It’s November, or as I’ve heard it being called, Noshavember. Which is fine enough, although in my case every month is basically Noshavember…er. In fact my beard’s grown so much that it has now gained enough sentience (as well as strong enough opinions) to host AND edit this month’s POP CULTURE DESTRUCTCAST.
Just a couple of weeks ago the Malta Comics Expo happened, and later this month the Malta Comic-con takes place. Yes, your read that right – it’s two similar conventions on same month. Why not hold them on different months, or perhaps cooperate on a single, large event? Pique and tedious internal politics, frankly. In any case, the Expo was just about alright, I guess. There were a number of organisational glitches (especially with speakers and under-attended talks) and the pricing was ludicrous, not to mention it took place at the Mediterranean Conference Centre, a place too damn huge for such an event – the halls looked empty even at the best of times. But in any case it went well enough that the organisers are planning not one but two events for 2015 – the Expo and a Scifi Con – which… yeah. I predict the market for such happenings will be all but killed in a year or so. But anyway.
Lovely smartphone/tablet puzzler Monument Valley recently got an 8 level expansion, and it’s a thing of beauty.
More games! PS3 strategy ‘em up Valkyria Chronicles just got a PC release, and oh boy it’s a good one. I never got around to playing it back in when it first came out on, oh, 2008, and now that I am I’m quite enjoying it. Even if, since it’s a strategy game, I suck at it. Seriously! I don’t know why I insist on playing such games, even if I very well know how I blow chunks at them.
Musical news, of a local nature: I went to the launch of Brodu’s latest album, Habullabullojb. Damn, I love this album. With this and last month’s Tame 2014 is certainly the best year Maltese music has had since, well, ever.
Haven’t watched Interstellar, but got around to listening to the soundtrack. I like how it’s basically Hans Zimmer doing Philip Glass.
WOLFENSTEIN: THE NEW ORDER (MachineGames, 2014)
The eyes are the windows to the soul, or so the saying goes. And while Wolfenstein protagonist B.J. Blazcowitz might be 7 feet tall and made entirely of muscle, his face (even if perched as atop a neck as thick as your waist) carries a pair of surprisingly pained, if not outright sad eyes. These are eyes of a survivor, one who wants out of the alt-history-where-the-Nazis-have-won he finds himself in. A lot of care and work has went in those eyes, effort perhaps not misplaced, as even if The New Order might be a big, dumb shooter, it’s also one with a lot of heart.
Technically a sequel to Wolfenstein (2009), which in turn is follows on Return to Castle Wolfenstein (2001)1, The New Order is an old skool first person shooter shooter, the kind papa iD used to make. How old skool? It has hit points and, get this, armour points. No regenerating health here – Blazcowitz enjoys no protection from magical regenerating shields, and instead has to hunt down health packs in order to heal himself. Levels are sizeable and host a variety of secrets for the curious player to uncover (secrets!), not to mention enemies, which the player gets to shoot in the face with pistols and rifles and the like. Amusingly one can carry two of each weapon at a time, meaning at times you can run around while dual-wield giant, shrapnel-firing shotguns. Which was probably the point where I well and truly fell in love with New Order. There are only a couple of concessions to the post-2001 shoot ’em up, really – first off is a perfunctory stealth mechanic, where if one creeps behind an enemy they can murder them with a single melee attack (via oversized knife, obviously). It’s a mechanic simpler even than that seen in Far Cry 3, but it works well enough and if one flubs their attempts at sneaking around they can resort back to running around all guns blazing with little to no consequence. There’s also a perks system, which grants players with new abilities or bonuses following the completion of specific tasks (for instance, doing 10 stealth kills grants Blazcowitz the ability to insta-kill unaware enemies by throwing a knife in their general direction). Oh, and there’s the narrative ambitions, which is where New Order gets seriously weird.
You see, while The New Order is pure pulp its alt-history 1960s, where Nazis rule the world thanks to the super science of chief villain Deathshead (basically the Red Skull with the serial numbers filed off), it also wants to tell a serious, human tale on the horrors of war. This is not the first time a game attempts to marry such opposing ideals – the Metal Gear Solid series, with its marriage of ludicrous battlefield melodrama and pacifist, anti-nuke message comes to mind, as does Half Life 2 (2004) which, 10 years on, remains the premiere shooter-with-a-brain. As a result The New Order lurches between two extremes – Blazcowitz’s internal monologue rambles on witnessed horrors while his supporting cast speaks of loss and death in the cutscenes punctuating the action, which breathlessly bounces across locations including a super secure prison, sewers between Berlin, an occupied London and the moon. Because of course the Nazis have a moon base, where the black uniforms are replaced with white numbers and the laser weapons rule. At one point, during a multi-stage mission to steal a U-boat (which required in order to make it to a repository of Jewish super science hidden deep beneath the Atlantic ocean, obviously), Blazcowitz gets radioed excerpts from the diary of bizarro universe not-Anne Frank, in which not-Anne Frank tells how she gets around to killing Nazis. As one does. These get listened to while the player is also busy killing Nazis. Which is nice, I guess. Later, at the aforementioned underwater Jewish super science repository, one of Blazcowitz’s companions breaks down, unable to handle the events witnessed during the past few hours.
Perhaps inevitably, there are times where the balance between pulp and serious is not wholly successful. One segment set within a concentration camp veers dangerously towards the tasteless, even if all is somewhat forgiven by a tail segment where you pilot a giant robot. A giant robot that is previously seen policing said camp. But still, despite such narrative misgivings, as well as a difficulty curve that’s more of an uneven squiggle of extreme bottlenecks, The New Order is a game far better than it has any right to be. It’s a lot like its protagonist that way – big, dumb and muscular, but with a surprising amount of heart nestled within the oversized chest.
1 I haven’t played either, but I have played the granddaddy of them all, Wolfenstein 3D (1992). Good grief, I am so very old.
POP CULTURE DESTRUCTCAST
Friend of the show Robert Iveniuk joins the DESTRUCTCAST once again, this time to discuss the horror that’s the next few years of our cinematic lives, where superhero movies will be coming right out of our eyeballs. And ears. And various orifices. It will truly be one long winter of discontent, or at least that’s what I think. Anyway.
This infographic of all the superhero films to be released until 2020 comes via Comics Alliance.
Alejandro G. Iñárritu describes the incoming flood of superhero cinema as a cultural genocide in this here interview. Robert gets to speak about his latest film, Birdman, which he says is good (I’m sure it is exactly that). In more complaints, Idris Elba describes his time on the Age of Ultron set as torture here.
But, however, like Herzog I WILL NOT AFERT MY EYESSS.
If there’s one thing I love, it’s a good art book. I’ve a small collection of such titles, which mainly cover special effect-heavy or animated films, as well as art-led games. Seriously, few things are as pleasurable as leafing through a large format, image rich tome, all going through sumptious production art and sketchwork. Which is just as well that this month I got not one, but two such titles, which I’ll detail below, for your pleasure.
ADVENTURE TIME: THE ART OF OOO
If there’s one thing art books tie-ins tend to disappoint at, it’s the lack of preproduction sketchwork and concept art, as the main bulk of the art tends to be of the finished, promotional variety. This is not the case with this massive 352-page book, as its appears determined to reveal all on the origins of the much loved Adventure Time cartoon, including its ancestor Bueno the Bear, a comic strip by series creator Pendelton Ward. As well as the much desired sketches and doodles it also includes scripts, storyboards and production guidelines, while on the text side Chris McDonnell collates what’s essentially an oral history of Adventure Time, with contribution by many of the show’s staff, namely artists, animators and voice staff. A textbook example on how to create a proper art book, this.
MASAAKI YUASA – SKETCHBOOK FOR ANIMATION PROJECTS
I’ve detailed my love and admiration for the work of cult Japanese animation director Masaaki Yuasa elsewhere, so it was perhaps only obligatory on my part to acquire this collection of Yuasa’s sketchwork. And what a collection it is, with 432 pages near entirely covered in the director’s artwork. Divided according to project (from the numerous Crayon Shin-chan movies to series such as Kemonozume and Kaiba, as well as the recent Kickheart and even unreleased projects), the sketches contained within are energetic and animated, coloured in deceptively simple watercolours, providing an exhaustive peak in the director’s process. There’s also quite a few annotations as well as an interview with Yuasa and a short comic by the man – all in Japanese, sadly. But, even with the language barrier, it remains well and truly recommended for all interested in the work of one of the most innovative film makers working today.