Thursday, March 26, 2009

The warm hug of nostalgia

Hanging out with a friend (or group of friends), gathered on couches around the TV, playing video games. I'm sure I'm not the only kid in my generation for whom this is a classic scenario. It still happens from time to time in my life, too - I got to sit down and play Street Fighter IV with my man Nick last time I was in Portland.

What you see when playing Retro Game Challenge: Not just the game, but the two kids playing the game...(okay back in 1980s Japan, but still). Image from

I just picked up and have spent a little bit of time with Retro Game Challenge for the DS, which has a convoluted history and in-game story, but plays on the imagery of sitting around and playing games with your friend. I caught the buzz for the game after hearing about it on every single gaming podcast I listen to, and that word of mouth convinced me to track the game down.

The game is actually based off a Japanese TV show, Game Center CX, in which the host is challenged to complete a variety of classic video games. Retro Game Challenge is a game based off that - you still have to face challenges put down by Game Master Arino, but the translation is done so that it's a way for you to escape imprisonment in 1980s Japan.

Okay. So you play lovingly crafted games based off 8-bit video game tropes (space shooter, 2D racer, ninja platformer, basic RPG). Big deal? Well, as the screenshot above shows, the game goes on on the top screen; on the bottom, it's you and your friend (apparently Arino c. the time period) and get to hang out as kids playing games. Arino chips in - "AWESOME!", "INCOMING!" - and when you even select to go play a game, it shows your character scooting on the floor over to the bookshelf.

Sure, you're lounging on tatami mats in a very Japanese apartment playing a Japanese Famicom lookalike...but man, the sentiment is there. The Internet is great and all, but sometimes you miss -itting down with a friend and playing pass-the-controller to play a single player game. Sometimes it's the childhood nostalgia that gets you the most.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Who watches "Watchmen"? I just did

Yes, it's accurate; but is it good?

Just returned home after seeing Watchmen on the big screen - didn't make a midnight showing Thursday night because of going to the Nuggets-Blazers basketball game, and didn't go last night because I would have slept through it! But I made the trip tonight and have some thoughts.

Primarily I'm just really, really glad that Zack Snyder made the Watchmen movie that he did because, in his own words, if he didn't somebody else would have - and if somebody else would have, it most likely would have been changed (more) from the original source and sucked.

This movie categorically does not suck. It is as good a transition to film as there will ever be - I don't even mind the alterations to the ending (deciding to cut out a side story entirely necessitated the movie to end the way it did). Costumes, setting, tone, everything was truly faithful to the book. I love the beginning montage during the credits as an introduction, even if they did take a couple liberties with things insinuated in the book.

And while I swore up and down I wasn't going to be influenced by the voices and writers who said "it's *too* faithful and a touch limited as a movie," I am forced to agree - simply because this isn't the right medium for it.

With a regular novel - like, say, The Lord of the Rings - before the movies, the books did not live as a visual medium. Like all novels, it was up to interpretation and your mind's eye to paint between the lines that (in that case) Tolkein set out for characters, settings, everything. We know Frodo is a hobbit and that he most likely has certain traits, but the way he looks and talks is up to the reader's interpretation.

Same with how scenes are acted out. While there might be occasional blocking in a novel, it's not as specific - or, indeed, graphic - as within a comic book or graphic novel. While Snyder may have had a handy, dandy storyboard in the form of the original Watchmen, that in my mind is a bit of a set of golden handcuffs - you have to get it absolutely right. Any deviation and the fans go wild.

The other major gripe I have is going to sound banal and snobbish, but so be it. Watchmen the book works absolutely perfectly and is a masterpiece of late-20th century literature in part because it uses its medium so well in telling the story. While the movie is still good, some scenes drag on film where they'd make much, much more sense on paper in ink. Flashbacks - especially for characterization of both Rorschach and Dr. Manhattan - worked much, much better in the graphic novel than they did in the movie, and that's more down to the medium actively helping the storytelling more than anything else.

One minor gripe with the movie (besides the necessary evil of cutting out "The Black Freighter" sections, which led to altering the ending) is that it paints some details in much bolder strokes than in the book. Without giving away too much, background details related to The Comedian and (in the book) old-time heroine Silhouette - which are done very subtlety in the graphic novel - are given much broader strokes in the movie, which is as much a function of the movie format as anything else.

While Watchmen the movie is indeed rather awesome - I think those who haven't read the books will enjoy it, even if it does drag a bit in the middle - for no fault of its own, it falls short of living up to the source. In most book-to-novel cases this has to do with cutting content, but for these, it's more because it's not set on the right stage. And that is through no fault of the movie.