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by shathley Q

26 Jun 2009

Following on from the October 2002 cover-dated ‘Inside Out’, Mark Waid continues Mister Fantastic’s secret confession to his daughter Val: ‘Without proper preparation or shielding he took his friends through a wave of radiation that made them all something other than human. His guilt was unbearable and deserved. These were the people he loved, and he’d destroyed their lives. Thanks to him, they were fated to be freaks, lab specimens or worse. Unless he changed that fate somehow. Unless he made the world see them for what they were: three of the best and bravest people anyone could hope to meet. So he refused to let them operate in secret. He gave them a home in a city of eight million. He gave them costumes. And a flying car. And he encouraged them to parade around with some pretty outlandish names. “Mister Fantastic”. Does that sound like something anyone would really want to call themselves? No but that’s the kind of thing that made headlines. And t-shirts. And action figures. He knew that would keep people from fearing them. You see glamour and fame weren’t options. They were necessities. Because by maybe turning his friends into celebrities he could be forgiven for taking their normal lives away. Someday.’

‘Inside Out’ marks the launch-issue of a new Fantastic Four creative team, writer Mark Waid reuniting with longtime Flash collaborator Mike Wieringo. Waid crafts a story about the seemingly unique mid-life crisis of Fantastic Four team leader, Reed Richards. It is a crisis that manifests as a desire for more media attention, a desire so deep that Richards hires a PR consultancy to promote a new image for Marvel’s First Family. But in a secret confession to his daughter Val, Mister Fantastic admits that it was always about the costumes and the celebrity; just not in the way most people imagine. Celebrity was their only tool to prevent a Frankenstein ending filled with pitchforks and torches. And in return, Reed Richards gave the world something entirely new; trailblazers on the road to tomorrow.

by Matt Mazur

26 Jun 2009

Despite the premise of HBO’s new show Hung being about a man’s overly-large sexual organ, it looks like the whole affair will be stolen, in true HBO fashion, by women: Anne Heche and the always-astounding Jane Adams look fantastic!

by Matt Mazur

26 Jun 2009

Between this film by Donnie Darko‘s Richard Kelly and the upcoming My Sister’s Keeper, it looks as though Cameron Diaz might be back in fighting shape, in terms of choosing interesting parts (in which case we will forgive her for the Vegas movie co-starring Ashton Kutcher). Whoever cast James Marsden as Diaz’s husband should get a raise, they make for a compelling, if impossibly gorgeous couple. Kelly’s Southland Tales was a bloody disaster, so keep your fingers and toes crossed that this one returns the director to some kind of glory.

by John Bohannon

26 Jun 2009

A.A. Bondy
When the Devil’s Loose
(Fat Possum)
Releasing: 1 September 2009 (US)

These days it’s hard to decipher the line of demarcation between a great songwriter and a good one. It seems like that line is the taste of Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, today’s modern indie folk hero, who has an impeccable knack for picking flawless openers. The one that sparked my interest most sincerely lay behind the Alabama bred six-string troubadour, A.A. Bondy, and his subtle stories of love, despair, and everything in between. “When the Devil’s Loose” is the lead single off the album by the same name (due out in September on Fat Possum) and shares a sense of melody analogous to that of his label companion, Andrew Bird, but the sonic palette itself falls in line more with the Southern tradition the label has always prided itself in. If “When the Devil’s Loose” is any indication of the rest of the record, then expect Bondy to be a household name from here on out.

SONG LIST
01 When the Devil’s Loose
02 Mightiest of Guns
03 A Slow Parade
04 To the Morning
05 Oh the Vampyre
06 I Can See the Pines Are Dancing
07 False River
08 On the Moon
09 The Mercy Wheel
10 The Coal Hits the Fire

A.A. Bondy
“When the Devil’s Loose” [MP3]
     

by Nick Dinicola

26 Jun 2009

The opening scene in Indigo Prophecy is one of the most memorable moments in gaming for anyone that’s played it. The main character, Lucas, goes into a trance and kills a man in the bathroom of a small restaurant. Play it once and it seems fairly unremarkable: You clean up the murder scene and flee out the back door. Not much happens. But on a second try, when the player realizes the wealth of options available, it’s impossible not to feel a sense of wonder. Clean up the murder? Hide the murder weapon? Wash your hands? Pay your bill? Call someone? The vast number of small choices is impressive, but the real accomplishment of this scene is that all these choice are presented to the player without any moral implications. There aren’t any “good” or “bad” options. Cleaning up the murder doesn’t make you a bad person, and paying your bill doesn’t make you a good person. The game presents the player choice without morality.

Unfortunately the rest of the game failed to live up to that level of ingenuity. The story of Indigo Prophecy was split into several scenes, and while each scene has its own variety of choices, their consequences had little effect on the next scene. The game was structured like a series of sandboxes, giving players a false sense of control when really we were being pulled along a traditional linear narrative. For all the choices we had to make, the consequences ultimately didn’t matter.

A karma system would have fixed this dilemma by putting our actions in a larger context. Even though players would essentially be leveling up their character with arbitrary points, we would at least know that our actions were contributing to something greater than our current situation. A karma system lets us know where our actions stand in the grand scheme of things. If game doesn’t use arbitrary points to give our actions consequence, than that consequence must come through in the story: The consequences of any decision must directly affect the story for the player to feel like their input genuinely matters. If we can see the results of our actions on the plot or the characters, than there’s no need for a system of points.

The flash game Storyteller by Daniel Benmergui takes this approach to consequence in games. It’s beautiful in its simplicity: Told in just three panels, it distils the classic adventure story into three pivotal scenes and three pivotal choices. It revolves around three characters, and depending on how the player rearranges them within each scene, the outcome of the story changes. Does the knight kill the wizard or does the wizard kill the knight? Does the prince save the princess or does the princess save the prince? We could make a story with no conflict and a happy ending, or one in which all the heroes die. There’s no need for a karma system because we can immediately see the short-term and long-term consequences of our actions on the lives of these characters. The downside to this is that there’s not much of a story to tell. The characters have no names and there’s no plot, the only real story is the one we make up and it can be as complex or as thin as our imaginations let it be. Bernmergui is giving up authorial control in order to let us experience the full breadth of choice and consequence.

So consequences free from morality must affect the story, but giving the player too many choices can dilute the story. A middle ground can be found in Mass Effect, which strikes a nearly perfect balance between these two options. We don’t have nearly as much control over the story as we do in Storyteller; Mass Effect, like Indigo Prophecy, is very linear. When we’re finally able to explore the solar system, we can only choose the order of which story-progressing missions we accept, but we still have to complete all of them before we can advance. We can change how the story is told, but not the story itself. To make up for this we’re given choices at key moments with dire consequences, such as the possible deaths of central characters. Since death is a real possibility, the tangible consequence of our actions can be felt in the main story. There are also several short stories within the game whose endings are entirely dependant on our actions. There’s the mourning man who wants the military to give him his wife’s dead body, the gambler who wants us to test a device that will help him cheat, or the waitress worried about her sister working as an undercover agent. By giving the player choices within these short stories, and consequences that play out with these minor characters and sub-plots, we don’t notice how little we actually affect the main story.

But there’s no ignoring the fact that Mass Effect does have a karma system. Every choice we make gives us either Paragon points or Renegade points, and for most gamers these easily translate into “good” and “evil.” Such associations are unfortunate because the Renegade options are hardly evil. Some actions may make Shepard act cold, but never truly evil. The game does a commendable job giving us a range of emotions in our choices without making those choices blatantly good or bad, but the presence of the karma system undermines everything the game does right by separating all the consequences into only two categories. Sometimes the Renegade option is the best choice, but it may be difficult to convince a player trying to play through the game as a good character to go with that option simply because of its unwarranted assumption of being “evil.”

The karma system is a narrative shortcut: Instead of writing consequences into the story, a player is given points and measures consequence by how full the “good” or “bad” meter is. Yet it’s become an established feature of open ended games, sometimes to the detriment of the game. Even though it’s a relatively new mechanic (at least in its more comprehensive forms) it’s already outdated as games like Storyteller and Mass Effect prove it’s possible to represent consequence without the morality.

//Mixed media
//Blogs

Exposition Dumps Don't Need Dialogue in 'Virginia'

// Moving Pixels

"Virginia manages to have an exposition dump without wordy exposition.

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