Clash of the Titans: A movie rant Thursday, Apr 8 2010 

So after giving into gentle pressure from a fan of my blog, I am going to let y’all know what I felt about the remake of The Clash of Titans.  First, a little background information.  I love Greek myth;  I love the evocative images and the creative tales.  I really enjoy the characters and the concepts; and I have a deep appreciation for the themes, motifs, and characteristics of the great Greek heroes (some more than others, as expected).  By the way, it is out of this that I have such a great respect and love for the book series, Percy Jackson & the Olympians.  I grew up watching and knowing the original Clash of the Titans.  When I saw the trailers for this remake, I was not excited; it just didn’t strike me as something impressive.  However, to my knowledge, myths are designed to be malleable; they can be retold in such unique ways so that they can fit whatever moral, story, or situation the teller/audience needs.  So, I expected changes to be made and I needed to bear that in mind when watching.  Even with an open mind, it was not exactly compelling cinema.

Before I start fuming over what I loathed about this movie, let me start with what I liked.  The very start of the movie was exposition to the Greek myth surrounding the titans, set with the backdrop of the constellations and stars in the sky; awesome!  Liam Nieson as Zeus was beyond great!  He looks great with a beard and, in my opinion, carries the weight and authority befitting the lord of Olympus and king of the gods.  Also, the design for the Kraken was truly titanic.  It was immense and frightening and truly put the original Kraken to shame.  Sadly, the list is not that long.

My complaints with this movie are not all about how weak it seems compared to the original; in fact, I think none of the problems I saw with the movie had to do with the original being better or anything like that.  First things first: the title.  WHERE ARE THE FRAKKING TITANS?!  By the movie’s own admission at the very beginning, the titans were defeated long before the events of the movie and done with; the Kraken doesn’t count due to its origin in this movie.  So, there are no titans clashing at all and therefore doesn’t really live up to its own name.
Grievance the second, Perseus is not a hero.  I’m sorry, but he isn’t.  He’s a stubborn modern American male with low self-esteem artificially transplanted into a Greek myth.  He does not want any help from the gods, he doesn’t even want to pray to them.  He does this because “he’s a man!”  Oh, and despite his impious attitude, none of the gods decide to smite him for it; in fact, he is rewarded with goodies from Olympus, of which he turns down because “he’s a man!”  This is not Perseus; he isn’t even a hero!  The other soldiers who accompany him are more heroic than Perseus!  I guess my problem is that he is far too human for me to see him as the archetypal Greek hero.  Like I said, he has modern American views and beliefs that clash with the setting.
Speaking of conflicting views, why is everyone trying to overthrow the gods?  Also, why were the gods such wussies about this?  The gods were not simply managers of reality, they were bad-asses who didn’t take anybody’s (ANYBODY’S!) guff.  If any mortal so much as sneezed on a holy site of the gods with malevolent intent, that person would be a smoking crater seconds later.  Now, I will admit that is a comparison to the original myths, but not the original Clash of the Titans.  However, it is an appeal to the logic of the movie; they are gods who ask for worship from humanity.  When they get uppity, are there no miracles to bolster the morale?  Part of the reason why there were demigods, besides the gods being incredibly horny and adulterous, was because they could inspire mortals to perform great deeds.  I just do not like seeing the great Greek gods of old being reduced to a bunch of inept and passive observers wringing their hands in the hopes that everything will turn out right.

From a more technical/marketing standpoint, I highly recommend to NOT see this movie in 3-D.  Why?  It was pointless; no, scratch that, the point was to be more expensive to the audience.  There were no gimmicks that were worth the extra money and the environment was not that immersive.  Don’t be mistaken, the visuals of the Greecian landscape was breathtakingly beautiful, but that can be accomplished just as easily with higher quaility digital film, instead of utilizing a tired (in my opinion) gimmick.

I am going to stop here.  Please leave any recommendations for future game reviews, or anything else for that matter, in the comments section of any entry.  Thank you for listening.

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Taking a Closer Look: Video Games Wednesday, Sep 16 2009 

The next great revolution in game design comes in the form of electronics.  In either computer or console format, video games have introduced new games to whole generations of players.  However, what truly separates video games from other genres is that video games can also act as a new media for old games; common examples would be Monopoly or Risk.  However, video games are not constrained to simple translation; indeed, video games can take even the existing games and redesign them in innovative ways that make the games an interesting alternative as a video game than in the original format.

Examples-Super Mario Brothers series, Pac Man, Farmville, Duck Hunt, Gradius III, Dance Dance Revolution, Time Crisis series, Rock Band, Pit Fall, Grand Theft Auto, Sim City, Oregon Trail

Developmental Potential
Physical-while video games can foster the same skills and abilities which the other games offer, a few abilities stand out over others.  Most videos games require the player to have a certain degree of manual dexterity, beyond simple pushing buttons/keys.  Indeed, video game players need to develop their hand-eye coordination in order to better play their games; allowing them perform complex actions in game without having to look down at the controller or keyboard during game play.  Along with better coordination, the players develop better fine reflexes as they react quickly to what is occurring on screen; this is particularly important in shooter arcade games wherein the player needs to react without hesitation.

Mental-as with developing one’s coordination, video game players develop spatial relations.  This is important to games with controllers as they memorize the location of buttons so they do not need to look down at the controller in order to utilize it more effectively; with computer games the same can be applied to the keys on the keyboard that are important to game play.  Many video games require the player to execute certain manuevers within a certain timeframe; and in some cases, performing such actions with the correct timing will yield better results than otherwise.  As such, players learn to time their actions well within the context of the game, but can develop timing skills applicable outside the game.

Taking a Closer Look: Role-Playing Games Thursday, Sep 10 2009 

Compared to all game genres discussed to date, role-playing games are truly a revolution in gaming.  Whereas all other games have a clearly defined goal in mind as integrated into the mechanics, role-playing games generally don’t.  There may be individual long-term and short-term goals that can be accomplished, but those do not necessarily end the game right then and there.  Role-playing games (RPGs) are games that are characterized as the players taking the active roles of individuals within the game and, essentially, living out their lives; they are playing the roles of other characters.  Various descriptions of RPGs range from improvisational play to reading a story as one writes it to acting in a play.

Examples– Dungeons and Dragons, Vampire the Masquerade (or Vampire Requiem), Dragon Storm, Hollowed Earth Expedition, Seven Seas, Legend of the Five Rings, Mech Warrior, Hero System

Developmental Potential
Mental-among the most obvious, role-playing helps one develop creativity and the creative process; chiefly in developing character and story ideas.  Through role-playing, players learn to flesh out their characters and stories with important details that can range from small and subtle to wide-range and overt.  Along with character development, players learn more about the complex and intricate psychology of real people; after all, the players are portraying realistic, albeit fictional, people.  So, in order to better play those characters with real foibles and neuroses, the player had better brush up on their Psychology 101.   Speaking of studying, role-players often end up doing tremendous amounts of research in pursuit of character and story development.  As such, this is both a great opportunity for them to nurture their researching skills; which can be applied to any number of fields beyond gaming.  Some RPGs, like some miniature games, will plunge the characters into real-world settings (e.g. the Renaissance, the Dark Ages) and so the players will find themselves learning about all kinds of anachoristic mannerisms, fashions, politics, and beliefs; and as with miniature, all depending on the exact game system.  On a very, very subtle and educational stand-point, RPGs can be a very detailed demonstration of the cognitive process.  How?  In games where the players will form some type of team (as most often happens), also referred to as a party, the players will design their characters to fulfill certain roles within the group (i.e. leader, spokesperson/negotiator, sneak/scout).  Players often will assume a role that they are personally familiar with first and often branch out into other roles as they gain experience.  However, each role requires the players to think in terms of how that character should operate given that role.  For example, leaders would be concerned with how to keep the group together and organized; scouts will be thinking about maneuverability and stealth, not to mention gathering information.  The idea is better articulated by Dr. Gee of Wisconsin in his books on gaming.

Interpersonal-as RPGs are interaction by nature, playing in a RPG gives people a chance to develop their interpersonal skills.  At any given game session, people are constantly interacting with one another in either casual out-of-game conversation or in-character and with the other characters.  This is also a safe way for otherwise shy or reserved individuals to comfortably branch out and interact with others; it is an opportunity to foster confidence in “public” speaking and “come out of one’s shell” (to use a cliched phrase).  RPGs offer a great opportunity for creative expression.  Think about it: as a player, you can be anybody.  One can play out a fantasy or simply enjoy a safe out-of-box experience; of course, managing the escapism that RPGs offer can be difficult for some people and could be a topic of discussion for a later article.