Thursday, May 30, 2013

Game Review: Bioshock Infinite (Spoiler Edition) Part 2

Alrighty, part 2.  Last part, I talked about the first level of the game, mainly covering the visuals and story telling elements.  I'm going to try to do the same thing here for the next, larger segment of the game.

When Booker sits down in the chair in the center of the lighthouse, something rather unexpected happens to him.  The chair, as if by it's own will, straps his arms and legs to the respective arms and legs of the chair.  The next thing the player may expect to happen judging by this rather devious twist of fate, is for Booker to be a) tortured by a madman who has been lurking in the shadows, b) dropped into the ocean through the middle of the lighthouse, c) electrocuted, or any other number of life threatening and equally horrifying things. What actually happens is quite the contrast to that expectation.  Instead of dropping or dying, Booker begins to very rapidly ascend up into the sky.  How does this happen?  He has no idea, but finding out isn't his top priority.

As he reaches "the top", his apparent destination (or at least the chair capsule's destination), Booker witnesses a city floating above the clouds: Columbia.  The place is breathtaking, but before he can get a chance to gawk at the scenery for long, his chair pod descends into a building which appears to be a cathedral.  The thing that really stands out about this place is that the entire floor is covered in almost a foot of water.  Floating on top of the water are candles, still burning since who knows when.  On the walls though, is the greatest spectacle of it all.  Massive stained glass images, mostly of an unknown old man who appears to be represented as some sort of savior.

So I'm going to stop here for a minute to take a closer look at this starting room.  All of the other rooms in this building are quite similar and not quite so grand, so we can afford to just focus on this one.  The first thing that the player should notice about this room (consciously or otherwise) in contrast to the lighthouse is the lighting.  The lighting in the lighthouse was very dim, and full of rather ominous blue-gray shadows.  The light itself was almost an amber colour, not a far cry from the style of lighting in this cathedral, except that in the cathedral the light shines through in shafts from the windows with a much more natural tint.  This, coupled with the candle light really gives the cathedral a warm feeling, despite the water and the fog coming off of it.  This an extremely effective technique really since even though the character has clearly arrived at a new location where things are very different from what he has seen before, it has a sense of almost ethereal familiarity.  It's the whole "same but different" concept.  This lighting contrast is just the beginning to the many strange contrasts in the game, and even in this very first level.  The water right below the character's feet and the fog hovering just above it speaks volumes to this.  We will later learn that the water actually serves a purpose in the story, albeit a small one, but almost nothing is done by accident when creating a visual story, especially not in such an involved artistic story.  The visible layers in this scene represent the layers of thought had by the character, and also very possibly the player.  The sunlight streaking through the windows is the light being shed on something new, but also the majestic nature of this new, unknown place.  The ambient candle light is the warmth of the cathedral and the welcoming feeling associated with the place.  The fog is the confusion and the mystery behind the place, while the water is the promise of things to change and the foreshadowing of hardship.

Now you're probably asking yourself, "where is this guy getting all this crap from?"  Well let me explain myself.  The light from the windows and the light from the candles are pretty straight forward concepts, they're essentially just a gut feeling that most people would get.  The fog is an archetypal element that has generally come to be accepted as meaning confusion since it obstructs vision and promotes cautious travel.  It is difficult to predict what is ahead when looking through the fog.  The water is a little more difficult to interpret.  In similar archetypal fashion, a flowing river is the standard to represent change or the passing of time.  An ocean is seen as a challenge to be overcome or as a long journey to take.  The water in the cathedral is really neither of these things, so you have to look a little deeper.  When you think about walking through shallow water, it may not be that big of a deal, but when you really imagine what it would be like, or actually do it, the reality is that it is much more difficult to walk through say, a foot of water than on dry land. The resistance from the water causes you to move more slowly, and if you aren't careful, you could easily fall in.  The other thing about walking through water is that if you aren't wearing the proper gear, your shoes and socks and feet are going to get very wet, very fast.  Push a stiff breeze through a wet body and suddenly things start cooling off too.  The long short of it is that you're going to be quite uncomfortable for a while, especially if you have to deal with it for a long time.  A lot of this symbolism stuff can seem like someone's just making it up as they go along (well in some cases, they are), but if you actually look at the reasoning behind it, it gets much easier to understand.

So let's recap.  Booker winds up in a rather grand looking cathedral-esq building.  He has no idea where he is, the lighting is good.  Symbols.  Boom, ok good recap.  Next part, I'll talk about the actual city of Columbia, so even though I know I said this would be a 3 part series, it's looking like it will be closer to 5 or 6 at this point.

Okey Dokey, so that's it for this part of the review, check back now and again to read the next bit.

Peace off...

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Game Review: Bioshock Infinite (Spoiler Edition) Part 1

Alrighty, hello folks, one quick note before we begin: as stated above, this is the spoiler edition of the Bioshock Infinite review, so there will be spoilers!  Consider this as double warning.  Now let's dive in.

This has been a bit of a while coming, I know, but hey I got to it didn't I?  So what to say about Bioshock Infinite?  This game is ridiculous, the story is fantastic in so many ways, the gameplay is fun, almost never gets old, and the art style is a great mix of realism and a cartoon-esq feel.  I won't talk about all of the technical stuff again since I already did that, so let's just focus this entry on the story.  I'm making the assumption here that if you are reading this, you have played the game already.

The plot of Bioshock Infinite is intriguing right from the start.  It plants you in a boat with a couple of strangers, a box with some strange symbols, and a gun.  Boom, you're right in the middle of Booker DeWitt's journey.  Of course things get even crazier as you arrive at the rather ominous lighthouse seemingly in the middle of nowhere.  A note on the door is the first thing that hits you, and that is the mark of a great location.  When creating a location, the methods are very different in the way things are shown or explained in visual mediums and text ones, but the thing that makes one truly great in any case, no matter the medium, is the first impression, and the lasting details.  The lighthouse is a perfect example of this.  That note on the door creates a distinct first impression, and when the player opens the door and enters the lighthouse, that first room does nothing but add to, and compliment that impression.  The lighting is also extremely important here, but not for the typical reason in this type of game.  If you know anything about the original two Bioshock games, you know that they take place in the underwater city of Rapture: home to some rather scary-looking individuals and an antiquated (yet surprisingly advanced) and malfunctioning security system.  Those games are rightly placed in the horror genre.  The significance of the lighthouse in Infinite comes in as a reference to the first game.  The player enters Rapture through a lighthouse.  A very damp, poorly lit, likely mouldy-smelling, and extremely eerie lighthouse.  The lighthouse that Booker enters at the beginning of this game is a spitting image of that description as well.  The tone of horror is set well, and it really feels like Rapture, or even some other underwater city, is right around the corner.  As the player climbs the flights of stairs, ascending the lighthouse, they come across some sketchy looking tools, some empty boxes and crates, and eventually a dead body.  There isn't much of anything quite as foreboding as a good old dead body.  The lights are dim, the floor is damp, rusty metal objects litter the rooms, Booker is alone... Sounds like a good set up or a horror flick, but was it murder she wrote?  No, not yet at least.

Now I won't be talking you through the whole game like this, don't worry, I just want to set up the new locales as we get to them, and there are really only 3 major ones to worry about, with a little bit of a bonus one at the end.

As the player finally gets up to the top of the lighthouse, they will eventually head outside on the catwalk to ring some bells, "calling the elevator".  This of course causes the lighthouse to open up it's actual light.  This is where Booker enters the main setting for the game, the picturesque, good ol' fashioned, Columbia, in all her truth and liberty.  'Murica.

Since the way Booker gets to Columbia is really rather straight forward, I don't think I need to bother talking you through that part, so this is all for part 1.  This will likely be a 3 part series of entries, so keep an eye out.

Till next time, toodledoo.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Back Again (And a Novel)

So I'm back again, and actually it's from more than one thing.  I am of course back to posting on here (which I will try to be doing on a semi-regular basis again), but I am also back from a school trip over the past couple of days, and back to health (sort of) after what may have been a cold, but may have also been allergies, not sure which.

So I don't know if I've mentioned this or not, but this semester my school year is pretty low-key.  I only have the one core class happening right now along with a few options (three of which are musical options) so that gives me a lot of time to do a lot of nothing.  With all this time to spare I quickly found ways to fill it other than being in class.  My most recent way of doing that is watching what is now my favourite show, "Castle".  I already did a post about how I got writer blocked by them but never-the-less, it's still amazing.  As a writer myself (just like the main character in the show) I tend to draw a lot of inspiration from the show and one of the things I've thought about recently as a result of it was the fact that a lot of stories in movies and books and TV aren't as far fetched as we think sometimes.  Sure, the sci-fi channel doesn't exactly reek of reality but some of the plot devices that we sometimes take as exaggeration can really be true.  That got me thinking, and thinking got me... well thinking some more actually, and here's what I came up with.  Looking back at my own life, I realize that sure there have been some pretty boring moments, but a lot of the things I do and have done would make a pretty awesome story.  The only thing is that if I were to make a movie or TV show out of the key events in that timeline, there would be a lot of obscure references to things that happened "off camera".  Everything tends to play a part in new experiences.  For example:

Main character is on a band trip.  He's liked a girl that's on the trip with him for a while and it's a good opportunity for him to get a little closer to her.  They have a few moments that really stick: maybe she needs help with the tie on her uniform, they both wake up a little earlier than the others and spend a little time grabbing tea...

Good story, but where's the background?  Well then you go back a little bit:

Main character joins the live orchestra for the school musical.  Who else joins it too but this girl he's started to take an interest in.  That works out to his advantage a little because it's a little bit more of a secluded setting and there's no one else to get in the way of them interacting.  Of course the orchestra is invited to the big success party after all of the shows have been performed and they bump into each other a few times, hear a couple of good stories together, suddenly bam, that's an experience to talk about later, an excuse to talk again.

Hm, not bad but where does he actually know her from?  Ok, well just a little further back I suppose:

Main character shows up for his first day of a new school year.  He has an awesome full year class that essentially revolves around playing music with a band.  When you divide a class up into 3 groups you get to know your own group pretty well pretty quickly.  Maybe he knows a few of them from the previous year, but not really in the same caliber that he is going to know them by the time they get even half way through the year.  Maybe the band leader is kind of a cutie, who's a little crazy sometimes, but really fun.  It would be very easy for the main character to take an interest.

This is really starting to shape up isn't it?  Just if the main character knew this girl from before, where was that from?  Oh well yeah:

Main character get's roped into playing a gig for the school near the beginning of the year at one of the ice-breaking trips.  One of the girls that goes with him and the others turns out to be one of the people who did the same gig the previous year.  Way back then, how would our fearless protagonist know that she would be leading his band the next year?

Well that makes sense then doesn't it?  Solid timeline, good story.  Boy meets girl from school, probably in a lot of the same classes, yada yada, we've seen it before.  The thing is, to make a good story really great it needs a little something extra.  Something to break the monotony.  Usually that should have something to do with the characters:

Maybe this girl is a grade ahead, but she's really only 2 months older.

Aha, so there you go.  That adds a little bit of complication doesn't it?  A grade ahead means that not only is this girl surrounded by other guys that she is not only more familiar with, but are also quite possibly better looking.  There's an immediate challenge for the main character.  Another thing that good stories have is a looming problem, especially in a series (and let's face it, life is more like a series that a single movie).  Well our grade difference creates that looming problem too.  What happens if the main character succeeds and gets the girl?  She's going to graduate before him.  Suddenly that's another challenge for them to tackle, but by that time in the story, everyone who's keeping tabs on the characters will have some optimism.  They made it this far right?

Of course we could go one further still and say, "well if they are only 2 months apart, why is she a grade ahead of him?"  Oh well that's easy:

Main character is a December birthday and his parents decided to start him in school a year later because of it.

It could go on forever really.  There's a story in everything, and that's what makes TV so awesome, especially shows like "Castle", they radiate truth of life, with just enough fiction to keep things interesting all the time.

So, let's recap.  Reading those little snippets individually you might be thinking, "hm, pretty good premise..."  But let's take a minute and throw them all together.  For the sake of the story, we'll stop referring to the characters as "the main character" and "the girl" and give them actual names.  Since everyone is really the main character of their own story we'll call our protagonist "Nick".  Of course our girl needs a name too, so let's just call her "Mayzie".  Let's take a look at what our story looks like as a whole:

*note: I got a little carried away with this story, so I will include the first bit here in this entry, and then make you come back a few times to read the rest of it.

7:45.  That's what the sheet said, but was that the time everyone was expected to be there?  No, of course not.  Sure Nick was late, but it didn't really bother him.  If Mr Marks wasn't going to tell him what time to be there then he'd just have to deal with it if he was late.  Yeah that was a great way to start the morning before they left.  The school band was headed off to their annual band tour in less than an hour and they were just finishing packing up the equipment.

Nick dropped his luggage with the rest of the suitcases and backpacks waiting to be tucked into the bottom of the bus by a group of grade 10 students.  Keeners, he thought to himself with a tad of disgust.  A lot of the younger students bugged him to no end, and he couldn't help brooding over their inherent favouritism by Mr Marks, the band teacher, as he ascended the stairs to the upper floor of the school.  He stopped at the top and adjusted his "carry-on" backpack, then trudged on to the band room.  These mornings were killing him slowly, and had been since he got into the senior band last year in grade 10.  Why do I even bother?  He thought to himself.  He rounded the corner and walked into the band room and looked around at the people finishing their final packing and inventory-taking.

Then he saw her, Mayzie T.

"Oh yeah, that's why." He said aloud absent mindedly.

What wasn't to like?  She was smart, pretty, talented... Sure, she was a little bit crazy sometimes, but it was kind of cute.  Mayzie was only 2 months older than him, but was a grade ahead in grade 12.  She was the leader of Nick's band from school, as well as a part of the concert and jazz band programs.  Member of all three music programs, something else they had in common.  Their little band was made up of kind of a misfit crew, but they were close.  Originally it was just Mayzie and a bunch of boys, that was kind of a hoot, they drove her pretty crazy sometimes, not exactly living up to their nickname of "the sunshine boys".

"That's why what?"

Nick turned to find the source of the voice.  It belonged to his buddy, Esposito.  That was really his last name.  His first name was Xavier, but everyone just called him Esposito.

"Oh, nothing, don't worry about it," Nick replied.  He gave Esposito a curt nod and then started to slowly make his way over to where Mayzie was reading off a list and piling folders into a bin.  He tried to make himself look busy and talked to a few people in the long trek across the whole seven feet spanning the distance between them.

"Hey Nick!" She said as he approached.  She always said his name so that it came out more like 'Niek', but that was fine, he liked it.  It was kind of their thing he supposed.

"Hey Mayzie!" He chimed back, drawing out the 'ay' sound, trying to match her sing-song tone.  "What's going on over here?"

"Just making sure everyone get's their music in the box here," she said, smiling as she tucked a rogue lock of hair behind her ear.  "Which reminds me, I still need yours."

"Oh right, yeah sure," Nick said, breaking eye contact to slip his backpack off and retrieve his music folder, "Here you go." He said, handing her the black leather folder.

She smiled and put the folder in the tub with the rest before turning back to Nick and giving him a quick smile, then glancing back down to her clipboard.  Time to make an exit for now.  Nick started to shuffle towards the back of the room to 'check on some things'.  "Well I uh, I've just got to go... Make sure all of the percussion stuff is getting packed properly."

Mayzie looked up briefly, giving him another quick smile as he turned and left.

Stay tuned for the next part in the next little bit.

So anyways the point of that was... I'm not exactly sure, it's really late and I might be a little tired, so it may or may not just be an excuse to write something.  There's nothing wrong with that of course, but I'll try to pull some meaning out of this at some point.  Don't forget to check back for the next bit.


Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Writing Block (It's not what you think)

So I've been writing blocked. I know what you're thinking. "He probably means he has writer's block". Wrong. The ideas have been flowing like the Thames, but I'm sure you're familiar with the phrase "cock block". Well this is what I'm talking about, except with writing... I'll explain.

Recently (a few weeks ago) I had an idea for a new story. I wasn't sure what form it would take - book, book series, movie, short film - but I knew I wanted it to be a cop story, but with an unlikely protagonist, someone who sees a lot from the outside.

I myself have taken quite an interest in law and police work, and being a writer I thought to myself: how cool would it be if I could tag along with a detective for a week and take notes on their processes, watch what they do and who knows, maybe offer some advice. Then I got to thinking that knowing me, I'd probably try to be right in there solving the cases with them. Then THAT got me thinking: what an awesome idea for a story. Writer follows a detective around for a few cases and before they know it, he's practically a cop himself.

Then reality stuck me. That is already a thing. A couple weeks ago I finally got around to watching that show "Castle" on TV. Yeah, it turns out that's the entire premise of the show. In one way it sucks because of course now I won't be getting any credit for the idea at all, and it's likely that nothing will come of it for me; but in another way, it's kind of cool. Now every time my PVR records another episode of Castle, I get to see "my idea" on the semi-big-ish screen. What makes this even better is that it's written more or less exactly like I would have done it.

Anyway, there's a wee update from the mind of me. It is now early morning, so I'd better do some sleepy time. Chao.