Friday, March 23, 2012

Moneyball and the Answers to Life's Problems

Starring: Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Philip Seymour Hoffman
Category: Drama
A friend of mine was so upset at the ending of this movie, his advice to me was to turn off the audio at the end of the movie. I'm glad I didn't. I'd miss out on the most important part of the movie. It's the part that changes the movie from what it appears to be into something better, something bigger than the sum of the parts of movie. The M.Night ending, if you must. The Sixth Sense kind.
You've probably have read that some movies are referred to as 'rides'. This means that they are like rides at an amusement park. You get on it with great anticipation. It feels great while riding it. You walk away from the ride excited. But in 5 minutes, you'd forget about it and probably moved on to the next ride.
Moneyball can be enjoyed as 'ride' movie. You can take it as the story of the underdog baseball team, going against all odds to achieve greatness. Only problem is, that wasn't the whole movie. The odds were stacked up against them. But they were largely internal or of their own making. And they didn't win at the end. Yes, they wrote themselves into the history books. But they didn't win their last game. They didn't win the game that would have ended the movie on a high note.

It can be argued that the movie is about the enduring hardships of a small team and ends on the romance of baseball, the principles of one man and the spirit of resilience and steadfastness. If you take it like that, the movie is easier to understand than The Natural.
I think that the movie can also be seen as the struggle of one man, Billy Bean, the General Manager of the Oakland A's baseball team, to build a winning team using whatever little resource he has. He has to find players that would give him any advantage against the opposing team. He uses individual player's strength in the areas he needed them rather than view their strength as a whole. He breaks down the game itself to the basic factors that will make wins and find the players that will do just those. Along his way, he finds that he is up against those who do not share his vision but he remains steadfast. Billy learns to stand up against the baseball establishment's ideas of what win ballgames in pursuit of his own vision.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Watching Games the next movie experience?

I am not a gamer. I stink at games. Puzzles? OK. Point and click adventure? If I have the time. Shoot-em-up? My last real one was the original Doom and Doom2. Even that was mostly played in co-op mode. Yep, it was over a network, something very rare back in the day. But I digress.
Games now are so much like mini movies. They have that cinematic quality to them. Everything is on a big scale. Most game budgets dwarf movie budgets now. It's no longer just during the cut-scenes. Some games used to be so bad, it consisted mostly of cut-scenes. You just basically play for a while until it reaches a point where it plays another cut-scene. 
Great games make you feel like you are living a movie. Wished you were Indiana Jones? Wish no more and be a Lego version of him. 

Games tie-ins have been around for a long time. But it's fairly recent that gameplay has come close to make you feel like being part of a movie. This brings up a problem. So what if you don't play games? Not just don't play them. Can't play games. Even if your life depended on it.
Do the next best thing: Watch someone else play! 
Walkthrus or Walkthroughs are videos of people playing games. People do this to show how it is played or the best way to play through a game. Walkthrus used to be long text files that describe the mundane and trivial. Reading a walkthru before playing a game will most likely tick you off and discourage you from playing it. The opposite is true with current walkthrus which are recordings made while someone else plays the game. YouTube is full of them and they come in a variety of styles. Some have witty commentary to explain what to do and why. Others just have the player make occasional remarks while allowing the viewer to listen to the game itself.
Basically, walkthrus are to help other gamers who are stuck in the middle of a game. It shows what to do and does it and shows what to expect when you do it. It's also like watching over someone's shoulder while they are playing the game. This is cool because 
  1. You don't have to actually stand around. 
  2. You get to pause and rewind what's happening
  3. That person you watching doesn't get annoyed.
If you're not sure about a game, I recommend starting with an intro of a game to see whether they are worth watching. Some games have trailers and are as useful as movie trailers.. which isn't. RoosterTeeth have their YouTube channel that showcases some games under the This is ... playlist. This series show off a few minutes of gameplay.

Once you like a game, go ahead watch a walkthru. Some games are more cinematic and lend themselves to the viewing experience. For example, Alan Wake's American Nightmare is a game that borrows heavily from movies and movie making which makes it a good watch. It also has a rich back-story that is told through radio broadcasts and short clips that appear on TV.  The atmosphere is very "Twilight Zone"-ish and the cheesy voice-over harks back to TV-land of yesteryear. 

Your mileage may vary. Some games a best enjoyed in short clips which shows off key actions sequences. I'd like to hear some of the walkthrus you've watched and what do you recommend.