Archive for Star Wars

A long awaited return

Posted in Geeking out with tags , , , , on March 19, 2012 by halbard100

First off, this is going to be a fanboy heavy post, so fair warning. Though I hope that would be some what expected.

I am a huge, HUGE, Star Wars fan. I have been for nearly as long as I can remember. Watching the original trilogy on VHS with my family is one of those memories I’ve held onto with my dad reading the opening scrawl so my brother and I could keep up. Secondly, Darth Maul is by far my favorite character in that universe. The striking visual, his movement, that saber, everything, I just love the character. That being said, I’ve kinda enjoyed where he’s fallen into the history of the saga and with fans. A lot of fans love him especially given that he got so little exposure since he died nearly as fast as he was revealed. And as such, his essence has been attempted to be brought back a lot over the years. Personally, I’ve come to like that he was killed off so quickly. You always tend to elevate that thing you can’t have beyond what it really was. Darth Maul was awesome, and all the thinking about what could have been if he had more time just makes him seem even better, since you end up picturing what you’d like the most. On top of that, he’s gotten a sort of mythical presence in all the extend universe stuff. People just keep want to bring him back in some shape or form.

Despite all this, he’s never really been brought back whole-sale. Its always been some sort of bad copy never quite equaling the original. So hearing that LucasArts had decided to full on bring him completely back to life, I was just a little iffy on it. I had 2 concerns: A) He’s been messed with so much over the years, he’s got a pretty interesting back story, and the Clone Wars series has been making a lot of changes to the cannon, and B) one of the defining characteristics that (I thought) made him cool were his physicality and his demeanor. Ray Park really defined the awe inspiring abilities of the character. I’ve never thought a picture could capture that, and the down side of a CGI series is that you’re not able to give that since of speed, agility, and most importantly, flow and grace. As for demeanor, Darth Maul was a wraith in my mind. Going purely from the movie, the guy never talks, or blinks for that matter. He’s a specter looming or a dervish, and the show aimed to give him more of a voice. He had a few lines in the movie, but usually he was just there.

All that said, damn did they ever give him an amazing come back. I can begin to describe how impressed I am with Sam Witwer’s performance. He just nails it. If you haven’t seen the episodes yet, currently they’re on starwars.com. He does an amazing job keeping that slightly quiet, cold voice of Maul. On top of that, the character growth he’s gone through is great. I was worried at first, but after watching the episodes, its amazing how much they could tell in less than an hour. They’re able to show a transformation from being crippled and insane into being even more cold that before. He’s spent his time wallowing in pain, alone, and consumed by the dark side. Broken. No explanation is given about how he got to where he is, but you can see it etched out across his broken form that it wasn’t easy. They’re able to keep some mystique about him. Then, they bring him back into form, or as close as they can, and we see an even stronger character. Sure, he’s not quite spinning around like he use to, but you don’t really expect that, and even then he does show some glimpses of it. One of the biggest growths is shown thanks to Witwer – the voice. He’s cold, cunning. Darth Maul is showing a sharp, dark intelligence and Witwer does an amazing job with it. It could have ruined the character, but the writing team did wonders and combined with Witwer’s voice talents, they really added to the character without ruining what made the character so striking to begin with.

Well done, I can’t wait to see where the series will take him in the future.

Advertisements

Evolution? Standards v Principles

Posted in A Philosophy of Design, Video Games with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 11, 2010 by halbard100

So I made this wordpress a few months ago but never really thought of anywhere to go with it. Recently I’ve read a collection of blogs about MMOs and how they are or aren’t evolving and various related musings.

We Need a Mutant MMO
The Innovation Paradox
Thats a Terrible Idea: The Immitation Rut
We’re Working Backwards
WoW is the iPhone, not Walmart

For me the best and easiest place to start is WoW, everyone mention its and you have to — its gotten to be the standard that every other MMO is and will be judged for a while. But in terms of evolution, look at the environment and style of pre-WoW and post-WoW. Pre-WoW we had games like Ultima Online, Everquest, Star Wars Galaxies, and City of Heroes and one of the biggest things about these are that they are all different, sure there are a lot similarities but they all take that base knowledge and ran with it in different directions. There was nothing to say, “Okay, that is what we have to beat out right.” at least not in the same sense that there is today with WoW. But with anything starting development post-WoW, we see a lot of these elements that have become fairly standardized, from things as simple as using the A, D, W, and S keys for movement and User Interface, to elements as core as game play and interactivity.

When something becomes “standardized”, everyone pretty much expects it and generally, you don’t like it when something you expect isn’t there. Whether you realized it or not, we all tend to work like this, its where the idea of “People fear change” comes from. In many cases, standards are good, they lay a foundation that we can stick to and make sure that things never fall below a certain level of quality. The Con? These standards become closer to shackles. They can become so omnipresent that as soon as you reach them, your done; this continues, it becomes habitual. You spread this effect amongst large groups, and it spirals into the main stream. I remember something my English teacher mentioned in 8th or 9th grade about writing papers. We were required to have a 5 paragraph paper, and it always seemed a chore to get there, a relief to get there, and excessive to go farther. When we asked why that was the rule, her answer was that way back, students just wouldn’t stop writing and it was made to limit how much was written so we could keep our ideas concise, but after so much use, it actually became restrictive as we frantically worked to get enough sentences and girth to our papers to get to that point. Whats the point of my little tangent down memory (hell) lane? Its a similar reaction, a practice that came into place to improve things, end up hindering them.

If I was where I am today 6 years ago, I would have honestly said and believed, and I do believe it today, that when SWG came out, it was or was near the next generation of MMO. Looking at what it had, there were a lot of things that broke the mold — though being similar to UO from shared developers. No true levels, but instead skills. No restricted zones, but a sandbox world. Deep crafter and player run economy verse the merchant and loot based of the past. Going from some of the other blogs I read, that’s a mutation and ripe with innovation. And look at what concepts are being innovated in MMOs now: housing, more robust crafting, distancing from a leveling structure, etc. WoW took concepts that had been well established and loved and discarded those that were hated to make an amalgamation of those loved concepts covered with their own IP and were handsomely rewarded for it. WoW was the golden poster boy for everything that old MMOs to that point had done right. On top of that it showed that an MMO couldn’t just be successful, it was a good business investment and could explode. Ideally this should have set a standard for what an MMO should start from, and there was no where to go but up. Given the list of things that makes a successful MMO and shown that it wasn’t a gamble, the industry should have opened to innovation and to try new and different thing now that developers didn’t have to look for what worked. The actuality was we got nearly half a decade of so called “WoW Clones” from the big budget MMOs as developers hung to those standards and were scared, unmotivated, or just didn’t think about moving outside because those standards were in plain view and screaming at them constantly.

I’d rather that we would have principles instead of standards. Something that is less restrictive than “You have to have this” and be more “Something like this.” Evolution, innovation, or whatever you care to call it, is halted by a misconceived or misused notion of what a developer “has” to do, and only lately have we begun to get out of that rut. I feel its important to bring DOOM up in this discussion. Why? When DOOM first came out, it defined the FPS genre. Subsequent games were viewed as clones to DOOM but over the course of time, things differentiated enough and calling something a Doom Clone went a way, and we’re where we are today. With games coming out like Allods Online that takes the WoW model as a standard and builds on it, or Star Wars: The Old Republic that aims to really innovate and add something past what MMOs truly are, we could be looking at a shift to principles and not an adherence to a standard. Whether the industry will strive to evolve, mutate, and innovate out of it current shadow or will stagnate and simply collapse under its own weight of retaining an old method of thinking, only time will tell.

–Halbard100