educational curriculum. Now that I’ve said that, you might have realised that this discounts a lot of things that purport to be a school in any media. The issue with media is we see a lot of stuff, but we rarely see education happening, because it’s not exciting to watch, read or play.

However, we’ve gone back to think about what some of the best schools and colleges in the whole of geekdom are. We think we’ve come up with some pretty good ones. Let’s see if you are going to be a teachers pet after this lot, or if you’re just a poor student.


Top 10

10) Camp Half-Blood – Percy Jackson and the Olympians

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Everyone has heard of Percy Jackson and the Olympians, but if not, it’s a good way to learn more about mythology. Amusingly, Percy Jackson himself has been expelled from every school he’s gone to, so it’s not like you’re without schools in this series – But the most prominent one, at least the one that takes him in, is Camp Half-Blood. Known as the only safe place for Half-Bloods, Percy’s mother is told that she needs to send him there and that’s basically where he continues his education.

This is our number 10 pick simply because there’s not much in the way of “schooling” in this series. Yes, the camp technically counts as an educational institution, as there is technically a curriculum in place. With this said, it doesn’t mean it’s the best pick – but it’s certainly what we’d count as a school using our own terms. What do you all think though?

9) House of Night

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House of Night is a series of books written by P. C. Cast and her daughter, Kristin Cast. It’s been out for over 9 years so far, but not a lot of people have really heard of this series or know much about it. It just so happens, we have the whole set here, which I intend to have a go through at some point. The most important thing to note about House of Night is that it’s all set in the House of Night Campus, a school for…

Vampyres. Yeah, I know, there seems to be a typo on the word vampire, but the whole series revolves around a girl called Zoey Redbird and her adventures as one of those who have been marked. Being marked in this series means you’re basically a chosen one for the vampyre goddess. This series is full of blood (obviously), sex and rather graphic descriptions of what’s going on. Oh, did I mention that this series also did manage to get a #1 best seller as well, back in 2009? So it can’t be that unknown, right?

8) Battle School – Ender’s Game

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The only orbital school in our list, this space-station was designed to teach strategy in zero gravity, to identify a true leader, someone who could truly win a war on a galactic scale with vast gulfs between worlds as their battlefield. Through team games to shockingly (almost alarmingly) accurate simulations, the brilliant are whittled down to the exceptional, and from the exceptional are drawn the almost unnatural, Andrew “Ender” Wiggin.

Set in a future in which humanity was brought to the brink of extermination twice by a race of alien insects, the response is nothing short of utter obliteration from the human military force, but after surviving the impossible before only the impossible would do in retaliation. As such, Battle School is made to find the very best of the very best. While a better job could have been done in presenting the novel’s themes on screen, a fine job indeed was done of showing the educational space-station and the life and death lessons learned therein.

7) Highschool of the Dead

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If you enjoy The Walking Dead and only wish you could see a bunch of heavily armed school children who look like teens and young adults deal with the collapse of society in a world overrun by the shambling corpses of the dead then look no further. Highschool of the Dead features exactly such a band of survivors on their twelve episode and one OVA journey through a world infested with zombies, brought low by the corruption that dwells within all of us, and features absolutely no fan-service whatsover, none, it is not that kind of anime.

Alright so it’s Left for Dead meets Dead or Alive with a crate of military grade guns and a rather extensive bath-scene. Anime, can we not have a zombie apocalypse without you boobing things up? Still the kids make it though alive… ish, and it does make you wonder what Fujimi High School is teaching it’s students.

6) Unseen University – Discworld

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Sat amidst the economic trade hub Ankh-Morpork is the world’s premier arcane education and research facility. It holds the largest collection of books, enough to collapse normal space and enter into the strange sub-dimension lined with bookshelves connecting all libraries. The High Energy Magic Building is a gigantic centre for wyrd science, containing a self-upgrading computer named HEX. Even the rubbish dump around the back is a micro-economy called the Unreal Estate.

As a locale for most of the world’s magic it’s also a centre for a lot of major plot points, such as the rise of the Sorcerer, a spawning point for idle thought manifestation, and time travel! Oh and also the tallest building on the disk.  Wizards of UU are generally an amiable bunch, prone to between-meal meals and the odd bout of world-saving, so if you’re in a pinch that’s looking likely to get apocalyptic on some level, there’s a place in the city you can always rely on for help, eventually.

5) Third Street Elementary – Recess

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This is almost entirely a nostalgia entry for us, we may have to do an entire piece of Recess itself one day because just describing the school will never suffice.

We follow the stories of the allied band of misfits as the strange dynamics of the playground turn into epic dramas of monumental scale, the social hierarchy is exerted to the fullest extent, and games get all too real. King Bob sits atop his climbing-frame throne as a figurehead to the shadow-government of the Ashleys clique, savage kindergarteners and withdrawn Pale Kids, all under the tyrannical gaze of Ms Finster and her cringing pawn Randall.

It’s a dynamic world to cram into a twenty minute play-break, half hour lunch and the brief spaces before and after school, but Third Street Elementary shows us a world in which all of life’s trails and nuances are boiled down to simple play, and it’s done so rather brilliantly.

4) Whispering Rock – Psychonauts

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Busted down for not having much of a campus to speak of, absent of classrooms and main-halls, instead find a mess room, tree-house, boating lake and geodesic psychoisolation chamber. Normal summer-camp stuff. Still it’s a place of guided learning, with teachers who are experts in their field leading a class of students through a series of important lessons for aspiring psychonauts.

Lessons include mental infiltration, telekinetic levitation, in-brain combat, conspiracy unravelling, and psychoactive healthcare and un-lobotomising the lobotomised. No lanyard making or canoeing lessons, no sir. Even fishing is a little “different” but when you’re in the preliminary stages of joining an organisation of telepathic secret agents you cannot expect a typical summer camp experience.

3) Food Wars: Shokugeki no Soma

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Shokugeki no Soma is a culinary school which see’s the best chefs in Japan (and further afield) come together, in the name of excellence. From people who have been part of a long line of prestigious restaurant chains, to women who can certainly handle meat better than anyone could imagine, Shokugeki no Soma is an exciting look at making food. I’ve not been this excited to see people cook since the classic TV show Ready, Steady, Cook!

Our protagonist is Soma, who comes from a small cafe. The other students see Soma as uncouth, a little brash and all in all, not worthy of their school. Of course, Soma has to realise his own shortcomings as part of the show, but he’s all about providing nothing but the very best. Even if he didn’t want to go to the school himself. Oh and if you’ve not seen this show before, this is the anime that brought some of the rudest food related gifs to the internet. Like the one above!

2) Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters

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Who studies on a campus with a stealth jet under the basketball court, a lethal semi-sapient training room, and a massive telepathic amplifier in the basement?

The school for gifted youngsters is incredibly selective in who it permits to join, indeed it might very well be the most discriminating learning institution in the world, as applicants require a specific genetic distinction that sets them apart from the average person. “Gifted” refers to superpowered mutants, the kind of kids who can turn their skins to metal, phase through walls, fire concussive light beams from their bodies, or teleport.

Mundanes need not apply! This is no mere place of learning but also a place of shelter and respite, the one campus that can earnestly be considered a safe space, practically a fortress for the heavily persecuted against mutant race.

1) Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry

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Hogwarts is of course going to be our number one pick on Top 10 Schools/Colleges. Think about what the entire premise of Harry Potter is about – And to make it even better, this last Friday, our meetup theme was Harry Potter. So yes, we’re a little bit Harry Potter mad at the moment, but you can’t really expect anything below to have beaten the one and only school for Witchcraft and Wizardry, now can you?

From Argus Filch who is one of the sleaziest caretakers you’ll ever meet, to the grand headmaster Dumbledore, this school has it all. Teachers with agendas against kids who have wronged them and of course, the typical awkwardness of teenage dancing. Yes, Hogwarts truly has it all – and then some! From house elves to owls, parchments to howlers, this magical school was honestly an intriguing and entertaining world – and I’m really looking forward to Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them.


Honourable Mentions

It’s not so elementary, my dear reader, as we’ve come to an end of the bulk of our Top 10 list. But as per usual, we feel the need to enlighten you all some more with extras. Things that we feel should be mentioned, but not necessarily worth going onto our list.

Sky High

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If any of you have seen this film, you’ll know it’s downright pure cheese and you’re questioning my sanity for even mentioning this film. The truth of the matter is, I’ve not even seen it, but from what I’ve seen of the story behind it and from what I’ve heard about it, I think it kind of deserves the mention. You see, this isn’t any ordinary school, it’s one that supports the education of super heroes.

Young Will Stronghold is the son of two of the most famous superheroes of all: The Commander and Jetstream. Will however doesn’t have any powers of his own, at least none that have yet awakened. We’re treated to a pure cheese fest where bully kids treat him like an outsider due to his lack of powers and a bunch of Will’s friends. It’s goofy, it’s basically gorgonzola, but it’s actually quite a clever play on the superhero niche.

Pico’s School

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Those of us who grew up with Flash games by the man who made Newgrounds, Tom Fulp, will be very familiar with this title. It was bloody, it was insane, it was outright despicable when it came out, but we all absolutely loved how devious it was. From threatening to cut off male genitalia, to kids shooting one another up, this was a downright bloodbath of a Flash game, before they became huge.

Sure, it certainly wouldn’t make it onto our Top 10 list, as it’s not quite got the edge, but this game was sick for something so accessible… And we loved it. Yes, it’s violent, yes, there was a real education system in there… But ultimately, it becomes nothing more than a glorified arena. It’s a real bloodbath, with unsettling themes. You can check it out for yourself here but be warned, it’s not for young audiences.


Ultimately the test in knowing if a school has been good is how memorable it is – and if there’s something the above has taught us, there’s little as memorable as some of the great schools we’ve mentioned in our Top 10. Of course, memorability is one thing, but being an educational institution is the most important criteria of being a school. Having a school which is entirely dependent on actually educating its students is kind of why we’ve picked the ones we have. So then, it’s time for you to pick our next Top 10!

Now kids, don’t forget to stay behind after class to give the teacher your coursework. This time, you get to grade the grown-ups, as we are passing the conversation back to you. What do you think of our Top 10 Schools/Colleges? Do you think we were right in our number one pick, or is some of register jumbled up? Are there any finer establishments you could think of than the ones above? As always, share your thoughts in the comments below, or over on Facebook, Twitter and Reddit.

 


Film Review: Suicide Squad

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.

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John Carpenter’s Apocalypse

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…)


Lovecraft, Films and TV

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…)


5 Geek Films To Watch Out For

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…)


Matters Of Scale

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.

Dramatic escalation

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.”

Extra Credits detailing escalation in Star Wars

Extra Credits detailing escalation in Star Wars

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.

Size

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.

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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…

Importance

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.


Episodic vs. Serial

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.

Episodic

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.

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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

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.

To-be-continued

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.

The Hybrid

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.

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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.

Why?

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.


Getting Into Character

As I’ve grown older I’ve come to more deeply appreciate the role of the director in the film industry, to the point where I’ll look for the directors credentials on a new film before I give much thought to the actors involved. That said, there’s a real difference when an actor actually enjoys what they’re doing and the characters that they’re playing.

For The Love Of It

Some actors just straight up love what they do, and as geek culture grows stronger and more and more celebrities get insanely passionate about those characters that they always wanted to play from comics. We all know I’m talking about Ryan Reynolds, but he’s not the only one. (more…)


Games And Movies – An Unhappy Marriage

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:

Licensed Titles

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.

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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.

Gaming Films

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).

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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.

Hope

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.