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Batman Beat-em-Up

November 27, 2009

So I just finished Batman: Arkham Asylum, which while not a profound experience, was still very good. Never before could you immerse yourself in the fantasy of being a comic-book hero to such a degree. Sneaking around; gliding down on opponents; unleashing martial arts prowess; dangling upside down from gargoyles before catapulting around rooms on your batropes; all things you’ve seen Batman do in cartoons, movies and comics.

The gameplay is best in these set-pieces, where you’re alone in cavernous rooms with a number of criminals in the dark, and must take them down one by one. Approaching the challenge head-on you’ll find your bat gunned down ignominiously. But by creeping about, you actually start ‘thinking’ like Batman; getting into the challenge of not being seen; and using all his tricks and traps to overcome them. The game responds by actually makes it scary for the bad guys on screen who, the more you do to them, the more freaked out they become. No one likes walking down a catwalk and finding their friends dangling upside-down from a gargoyle. That’s just weird!

So that was fine,  and in other challenges, like solving visual puzzles posed by the Riddler on screen, made for some interesting game play. The game also had something close to a compelling narrative to it, with an overarching plot that strung together the various villains of the Asylum, giving you reason to move from boss-battle to boss-battle. The designers also played with the idea of perspective created by a video-game experience, allowing feats of storytelling dexterity that would be impossible in any other medium. So, bravo, good job there.

But strangely for a game that excelled in so many aspects, in the bigger picture, it did not live up, specifically in the climax. The endgame was simply that, you find the Joker, as you were meant to all along and then simply beat-up bad-guys; only more bad guys; more variations on the physical coordination that you needed to thumb and button your way through the rest of it. Only faster, better, more! And somehow, that did not seem enough. There was something missing here, the surprise of a meaningful ending, the sense of urgency that anything matters to any of the characters, the idea that anything would be different in any of your possible circumstances other than who beats up who. I suppose I had my expectations set by the few narrative twists found earlier in the game.

Perhaps this is a question for all game designers– how do you make something where you create that meaningful climax—something momentous and memorable in the final act. It takes something more than just well, more of the same. Witness Bioshock— the best ‘reviewed’ game of its year– and yet despite it’s twenties decadent gothic Ayn Randian world and evocations suggestions of memory and character; it ended in well, another big fist-fight, a giant beat-em up. Which leaves me thinking, so? So what? What does this matter to anyone? Not that I think games need to simply replicate movies or TV narrative for how to make an ending, but they could do worse.

The playability of a game, how it expresses itself most fully in the way we play is one aspect of gaming that gets forgotten about when trying to compare it to other storytelling mediums. However for a game to get that right; it needs to try harder; reach for something which is actually an extension of it’s own play and themes. And maybe take some risks, and create something which is actually not a heroic ending, but more of a tragedy. That might be the ultimate maturing of the medium.  There are exceptions of course, Mass Effect and Portal immediately coming to mind, but they remain that,  the exception not the rule.

Is there a true life or death choice that you must make, that will have meaning for you experiencing the game, or any genuine revelation for that matter. Or are you simply put thing your thumbs and your eyes through the wringer? (a metaphor that doesn’t really work  although, when I did complete the second last beat-em up battle in Batman it was because I hadn’t blinked, and had to pause for a few minutes to regain my sight.)  Games, even mainstream titles, should aspire to more than just bigger, badder boot-to-the-heads. It’s only then that they will create work that can truly be considered a masterpiece.


Who is Batwoman?

November 17, 2009

Great article about style and layout going on in this Batwoman post from the Savage Critics. It’s exciting. I’d picked up that first issue of Batwoman and well, was knocked on my ass by it’s style.  More!

Working on new short story pitches now. But mostly excited about getting out the new Freelance Blues stuff–printed the first issue and it is going well. People like it! amazing how the page really liberates the art. So different then something just seen as a jpg…




Exploring Toronto

October 19, 2009

From the archives–an interview with Toronto architect Eberhard Zeidler about the nature trails of the neighbourhood he calls home.

Eberhard Zeidler and The Nature Trails of Rosedale

By Ian Daffern

When downtown becomes overwhelming, and you need a quick escape, try heading to Rosedale. If you find the right path, you’ll plunge into deep valleys and ravines that follow woodland creeks. The noise of condominiums and car parks melts away, replaced by a chorus of stream, wind and birdsong. And if you’re fortunate, you might catch one of Toronto’s most inspired architects out for a run.

Eberhard Zeidler is spry for a man who celebrated his eightieth birthday this year, keeping up not just a daily jog, but regular working hours at his partnership at Queen and John. You might be surprised that the man who designed such dramatic Toronto landmarks like the Eaton Centre and Ontario Place would chose such a quiet, almost pastoral place to call home.

“Life is something of opposites”, said Zeidler, “You know, because we want on one hand the dense urban life, and on the other hand we want a bit of privacy and quietness and so on. And this really gives it to you…Every morning I run in the ravine, and there are hundreds of people down in the ravine walking and running and doing all kinds of things. And it’s wonderful to have that.”

Zeidler makes his home in an almost concealed concrete and stone bunker set right into the side of the ravine valley. He’s lived in this same building, now modified, with his family since the early sixties, after migrating from Germany. At that time Rosedale was an affordable places for young families wanting to be close to downtown. Now we know it as one of our city’s toniest districts; evidenced by the frequency of Porsches, Lexuses and Filipinas leading white children indoors while carrying groceries.

Zeidler’s favourite walk encompasses Rosedale, following a “U” through the ravines on the west which run roughly parallel to Yonge street, curve around north of Bloor, and then go up through the Don Valley on the East. For the adventurous he suggests completing the loop through Mount Pleasant cemetery on the top.

In the early seventies, Zeidler declared his love for the ravines in an essay he wrote for Exploring Toronto, a walking tour guidebook to the city. His ravines are a place of romance and an almost magical connection to the city that surrounds them. “There are vistas through trees—imposing arches of bridges—running brooklets and wild life”, he wrote, “Only occasionally does an apartment tower appear like a distant castle above the trees to remind you that you have not totally escaped.”

You can tell by reading Zeidler’s walking-tour that it’s not just the trails that worked magic on him. Again, it’s about opposites. “Like the moats of a castle, the ravines define clearly the territory of Rosedale.” He wrote, “Yet, the complexity and maybe oddity of the houses is the true charm of the district.”

That remains true to this day. On every street, each house is different from the last. Looming stone juggernauts sit next to shiny-metal boxes, more closely resembling avant-garde museums than homes.

While the esteemed architect has grown to like the mansions, he also pays respect to Rosedale’s more economical modes of living, giving high marks to townhouse schemes like those on Ancroft place.

“They couldn’t be better done today” says Zeidler, “And but there’s no reason you couldn’t build such townhouse schemes that wouldn’t give you the same benefit. And I think we have to build them because we have to live denser. And we have to prevent the deforestation or the destruction of the green acres when there are these houses built on masse in these things.”

During our conversation, Zeidler speaks of “the fight”: accomplishments won for Toronto, the halting of the Spadina expressway; and the greening of the Don Valley Parkway. But there’s still plenty of room for improvement: “Hydro poles all over the place! I mean that was the first thing that struck me here, because in Europe, you don’t see hydro poles. You put the wires underground.”

“At the moment, architecture is being suppressed,” said Zeidler, “With the exception of the splendiferous buildings that we do and where we spent all the money. But they are the focus point that has to sit in an environment that fits them. And if they sit in a garbage can, you know, so what? What we need is to clean up the environment and make areas that respond to the big pieces.”

Even in his beloved Rosedale ravines, the fight’s not over. Every morning, Zeidler’s reminded of this as he runs past unsightly fences around the mouths of each creek.

“The ravines are still there, they’ve been luckily still there”, said Zeidler, “I think what I’ve been complaining about are little things. Authorities get crazy ideas like they have to protect people by putting up things like chain-link fences, which are totally crazy. When we built Ontario Place, they came along and said we have to put a chain link fence around the shoreline so that nobody could fall in the lake. Finally I succeeded to convince them that it was crazy. I mean could you imagine Ontario place with chain-link fences all around?”

Writer vs Artist

September 30, 2009
the eternal dilemna

the eternal dilemna

I Been Trapped Inside for, uh, About a Week.

September 22, 2009

Just finished reading Heart Shaped Box by Joe Hill.

Recommended by Mark Askwith who heard about it from Neil Gaiman. This book. It’s cracking. Maybe you’re wondering, hey, when was the last time I read a horror novel, in the sense of an un-put-down-able page turner that made me want to hang on for the ride cause I have to find out what happens next. Cause you enjoy books and that’s how you first got sucked into them when you were a teenager—those books lying around the house that you weren’t supposed to read. Maybe it was Misery. Maybe it was Eyes of the Dragon.

Well this is like that. It’s got that momentum. And while it’s not exactly scary, I was more terrified reading something like House of Leaves, it certainly left it up in the air what the final fate of it’s protagonists would be. Story follows a fictional rocker, sort of an Alice Cooper type figure who buys a ghost on ebay, that comes in a dead man’s suit, that ends up haunting the bejeezus out of him and his goth groupie girlfriend.

Simple really. Escapist, sure.

Only about, what, less than a dozen characters in the whole book, and focuses on mainly just the couple and the ghost. Real tight. Driving. Like a locked room.

Maybe it’s the thing for you?

More on the go. Still Reading Jim Thompson books– got a massive omnibus given to me by Slates.

Also read the Ruins, which was an even more interesting experiment in horror. Shame though, that when you talk to anyone about it who’s remotely heard of it they say, “is that the movie with the plants?” Yes!   But… so much more than that!

Genuinely horrible stuff going on in it, that’s entirely driven by character. It’s another locked room, except that the tourist protagonists happened to be pinned out on a hill in a Mexican jungle rather than trapped in a farmhouse in the American midwest. but the principles the same. And all that happens, it’s entirely and horribly their fault.  Makes it really painful to read in many places, as strengths become weaknesses when exposed to the stark and the strange. Much to think about.

So much horror so little time…

Open Bar 2

July 30, 2009

A test of ze emergenzy pozting syztem.

Seems to be a bit squished or cropped a bit.

Can’t entirely tell. No black bars on the top or bottom though.

Which is nice.

Life of Y?

July 22, 2009

Just file it under, can you fuckin’ believe this guy?

The novel will be “an allegory—this time about the Holocaust—involving animals,” the follow-up to Martel’s surprise bestseller and Booker Prize-winning, ‘Life of Pi.’ The article explores Martel’s career, including frank comments from the author about Holocaust writing and his agent about the shifting publishing landscape. GalleyCat has reported on Martel’s one-man book club and possible adaptations of “Pi.”

Here’s more from the article: “Mr. Martel also declined to discuss his advance, but said, ‘Frankly, with all the years it took to write this book, if you amortize it out, it’s not as much as one would like it to be.'”

So, let’s see the math. Story about animals + overtread guaranteed Oscar bait. Hmmn. Easy. Where did we hear that before? Way to exploit a market man. “One” seems to have pretty high fuckin’ standards. Good luck with that. I hear genius takes time.