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by Nick Dinicola

6 Nov 2009

I recently read a rumor that Assassin’s Creed 2 might have three hours worth of cut scenes. Unlike a lot of gamers, I don’t mind most cut scenes. I remember when games would advertise “X hours of realistic CG cut scenes” as a good thing. I understand the common complaint against them, but I also think cut scenes are a fine way to tell a story in a linear game, and Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is proof of this.

Cut scenes get a lot of hate because they interrupt gameplay. Too often a boss fight will suddenly become a cut scene, and after a quick verbal back-and-forth the protagonist will perform one final action that kills the antagonist. This wouldn’t be so awful if the scene only involved dialogue, but by reserving the death of the villain for a cut scene the game removes some of the satisfaction of winning. Technically the player never gets to kill the main bad guy as it happens in a cut scene.

One reason these non-interactive sequences work in Uncharted 2 is that they never interrupt gameplay, in fact gameplay sometimes interrupts a cut scene. During a couple movies, just when the player thinks the action is over, an enemy attacks a nearby companion and suddenly we’re in control again, shooting the attacker. As soon as he’s dead the cut scene continues. Action always happens to the player, Nathan Drake only fires his gun once in a cut scene, every other time he shoots it’s because the player has pressed the R1 button. When a building starts to crumble with Drake in it, we’re in control; when a stone platform begins sliding down a hill with Drake and company on it, we’re in control; when he has to jump from car to car during a high speed chase, we’re hitting the button to make him jump. By making these grand set pieces interactive, it feels like they’re happening to us, not just happening to him. We become more invested in the character and his struggles because we’ve gone through them as well.

Since a good cut scene doesn’t have much, if any, action in it, it relies on the plot to keep players interested. These moments of calm have to move the plot forwards while setting up the next action scene, but these are also fitting moments for character development. Characters can be developed during gameplay through animation, voice over, or by having a unique skill set, but cut scenes are by far the easiest method for doing so because of their similarities to film, a medium with several standards already in place regarding proper character development. But any cut scene, even a well directed, well acted, graphical showcase, is still interrupting gameplay, so it must accomplish these goals quickly, or risk losing the interest of the player.

The Metal Gear Solid games are infamous for their failure in this regard. The high production values of its cut scenes are obvious, but the scenes drag on far too long thanks to endless exposition by various characters describing their personal motivations, their complicated pasts, the current political landscape, or others aspect of the plot. While some may defend these long movies for their high quality and intriguing themes, there are just as many people that hate them for their meandering dialogue and length.

On the other hand, the cut scenes in Uncharted 2 are never more than a couple minutes long, even when the plot twists and turns. In one scene Drake is caught by the villain Lazarevic and makes that classic “You need me so you can’t hurt me” stand, but when he’s searched Lazarevic gets a hold of a map with a giant X on it. The balance of power swings from Lazarevic to Drake and back to Lazarevic within the span of two minutes. The plot is pushed forwards by dialogue that gets straight to the point, there’s no exposition, so the player is constantly engaged by the quick pace.

The cut scenes in Gears of War 2 were successful in moving the plot forwards quickly, but never contained any meaningful character development. The new characters of Tai and Dizzy are interchangeable with out other teammates, personality wise. But since the cut scenes focus purely on the plot, the game give these new characters a distinct look to set them apart. Tai’s tattoos make him look like some ancient mystic, and Dizzy has a cowboy hat; the game then hopes that we’ll get attached to them based solely on their unique appearances.

The second cut scene in Uncharted 2 fully introduces us to Chloe, one of the new characters in the sequel. Within a few minutes we learn that she and Drake have a romantic history, that she’s using Flynn (the other new character) to help get a treasure, and that her and Drake plan to run away together after the heist. Too often in games a women is portrayed as tough by being cruel or indifferent to everyone around her (see Rubi in Wet). We see a little bit of that in Chloe as she casually plans to betray Flynn, but then we see a vulnerable side to her as well: She has genuine feelings for Drake, she wants to run away with him because she actually likes him. She’s not the one dimensional “tough bitch” stereotype that games normally fall back on, she’s a complicated character with complicated motivations.

Cut scenes are a viable way to tell a story in linear games. They provide a chance to advance the plot while developing characters, but the gameplay must always take precedent, and that’s a mistake many games make. The player should get to partake in all the action. Successfully implementing a cut scene is difficult, the many failed attempts are proof of that, but Uncharted 2 is proof that, when done right, cut scenes can add to the depth and enjoyment of a game.

by Mehan Jayasuriya

6 Nov 2009

Upon ascending the stairs at DC9 Wednesday night, I was greeted by a haze of digital chirps and static.  Growing, a three-piece noise outfit from Brooklyn, had already launched into their set and I couldn’t make heads or tails of what I was hearing.  Order did start to emerge from the chaos, however, as I discerned a method to the madness.  Using two guitars, an army of effects pedals and countless sequencers, drum machines and synths, the band built up and tore down a series of warped, disorienting sound collages, underpinned by harsh, driving beats.  It felt like the ideal appetizer for what was to come: a set full of epic melodies constructed from bits of digital detritus.  I’m talking about Fuck Buttons.  The group ably lived up to their reputation for captivating, visceral live shows.  They opened, appropriately enough, with their latest single, “Surf Solar,” a ten-minute epic that finds buzzsaw guitars and battery-powered crescendos riding atop a massive, club-friendly beat.  Throughout the night, the band toed the line between accessibility and inscrutability, making sure to temper big melodic gestures with blasts of atonal noise.  Regardless, the crowd was hooked from the first song until the set’s abrupt end, at which point the two band members, who hadn’t uttered a word all night, simply packed up their gear and walked off as if nothing had ever happened.

by Tyler Gould

6 Nov 2009

The Roots joined Jim James, Conor Oberst, M. Ward, and Mike Mogis on stage Wednesday night to kick out the jams, as they say. The debut album from Monsters of Folk is out now on Rough Trade.

by Sachyn Mital

6 Nov 2009

Colin Powell may have graduated from the City College of New York with a 2.0 GPA in 1958 and he may not be savvy with computers, especially Facebook or Twitter.  But he worked his way up to four-star general, head of the NSA, Chairman on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Secretary of State under George W. Bush.  And he likes hot dogs.

In his speech at the University of Delaware on November 3rd (Election Day), Former Secretary of State Colin Powell came to address “Diplomacy: Persuasion, Trust and Values” as the second guest in the prestigious UD Speaks series (2008’s guest was CNN news anchor, Anderson Cooper.)  While his speech was candid, humorous, and patriotic, it did not carry any substantive weight and deliberately avoided many major criticisms.

Entertaining and engaging the audience from in front of the podium, Gen. Powell never directly addressed any major topics from the previous administration, only making light of some of the policies put in place.  A couple of days after his entitled use of the company 757 passed on to Condoleezza Rice, Powell hurriedly entered Reagan National Airport, paid cash for a plane ticket before checking into his flight without any luggage.  You might guess where this is going: he was justly subjected to a very thorough TSA security screening.  After the screener acknowledged the General, he replied “If you know I’m Colin Powell, why aren’t you over there looking for Osama?”

Though he touched on other light topics including his grandson setting up a Facebook page for him, Powell gave a few words of wisdom to President Obama to “not be pushed by the left” and “don’t not decide” because of the right about increasing troop presence in Afghanistan.  Discouraged by the sight of 6 million children without health care, he also urged reform for universal health care to all Americans.

Gen. Powell’s advice came in the form of “4 E’s.”  Economics and its creation of wealth is the first most powerful political force he said. The second most important, energy combined with economics, generates emissions and leads to the third E, environment.  He urged people to confront global warming while reprimanding skeptics.  The final E, education, demonstrated his desire to educate children.

He also corroborated his faith in America’s positive image, sharing two stories.  The first was of a Japanese billionaire who picked New York City as his favorite city in the world in an interview.  When asked why, the billionaire replied, it was “the only city in the world where people came up to him and asked him directions.”  In the second story, a NYC hot dog vendor on Park Ave did not let Gen. Powell pay for a hot dog and instead thanked him because “America has already paid me.”

And its not just the hot dog vendor who knows that America is still the “land of hope” and opportunity, Powell noted.  There are lines at American embassies around the world were people say “I want to go to America.”

Courtesy of Kevin Quinlan, University of Delaware

Courtesy of Kevin Quinlan, University of Delaware

Courtesy of Kevin Quinlan, University of Delaware

Courtesy of Kevin Quinlan, University of Delaware

Courtesy of Kevin Quinlan, University of Delaware

Courtesy of Kevin Quinlan, University of Delaware

Courtesy of Kevin Quinlan, University of Delaware

Courtesy of Kevin Quinlan, University of Delaware

by Allison Taich

5 Nov 2009

On November 10th, 1969 beloved children’s television series Sesame Street premiered in the U.S. By 1970 a spin-off version of the show reached Canada, followed by New Zealand and Australia in 1971, the U.K. in the 1980s, China and Russia in the late 1990s, and the list goes on. Throughout it’s history, the show has featured some of pop culture greats, from Johnny Cash to Michelle Obama. Now, 40 years later, Sesame Street continues to entertain (and sometimes educate) generations new and old.



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