The Girl With All The Gifts & The Last of Us: A Dual Review With No Spoilers

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I watched The Girl With All The Gifts since I was very interested and decided it would be a good while before I could get to the book.

Well.

It’s…okay. It’s not the revelatory burst of cool originality I’d been led to believe, and it’s nowhere near as good as the other zombie flick I saw recently, the Korean Train To Busan which is a revelatory burst of cool and one of the best films in this genre ever made.

The Girl With All The Gifts is kind of tedious, the characters sketchily drawn, and the story underdeveloped. That said, I’d have probably enjoyed it more if it weren’t for one thing:

I’ve played the video game The Last Of Us.

The Girl With All The Gifts is like a clumsy echo of The Last Of Us. It has a similar theme, similar setting, suspiciously similar ideas (The Last Of Us came out a year before the novel). I’m not saying it’s a rip-off, I doubt it is. But the thought occurs.

And while The Girl With All The Gifts is a so-so zombie flick with a few new ideas, The Last Of Us is a goddamned masterpiece.

The Last Of Us is one of those works of art which elevates its medium. It isn’t just possibly the greatest narrative game ever made, it isn’t just a more satisfying cinematic experience than most films…it is literature.

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The writing, the direction, the art design are all phenomenal. The acting — and acting it is, full motion capture by the actors, with all the subtleties and complexities of real life, and eyes full of humanity — is amazing, and moving, and heartrending. And the characters are real the way the best characters in any medium become real, we live with them and die with them and feel their pain and occasional bits of joy. The settings are gorgeous, a civilization fallen and returning to nature. And the music…good lord, the music. My wife Nydia and I both tear up when we hear just a few notes of this game’s theme.

The Last Of Us, all by itself, entirely justified the money I spent on my PlayStation 4. All other pleasures I get out of it are gravy.

The Girl With All The Gifts just can’t compete. The only reason I’ll remember it is because it’s such a dull shadow of the game that got there first.

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Adventures In Customer Service: Guild Wars (NCSOFT)

Years ago, I got into Guild Wars, loved the game, and have been looking forward to Guild Wars 2. I also played some City of Heroes, which is from the same company, NCSOFT.

My favorite character to play in Guild Wars was a ranger/warrior named Otter of Darkwood. Lean and shapely, with long auburn hair, I enjoyed her so much I rebuilt her in several other games I’ve tried over the years, like Age of Conan and Oblivion.

This morning, I remembered Otter and figured I’d pop into the game and kill some things with her. (The shot above I found on my computer, taken long ago).

I clicked on the dusty old Guild Wars icon, and the game went into its auto-update mode, drawing in all the changes and such that have occurred in the many long months since I entered its world. Finally it was ready. I signed in.

And got an error message telling me my account was banned.

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Good Memories of 2010, Day 6: Red Dead Redemption

My son asks me periodically what my favorite videogame of all time is. In the past, Halo and God of War (both as trilogies) and Batman: Arkham Asylum have occupied the top spot, depending on my mood when he asked me. But the last time he asked, I said Red Dead Redemption.

RDR is ostensibly a distant sequel to Red Dead Revolver, which I reviewed a long time ago here, but it’s really a sequel only in titular branding. The earlier game was an arcadish shooter in a small world, with a whisper-thin story (and hideous voice acting). The new game is so much more. Continue reading

Good Memories of 2009, Day 8: Ghostbusters

Ghostbusters, The Video Game

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Written by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis, this is pretty much an official sequel to the first two films, and is a lot better than the movie Ghostbusters 2. A lot.

The original actors return to do their own voice and motion-capture performances. Bill Murray, Aykroyd, Ramis, and Ernie Hudson as the intrepid foursome, Annie Potts as their nerdily hot secretary Janine, William Atherton as bureaucratic douche-bag Walter Peck, with Alyssa Milano and Brian Doyle Murray joining the cast as the new love interest and the mayor.

The player takes the role of the new guy, a young rookie stuck with the job of trying out the newest, untested equipment. That equipment of course includes the proton beam, the ghost trap, and the PKE meter from the films, but you get three new weapon types to play around with (the slime gun proving the most fun).

The game captures every element of the Ghostbusters franchise perfectly. The writing is sharp and clever. The performances are lively and dead on. The gameplay is tight and exactly what it should be. The locations are complex and colorful and highly destructible. And the ghosts are varied, entertaining, and multifarious.

The storyline is far better than I’d expected. It starts in familiar territory, with new encounters with old friends like Slimer and the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, and to be honest I had my doubts about that. But they fully rationalize the inclusion of the old stuff, making it an organic part of the present storyline, allowing you to enjoy the nostalgic encounters early in the game, then moving into lots of new, original material. I’m glad they did this. It was loads of fun blasting the Hotel Sedgwick to pieces, and the battle with Mr. Stay Puft proves to be even more epic and fun than it was in the first film.

Apparently the actors all had so much fun making the game, they finally agreed to do another film, and Ghostbusters 3 is set to start filming next summer.

I played this on the Xbox 360. It’s available on PC and Playstation 3, but if you’re deciding between the Xbox and the PS3 version, definitely go Xbox. The PS3 version’s resolution is 56% of the Xbox version (I base this on several online sources, not on my own observations, and I have both machines, so I’m not speaking out of any particular brand loyalty). There is a Wii version as well, but it’s effectively a different game, with more cartoony graphics.

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Good Memories of 2009, Day 6: The Adventurers

The Adventurers, Temple of Chac

Anyone reading my book, my blog, or probably even the bumps on my head will know that I love pulp adventure. The first three Indiana Jones movies (especially Raiders). The Depression-era novels starring Doc Savage, The Shadow, and The Spider. The modern pulp adventure novels of Matthew Reilly and James Rollins. The Rocketeer and The Phantom and Planetary in the comics.

Last year, early on, I saw news somewhere about a pulpish game that was due out in the fall, and it interested me enough that I put a note to myself on my Google calendar to look it up after it came out to see if it was as good as it looked. When I did, and read the reviews I could find, I ordered it immediately, and gave it to my son for Christmas.

That game was The Adventurers: The Temple of Chac, from AEG and Dust Games, and it rocks. Continue reading

Doc Wilde “a fast mad dash through a landscape littered with mines [of] geek-love”

I just came across the latest review of my book, Doc Wilde and The Frogs of Doom, and it’s from someone who knows ’em some pulp.

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Back in March, I blogged about some oddly inspiring material I found in a new roleplaying game I’d bought (Optimism, Action, and How To Be The Neighborhood Pulp Hero). The text in question “caused a synaptic hiccup and made me think about my life.” Pretty darn cool for a game manual.

The game, Spirit of the Century, is not only the best-by-far pulp game I’ve ever found (and I know most of them, all the way back to the first, 1982’s Daredevils from Fantasy Games Unlimited), it’s quite possibly the greatest face-to-face rpg. I’m reserving final judgment till after I actually have time to play the game, at which time it’ll get a full review here.

My copy of SotC had some issues, alas, but Fred Hicks, one of the game’s co-authors, exhibited some first class customer service and sent me a new copy. These are truly good guys in an industry with an often razor-thin profit margin. I was greatly appreciative at this, so I sent him a signed copy of my book.

Well, apparently Fred read the book, because on October 20th, he gave it a quick review on his blog.

While set in the modern day, this book LOVES pulp (and Lovecraft, for that matter) and makes a bunch of oblique and not so oblique references to it throughout. It’s a breezy, very fast read for an adult, but an adult will be entertained precisely because of those references. It’s like a fast mad dash through a landscape littered with mines that explode with geek-love every now and again.

To summarize the plot would be to tell the story of the whole book, so I’m going to leave that out of this. It’s a fun family romp, has good life lessons for kids, and features a boy child and a girl child who both compete with each other and value each other…And if you’re looking to get your kids primed with some excitement about high-pulp adventure…I think Doc Wilde would be a handy tool for giving that to ’em…

There’s a bit more, which can be found here.

It’s A Hard Knock Life (for Kev and Alice)

Now here’s something you really need to see.

A blog by Robin Burkinshaw relates the poignant ongoing tale of a homeless father and daughter trying to survive in a harsh world. But the harsh world in which they live is inside a computer, and the pair exist only in that virtual realm:

This is an experiment in playing a homeless family in The Sims 3. I created two Sims, moved them in to a place made to look like an abandoned park, removed all of their remaining money, and then attempted to help them survive without taking any job promotions or easy cash routes…

I have attempted to tell my experiences with the minimum of embellishment. Everything I describe in here is something that happened in the game. What’s more, a surprising amount of the interesting things in this story were generated by just letting go and watching the Sims’ free will and personality traits take over.

Apparently The Sims has evolved to a point in which the artificial intelligence and social dynamics systems are damned near organic. The Sims have dreams, goals, and emotions and their behavior is driven by those qualities, resulting in complex relationships and interpersonal drama.

This is Kev and his daughter Alice. They’re living on a couple of park benches, surviving on free meals from work and school, and the occasional bucket of ice cream from a neighbour’s fridge.

When you create a person in The Sims 3, you can give them personality traits that determine their behaviour. Kev is mean-spirited, quick to anger, and inappropriate. He also dislikes children, and he’s insane. He’s basically the worst Dad in the world…

His daughter Alice has a kind heart, but suffers from clumsiness and low self-esteem. With those traits, that Dad, and no money, she’s going to have a hard life.

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