Dream Casts (no pun intended)

All this recent hoopla in my head over the convergence of film and gaming, my two most beloved things, has led me to draw up a few ideal casting choices for some upcoming games-to-movies, namely BioShock and Metal Gear Solid, which has the added benefit of being 90% movie anyway.

Bioshock:

Protagonist Jack: You want someone who’s fairly young, and capable of a dark, tragic heroism of a sort.  With that language most people would jump to the Dark Knight himself, Christian Bale, but I’m going for Nathan Fillion, far less of a name and a face, except to Whedonite zealots.  The hammer is his penis.

Andrew Ryan: Daniel Day Lewis.  No second choices, at all.  The alpha-objectivist whose empire has crumbled around the very structures he built it on, the gravitas of the Milkshake will be needed for his climactic moment.

Atlas: James MacAvoy, this rising star has all the right characteristics.  Right accent, right attitude.

Frank Fontaine: Jack Nicholson.  No one can do arrogant sleaze better.  He could just read everything in his normal voice and it would be pitch-perfect.  Alternatively Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Dr. Tenenbaum: Sarah Polley.  She’s best known for her work as the female protagonist of 2004’s Dawn of the Dead remake, but is a fierce actress and talent in her own right.

Dr. Suchong: None other than Sulu himself, George Takei.  Right age, right look, just enough villainous potential.

Sander Cohen: Robin Williams, no second choice.  The man can act serious when you give him a chance, but can anyone think of a better option for a manic psychotic artist?

Dr. Steinman: John Noble.  Look at his performance as Denethor in Return of the King.  That sort of psychotic behavior could be very easily and very artfully translated to this plastic-surgeon gone batshit.

Now how about a Metal Gear Solid movie?  Laden with its didactic style of Japanese storytelling, you’ll need a good editor and screenwriter before anything else, really.  But what about those characters?  I’ve got some ideas here, too.

Solid Snake/Solidus/Big Boss: Viggo Mortensen.  In various stages of makeup he can play all of them, and play the hell out of all of them.  He is quite possibly one of the five greatest living actors, in my opinion.

Liquid Snake: I’m going to go back to James MacAvoy for this one, too.  A younger, more vital, slightly deranged character, I think he’d excel as Liquid.

Otacon: I’d cast outside of appearance on this one, cast to character and not to looks, that said, I’d go with Philip Seymour Hoffman.  Another one of my favorites, he could very easily play a nerdy, closeted homosexual atomic scientist.

Raiden: Jake Gyllenhaal.  Young, unsure of himself, naive, I think he’s played all these characteristics already.

Revolver Ocelot: David Carradine, yes, Bill.  He’s got just the right quality for Ocelot.

Naomi Hunter: Nicole Kidman.  She can do ice queen, she can do everything the character needs to do.

Meryl Silverburgh: Say it with me now: Evangeline Lilly.  KATE.  She can kick ass, she can play vulnerable, she can play sneaky, slippery, sultry.  Don’t even change her hair color, the red anime-hair is ridiculous, give her a cut and put her to work.  Give her a bigger part than she has in the games, and ratchet up the tension with Snake.

Sure there are other characters in both games (especially the bloated Metal Gear saga) but for film translations, I’d take it down a bit.  There would of course be other supporting characters, but those are your core.  Bioshock I think lends itself to a more direct translation, oddly enough, as Metal Gear Solid’s story needs some heavy pruning.  I’d probably combine elements of 1, 2, and 4.

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The Year of the Stunner: The Chaos Fold’s Gaming Year in Review (Part One)

2007 has been a banner year for video games. The titles that have bombarded store-shelves month after month continue to impress even the most jaded of critics. We have seen beloved franchises leap forward, new franchises born, and new developers rise to prominence.

In particular, 2007 has seen a stunning leap forward in the world of interactive storytelling. As film matured from silent clips of ribald comedy into spectacles of visual splendor and daring innovation, so too is gaming finding its own unique voice, and its own unique language for storytelling. As the Year of the Stunner, 2007 will not soon be forgotten. Continue reading

REVIEW: Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction

As this is the first full review on The Chaos Fold, I’m going to take the time to explain my methodology.

I review games based on their play value. If I buy a game that is graphically amazing, but with lackluster controls, a piss-weak storyline, or flawed design principles, I’ll say “Skip it” or something along those lines. If I play a game and enjoy it thoroughly, and believe it is worth the price of admission, I’ll say to buy it or possibly rent it. No arbitrary numbers or star ratings.

And now, without further ado, on with the show. Continue reading

An Open Letter to Roger Ebert

(Ed. Note: This letter was sent to Roger Ebert and the Chicago Sun-Times editorial staff on 20 October, 2007. It is reprinted here for posterity.  Spoilers abound for BioShock and Half-Life 2: Episode 2)

In recent days, much has been made of Mr. Ebert’s comments on the concept of video games being referred to as “art”. Much more has been made of his seeming refusal to consider their value to the artistic canon of the twenty-first century.

As a writer, one not celebrated by any great awards or known beyond a small circle of dear friends, I can appreciate Ebert’s reluctance to admit such a seemingly infantile form into the pantheon of high art. It is a distinction that took many years to be reached by film, television, graphic novels, and many other forms of former folk-devils. Art is subjective, at its very core. I live in Washington D.C. and as such I have access to many famed museums. At the National Gallery of Art, there are a number of paintings that truly stretch the term. The “White Painting” is a white canvas. The “Black Painting” is a black canvas. Strewn nearby are various paintings of black and white in various mixed patterns.

Surely one could make the connection that the white painting is a stirring portrayal of the innate purity of existence. Likewise the black painting could be seen as a brave vision of the bleakness of uncertainty. You can call anything art if you try hard enough, which is a testament to the breadth of the term. Roger Ebert, as a student of film and a much-respected voice in the field of professional critique, is making a mistake with his view on video games. He’s looking at it, as would be expected, as if the games were film.

Video games, have their own unique challenges, drawbacks, and virtues. Much as film was maligned by theater critics for its essential lack of spontaneity, video games have been criticized for their lack of directorial control, so to speak. A player is in control of a video game. A player sits at something aptly-named the “controller” to work their way through a series of pre-determined or vaguely-randomized challenges to reach a conclusion. What this fails to consider is the breadth of video games.

Just as one can call stunning displays of cinematography art, or revolutionary effects art, everything from sound design, to editing, set design, to the performance on the screen art, there is more to video games than plot. Like the handicap of lacking live players, there are ways to compensate for the interactive nature of games.

Many games forego any semblance of story, or maintain a truly abstract one, and focus on something such as a visual beauty, or a transcendent musical score. These are things not uncommon to film. Some of the greatest and most influential films of all time are incredibly abstract. The same holds true for abstract games, where the player is more of a witness to a world that has been crafted solely for its beauty. Two games in particular stand out to me as excellent indicators of this: Shadow of the Colossus, and Rez, both available on the Sony Playstation 2. To someone who is not playing the game, their beauty might be mistaken for noise, but instead, the act of control is what grants them their depth and appeal.

Still more games take narrative approaches, with the player acting as a vessel, an agent of change that pushes through a storyline. Many times, these protagonists are never seen, they may have some identifiable markings to allow the player to identify, but are entirely silent, as the game is seen through the first person. Two games of recent years, BioShock, and Half-Life 2 accomplish this task admirably.

Half-Life has a central character with a name, but with no spoken lines. He is essentially an observer to the drama, and an engine for its continuation. While his compatriot, the stunningly life-like Alyx Vance provides most of the interaction with non-player characters, Gordon Freeman is the stoic scientist fighting against the world. When Alyx’s father is tragically killed at the end of Episode 2, the most recent expansion to the story, the game fades slowly to black, the only backdrop her unrestrained mourning, as she wails over her father’s lifeless body. The player has no control over the events for the last scene, being held captive, left to do nothing but watch helplessly. In this case, the ability of the player to control an actor, and yet be powerless to change the outcome, enhances the artistic quality, and does not detract from it.

Bioshock, too, employs a similar narrative device. The game is linear, in that there is only one path that can be taken to reach from the beginning of the game to the end. The developers, actors, and artists behind the undersea art-deco utopia of Rapture know their limitations, and instead turn them to advantages. At roughly the game’s mid-way point, the player is greeted with a disturbing revelation, that they are infact a puppet, enslaved by the code-phrase “Would you kindly”. The player is forced to watch, powerless, as control is wrested from them by this revelation. As you watch yourself kill an unarmed man simply because he told you to, the player is filled with a desire for revenge on the one who inflicted this on him. The rest of the game is a rush toward a climactic showdown with that nefarious influence, and ultimately liberation.

If the question of art comes down to emotional impact, I can say with certainty that all of the aforementioned video games had great emotional impact on me. I even cried at the conclusion of BioShock. Am I saying all games are art? Of course not, but I’m not saying all movies are art, either. In any form that can make claim to that name, there are exceptions. Video games, in their infancy, are just starting to ascend to that high throne. Games take influence from film, yes. They also take influence from classical music, from literature, folklore, painting, and sculpture, as have they all from each other.

There is much dreck in gaming. There is also much “beautiful trash” as you put it. Products designed to entertain and sell, with little more to them. If you approach them with an open mind, however, and I do for my part hope to have opened yours a bit, you can find art.

Sincerely and Respectfully,

Andrew Zimmer

Bioshock = High Art.

I figure I should just come out and say it instead of dicking around with doublespeak. Bioshock is art.

After beating the game, for the first time ever I feel as if the title “Game” is a sleight against it. It is an experience, one that could easily be revelatory. For me, it once and for all answered the question of whether or not video games can be art.

There have been ‘Art’ games before like Shadow of the Colossus, Ico, Rez, etc. Those have all excelled in more finely focused ways such as visual beauty or symphonic immersion.

Bioshock is more the total package, perhaps to Video Games what films like Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and Sergei Eisenstein’s The Battleship Potemkin, both being films that addressed complex issues with artistry and scope unheard of at the time. Bioshock, perhaps influenced especially by Metropolis

Everything from the disturbing imagery, to the moral choices, to the beautiful ending, remind me of all the very best in film, prose, poetry, music, and the myriad graphical arts. It is an expression of an idea, many ideas in fact. Not simple ideas, either, or ideas of little import.

Bioshock, if you treat it as an experience and not “another game to use to buff my gamerscore”, acts as a sort of mirror. It asks us to answer questions and make decisions, none of which are easy to make. It also rewards us by treating us with respect, not pandering to any audience or critic’s whim. Perhaps the most impressive facet of the experience is not graphical, or literary, or auditory, nor any level of technical prowess. Perhaps the most impressive facet is that I can say with all honesty, that my life has been enriched by this game.

That is what makes something high art.