Branching Paths (2016) Review

branchingpaths

Branching Paths (2016), directed by Anne Ferrero

Production Company: Assemblage | Length: 83 min || Rating: 9/10

Branching Paths is a documentary that follows the director’s in-depth examination of the Japanese indie game scene.  Throughout the documentary, which spans over the course of 2013 to 2015, you’ll see just how diverse it really is; all sorts of different people are introduced in Branching Paths.  Of course most are of Japanese nationality, but there is a swath of internationalism that makes its way into the documentary, with westerners creating a foothold in Japan and becoming part of the diverse fabric that makes up the Japanese indie game scene.

The director takes a low-key narrating role when needed.  Much of the narrative is pushed by the interviews and text that pops up on the screen saying what event we are at and what the purpose of it is.  A series of indie game events occur in Japan during the time span of the documentary, and we revisit the same events in different years, which shows the subtle changes, recurring faces and recurring games to see their progress.  Games we are introduced to pop-up throughout the different events: Million Onion Hotel, Downwell, and TorqueL among others.

Much of the interviews focus on the culture and market of Japan as a whole and how North America is the biggest market for their indie games despite developing them in Japan.  Because the PC game market in Japan is so small, it is important for developers to make their games available on mobile or consoles, whereas to appeal to the North American market they almost always need to be on PC.  Many games are crowdsourced or find their success in the North American market before being able to become successful in Japan.  We also see the progression of the promotion of indie games by big publishers such as Sony and Microsoft, carving out spaces at the Tokyo Game Show, and creating an event just for indies in the form of BitSummit.

Interviews with higher profile Japanese indie developers such as Keiji Inafune of Mighty No. 9, Lucas Pope of Papers Please, Dylan Cuthbert of Pixel Junk (Q-Games), and IGA of Castlevania fame also make their way into the documentary.  It is interesting to learn a little bit about the similarities between indie developers no matter their origins.  There are many other lesser-known/locally known people who add to the composition of the documentary.  A segment of the documentary also explores the blurring of the lines between traditional “doujin” (self-published) media like comic books and the indie game market.

We don’t really get to know much about the director herself other than she was born in France, and grew up on Japanese games.  It would have been nice to learn a little more about the director during the first part of the movie, but it was obvious they didn’t want to lose focus from what the actual subject of the documentary was.  The director is possibly on screen one or two times but her personal journey feels more like a disembodied journey as a result.  She narrates two or three times and the last part of the documentary she doesn’t make any other narrations.  The quality of the cinematography is quite good, and I was only frazzled by a couple of weird shots they kept re-using, such as focusing in on a person’s top half of their head and not seeing their mouth, or people’s fingers.  B-roll like this probably could have been better replaced by more video about that developer’s game or something.

Another thing to note about Branching Paths, is that it is subtitled about 90% of the time.  The documentary is interestingly multilingual as you’ll see most interviews in Japanese, a few interviews in English, and the bits of narration done in French.  If you aren’t a fan of subtitles, it might not be for you, but you’d have to be gifted in language to enjoy this without subtitles.  It would have also been nice if the documentary spaced out interviews a bit at times so as to not have to read subtitles while also having to read titling about events/dates.

Branching Paths is an interesting look into a niche market in the overall gaming industry.  A lot of focus has been put on indie gaming and mobile gaming in the past few years, and focusing on this area is a unique subject.  Most of what is learned in this documentary may be more interesting for people who aren’t particularly sensitive to the nuances of gaming culture/markets, but even I learned a few things from this documentary.  It held my interest throughout and didn’t really drag at any point.  Branching Paths is available on Steam for $9.99.

A trailer for the documentary can be seen below:

 

GameLoading: Rise of the Indies (2015) Review

Game-Loading-Logo2

GameLoading: Rise of the Indies (2015), directed by Anna Brady/Lester Francois

Production Company: Studio Bento | Length: 85 min | IMDb || Rating: 8/10

GameLoading: Rise of the Indies is a documentary on the modern indie game movement. Not unlike something you may see on an informational cable channel, the documentary takes a specific aspect of the gaming industry and peels back the different layers to see what is beneath. This documentary is primarily focused on a smattering of the social, philosophical, and human elements of the indie game movement, and less so about the games themselves.

Throughout GameLoading: Rise of the Indies, we are primarily presented with a few recurring indie developers; Davey Wreden (Stanley Parable), Zoe Quinn (Depression Quest), Rami Ismail (Vlambeer) and Robin Arnott (Soundself) primarily drive the overall tone and base of the documentary.   A wide-range of diverse indie game developers and people who are famous historically for their indie roots (John Romero and other founders of id Software) also make an appearance and drive along some of the overall points in the documentary. A lot of people from different aspects of coding, from education and into the very niche corners of indie game development also offer insight into what motivates them or what their goals are and what challenges they face, including sexism, social media trolls, and of course, money.

The tone of the first roughly 30 to 40 minutes of the documentary is setting up the basis of what indie games are, who these people are, what their philosophy is, and what the motivation for doing what they’re doing is. You instantly feel a romanticized and articulated quality to nearly everything that is going on, and at times it can feel like the documentary is sort of dragging its feet in moving on from this introductory phase due to how this first piece is structured. They intersplice the stories of Davey Wreden and Robin Arnott with all sorts of other random game developers giving their small tidbits of information to expand upon a particular point. It can be a bit hard to follow the narrative of the documentary at this point because you are not sure who you are actually really supposed to be invested in paying attention to and who you are going to see repeatedly.

A big thing missing in the first chunk of this documentary is a conflict to keep the viewer invested in what is going on. You don’t realize that the primary focus of the documentary is Davey Wreden until much later.  Considering the game had released in 2011, it was a bit disorienting to finally figure out about halfway through that the Stanley Parable had been on the cusp of release while the documentary was in production rather than taking place after its release.  If the documentary were structured a little bit differently, it could have framed the Stanley Parable as something that was impending release during this segment to create a slowly progressing storyline as the narrative base since there is no narrator to provide that structure.

We learn a lot of interesting tidbits about the thought process behind the Stanley Parable, and as we are introduced to and follow that game’s progression, we also follow Soundself. Other games such as Depression Quest, Cart Life, and Analogue: A Hate Story among others, are profiled in the same fashion, though not as in depth as the Stanley Parable or Soundself.

Overall what the documentary helps us learn is about the philosophical and human elements of these games as an outward expression of the developers themselves. Giving these games a human element gives people a reason to connect these products with emotions and events in real life. In the context of this documentary, most of the indie developers view their games as interactive art projects and storytelling devices. The whole of the documentary focuses on these indie “art” games, and less so any of the indie “pure game” games, which primarily focus on level design, controls, and the concept of “fun.” While mentioned where necessary, the “pure game” games are definitely not the focus here which elevates the purpose of the documentary to something that seems to be selling “indie games” to someone who doesn’t normally play them and also may not find one of those “pure games” as fun or interesting. Which is FINE – it is an interesting look at this segment of games regardless, but the flaw is that the documentary unfortunately doesn’t take a tempered approach to both of the main draws to the indie scene when it calls itself “Rise of the Indies.”

Another large part of the documentary is the different events/conventions that are introduced. There is a small piece on an event called the Fantastic Arcade, but the main event of the documentary is GDC. Leading up to the GDC, there is an interesting coding event called the Train Jam where people form teams and create a game within a 50 hour train ride from Chicago to San Francisco where GDC takes place. We have a quick overview of some of the games being quickly developed on the train and Zoe Quinn takes part in some of the festivities. I thought this segment of the documentary was very interesting and it was cool to see how things like that happen. While it wasn’t supposed to be a huge focus of the documentary, it would have been nice to see a little bit of a more in depth look at what was going on.

Overall the documentary looked very good. It seemed professionally shot and I didn’t notice any terrible lighting or editing issues (for reference, I am a video editor so I notice these things). There were some questionable backdrops where a couple interviewees were against a completely white backdrop and Ben Kuchera from Polygon was in a seemingly empty office in a tall building of some sort. The frequency of the cuts between different people during the interview portions prevented the documentary from having time to breathe at certain sections. I also thought they could have completely cut out a couple of people and/or interview cuts because they added nothing to the overall information in the documentary. It would have been nice to be a bit more focused on fewer secondary interviewees instead of including a lot of extra random people who are of questionable value to the overall product. An interesting aspect of the documentary seems to be that there are a lot of people with different colored hair, with the primary color being pink. There is sort of an “alternative” lifestyle being sold in this documentary and the interesting looks and clothing people wear in the documentary fits into that quite well. While not everyone they interview is going for that look, there are enough in the documentary where you begin to notice it as a theme.

At a running time of 1 hour 25 minutes, I thought GameLoading: Rise of the Indies was interesting overall and a nice introduction to deciding whether or not you may want to get into the indie gaming industry itself as a hobby or otherwise. It was less informative about the technical and day-to-day aspects of indie gaming, with an idealized look at the culture and events of the indie gaming scene instead.

GameLoading: Rise of the Indies can be purchased on Steam, iTunes, and other gaming storefronts.

A reviewable copy of GameLoading: Rise of the Indies was provided to Squackle.

A trailer for the documentary can be seen below:

 

 

Why Can’t They Just Lose The Ring in the Sink?

Written by Dave Barry.

I finally saw the new Lord of the Rings movie, which is entitled Lord of the Rings II: A LOT More Stuff Happens. It’s a tad on the long side (three days) but I am not complaining. My eyeballs were literally riveted to the screen, by literal rivets, from the moment I sat down until the moment I lost all sensation in my lower body.

Yes, this is a classic movie, the kind that makes you laugh; makes you cry; makes you wonder, over and over, if this would be a good time to go to the bathroom. Above all, it’s a movie that makes you think about the issues raised by the plot, the main issue being: What the heck IS the plot?

I say this because it’s a very complicated story, with numerous subplots and something like 11,000 major characters, most of whom have hard-to-remember names like ”Flagodirt” or ”Grempkin.” So today, as a service to all of you who were confused by this great movie, I present the following:

SIMPLIFIED SCREENPLAY FOR LORD OF THE RINGS II

(Scene 1)

FRODO: Darn! I still have this darned ring that I got in the first movie!

SAMWISE: The ring with the terrible power that causes everyone who comes near it to over-act?

FRODO: Yes! And to destroy it, we must walk, slowly, in real time, all the way across New Zealand!

SAMWISE: But who will guide us?

FRODO: How about a reptilian computer-generated creature with a bad comb-over?

SAMWISE: Dick Cheney’s in this movie?

GOLLUM: Very funny, Hobbitt-breath.

(Scene 2:)

LORD ARAGORN: Well, my two trusty companions — Legolas, the Strangely Tall Elf; and Gimli, the Comic Relief Dwarf — in our subplot, we are pursuing Merry and Pippin, who have been captured by Orcs, and now we find ourselves in the Kingdom of Rohan, ruled by King Theoden, whose niece, Eowyn, will become my second love interest once the king is released from the spell cast by his trusted counselor, Grima Wormtongue, who is secretly in league with the evil wizard Saruman!

LEGOLAS: I have no idea what you’re talking about.

LORD ARAGORN: Me either. I’m just reading the script.

GIMLI: Well, I’m really short!

(Laughter)

LORD ARAGORN: But enough explanatory dialogue. It’s time for one of the estimated 17 big sword-clanging battles we have in this movie with hideous computer-generated monsters who always outnumber us by the thousands, although we defeat them every time, because we are courageous heroes!

LEGOLAS: Also, they have the hand-to-hand-combat skills of alfalfa.

MONSTERS: Arrrrrr.

SWORDS: CLANG! CLANG! CLANG! CLANG!

(Scene 3:)

MERRY: Well, Pippin, we escaped the Orcs, and now we are being carried around by talking trees!

PIPPIN: Apparently, the audience will swallow anything!

TREE: It gets worse! Later on, we engage in branch-to-hand combat! (Scene 4)

MONSTERS: Arrrrrr

SWORDS: CLANG! CLANG! CLANG! CLANG! (Scene 5)

FRODO: How come, if I’m the protagonist, Lord Aragorn has TWO love interests, and I’m stuck in a subplot with Dick Cheney?

GOLLUM: Maybe it’s because your big hairy feet make you look like you’re wearing a pair of dead weasels.

(Scene 6)

LORD ARAGORN: Well, Legolas and Gimli, with the help of Gandalf the White, formerly Gandalf the Grey, also known as Gandalf the Beige, we have defeated the Uruk-hai in a giant computer-generated battle. Now we must make haste to the Really Big Rock of Karambador, before the forces of Ba’Zoot, led by the evil King Weltpimple, conquer the Mullions of Gneep and obtain the Remote Control Unit of Doom!

LEGOLAS: Now you’re just making stuff up.

LORD ARAGORN: Well, it’s not as stupid as the kung-fu trees.

GIMLI: I’m still short!

(Laughter)

(Scene 7)

FRODO: UH-oh! The movie is over, and I still have this darned ring! Do you realize what that means?

SAMWISE: That ”Weasel Feet” would be a good name for a rock band?

FRODO: Yes, as would ”Kung Fu Trees” and ”Combat Alfalfa.” But my point is that the forces of Evil have been let loose upon the land, which means soon there will be…

SAMWISE: No! Not that!

FRODO: Yes. Another sequel.

MONSTERS: Arrrrrr.

 

Hollywoodland (2006) Review

Hollywoodland (2006), directed by Allen Coulter

Production Companies: Back Lot Pictures, Focus Features, Miramax Films, Universal Pictures

Movie Length: 126 min

IMdb Movie Info

I don’t know what to say about it, I’m sort of indifferent after watching this movie.

Hollywoodland is a movie starring Ben Affleck and Adrien Brody, about the conspiracy around George Reeves’ (aka as Superman) death. Private investigator Louis Simo intends to excel his career as a private investigator by taking an interest in the case — a supposed suicide, in which the mother thinks that her son was actually (oh no) murdereeeeddd!!

I think the movie was worth watching, though a bit on the long side. The story could have definitely moved faster, there wasn’t exactly a lot of story elements that would have been cut, it just seemed like there was a lot of dwelling on certain things that happened.

There were a lot of good things about the movie, like good acting, the music/soundtrack, and the writing for the most part.

The ending was very abrupt, i thought. when it faded out I was like “that can’t be the ending…”

…but it was.

It felt like they didn’t know how to end it, so they just did. I assume the real case was left unsolved, so they had to do that, but it felt weird how it ended.

Perhaps what added to that weirdness and longness of the movie was that it was like watching 2 movies going on at the same time. It was very hard to tell what was the past with George Reeves (Ben Affleck), what was the present with Louis Simo (Adrien Brody), and what was Simo’s theory sequences. In that regard, cinematography didn’t do anything overly ambitious to set the three elements of the movie apart from one another.  It was interesting seeing Bob Hoskins in another movie besides Who Framed Roger Rabbit, too.

It could be conceivable to see the ending as a cop out, now that I think about it. We spend about an hour and a half learning about George Reeves, and Simo’s quest to learn about why Reeves is dead, and we end up seeing Simo making amends with his son. It could be construed that Simo was supposed to have learned something from going through all of that, but it wasn’t portrayed very well.

8/10.

 

Dawn of the Dead (1978) Review

Dawn of the Dead (1978), directed by George A. Romero

Production Company: Laurel Group

Movie Length: 126 min

IMDb Movie Info

I’d read for a while how good the “horror legend,” George Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead,” was the pinnacle of zombie movies, the best horor movie ever made. I saw it at the video store near my sister’s house and I decided to check it out – Whoa, the reviews were right! This film is probably the best example of what makes a zombie movie truly excellent. A guy on IMDb said it quite well:

“The “social commentary” that people on this site rave about has been done before, and done better. Ok, I get that humans are soulless killers obsessed with consumerism and are actually more evil than zombies. Cute, George, real cute. Now why did it take you over two hours to tell us this? Dawn of the Dead is way too long, and it will give any viewer a headache. Zombie movies are good when the humans are in seemingly hopeless situations and always face the threat of being overrun. Throughout this whole movie, the audience has no reason to think the humans are in any danger at all. They run around the mall, punching (or at least punching air, the zombies fall down anyway) and shooting the zombies. So there goes the suspense aspect. The two military dudes park trucks in front of the entrances of the mall to keep zombies out. Good idea, but we don’t find this out for a long time.

I guess Dawn of the Dead has what I call the “2001” syndrome. Similar to 2001: A Space Odyssey, this film has somehow amassed a huge number of devoted fans who preach about its filmmaking prowess, going as far as to say it’s the greatest movie ever made. If that’s true, God help humanity. I can’t fathom how anyone could love this film so much. I’ve read some reviews telling me to “bow down before its amazingness.” I think I’d rather spit on it.”

The man knows his stuff.

“Dawn of the Dead” begins with people running around a television studio talking and well….I had no idea what the hell was going on. I don’t think anybody does. It’s just a completely forgettable scene that isn’t needed. There’s some kind of zombie scene after that at an apartment where a bunch of boring shit happens and some guy’s head explodes when shot. Yeah, great start.

For some reason, 4 people (3 guys and a girl) go to a house and start shooting zombies. There’s one bit where a guy is in a barn and dives and is suddenly outside. Great editing job. The black guy is about to shoot a zombie but sees the out-of-uniform white guy pull up his gun to shoot it so he dives out of the way. A zombie runs into the propellor of the helicopter and gets the side of it’s head cut off, that may sound cool but it’s done in a way that makes you just sigh and hope for better things to come. The white guy gets chewed out and they’re off to the mall.

The 4 break in the mall through the top and the guys leave the woman and go down the stairs. There’s a few zombies around the place and someone explains that after they died they went there because it was a familiar place to them when they lived. Whatever. The guys shoot more zombies and steal shit, then two of the guys decide to start riding trucks around. When I was watching this I had no idea that they intended to block the entrance with them until later, so when I was watching this scene I didn’t know what the hell was going on. The two guys refuse to run over any zombies, noo that would be too easy. The second guy keeps switching trucks for some reason and gets bit, oh lardy! They go back inside and someone says that it takes about three days to die from a zombie bite. Okay. The four of them decide to have some fun while they’re in the mall so they do a bunch of boring shit. The guy finally turns into a zombie and the black guy shoots him. Then the remaining white man and the woman have a romantic dinner. Some bikers come along and want to get in to kill the zombies, this is where the movie shines.

Get ready to watch some of the most boring action you’ll ever see in your life. Bikers ride in and kill zombies. The remaining white guy starts shooting at the bikers for reasons unknown so now it’s a war between the zombies, the bikers, and the fag squad. More zombies are shot and the fag squad get into a car. They drive and shoot more zombies. Sometime later the white guy gets bitten in an elevator and turns into a zombie within five minutes. Three days, right. A guy gets his guts eaten out and would probably be pretty gross if you were three years old. More zombie shooting, the woman gets into the helicopter on the roof. Then the black guy, in a sudden burst of energy, charges with his fists of fury through the zombies with really embarrassing A-Team wannabe music playing full blast. He makes it to the roof with ease and they escape. The end.

The zombies are the slowest things I’ve ever seen in my life. Dead people in real life can move faster than they do. The characters aren’t really introduced; just thrown at you, uncaring of whether you like them or not. The black guy is just a guy you don’t care about, the first white guy is just a guy you don’t care about, the out-of-uniform guy is just a guy you don’t care about, and the woman is a stupid bitch. The zombies are composed of several million people that stumble around with white donut powder on their face. The movie drags on as it’s over two hours and it makes you just wish it would all be over. Maybe Romero’s intention was to see how many suicides he could afflict before the movie ended.

-10/10 (0/10)

 

Silent Hill Experience, The (PSP) Review

Developer/Publisher: Konami || Overall: 8.5/10

If you’re looking to get into the Silent Hill series, why not start with an animated comic book? That’s exactly what the Silent Hill Experience is; two hours of digital comic books, music from the games, and a few extra videos. Even with the additional media, the main feature of the title itself is quite obviously the digital comic books, and with good reason.

In basically what can be described as a movie you read with an awesome soundtrack, the comics included on the UMD are very interesting. If you are new to the Silent Hill series, like I am, the comics can seem a little “out there” in terms of understanding what is going on story-wise. After a while, however, you can understand the world Silent Hill creates in itself and what happens to the people that interact with it. The art style is very unique, and if you appreciate that kind of thing, it’s worth the price tag in itself. The drawings hold nothing back in terms of graphicness – you’ll see lots of blood, gore, and everything in between. The colors really make the comics come to life and once you get into it, you feel like you’re actually immersed with what is happening. And obviously being all about horror, Silent Hill can be quite scary in terms of what’s happening rather than you being actually scared.

There are two comics included in The Silent Hill Experience. One was made specifically for this release, “The Hunger,” and the other is named “Silent Hill: Dying Inside.” “Dying Inside” is a comic translated into a digital comic by Konami, and separated into four parts. The way you would watch one of these comics, is simply by selecting which part you wanted to watch from the menu and letting it go from there. The comic panels will fade in, zoom in, zoom out, and fade away into the next panel for you to look at. There is no interactivity with the comics themselves, there’s a limited amount of time for you to read and watch each panel. Altogether, these comics are as long as a feature-length film.

The music that accompanies the comics as they play helps in the immersion of the story as it unfolds. The music changes at just the right moments to help in the immersion of the whole experience. What would have improved the whole thing, would have actually been a featuring of voice-overs to help with the immersion even more.

The comics can also move a bit faster than you might like if you’re not a fast reader – I usually have to Pause the video every time a new speech bubble comes along. As for the other stuff, it’s not too much to get excited about. There are music 20 music tracks from the series, a video interview, and other video content from the Silent Hill games.

The video interface can be a little confusing, as it’s presented in a way in which you’re flying through an abandoned and severely damaged school. Different rooms contain different pieces of content. How you move around almost simulates how a first person view board game would be; you press up and you go in a pre-determined direction. Sometimes you have to figure out exactly which way to go to get to certain pieces of content, sometimes resulting in you accidentally going back the way you came and losing track of where you were before.

The Silent Hill Experience uses the PSP in a unique way by exploiting its multimedia strengths. The Silent Hill Experience is a perfect example of how a UMD Video that is marketed and produced directly for PSP users can do something more than a DVD. Seeing more of this kind of product on the PSP would definitely be cool. All in all, $20 isn’t too shabby for what you get in this package, and fans are sure to enjoy it.