Tuesday, October 27, 2009
When Xbox Live Arcade, Microsoft’s downloadable games service, first launched in November 2004 for the Xbox, it had a grand library of six titles, all of them retro arcade classics. A year later, to coincide with the Xbox 360’s launch, the service was greatly expanded, ballooning to include original content (such as the perennially popular Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved, largely considered the 360’s best launch title).
Just two months ago, XBLA was given a shot in the arm that was a long time coming: Chair Entertainment’s Shadow Complex, a retail-caliber game, containing a narrative, gameplay, art assets, and, even, a graphics engine all fully capable of appearing in a full $60 game gracing GameStop’s shelves.
Released on August 19, the title raked in over 200,000 sales in its first week alone – enough to make the NPD Group’s top ten list for the month, one of the very first times a $15 game has managed to sneak its way in with the likes of EA’s Madden NFL Football and Nintendo’s Wii Sports Resort. This is more than banal videogame trivia; it’s a watershed moment for gaming.
As Live enters its sixth year, more and more publishers will take Chair’s example, pouring an ever larger amount of resources into downloadable development, furnishing experiences that will compete with – and, as is already evident, steal from – traditional games’ clout. In an economy that is still faltering, this means gamers will be just as likely to spend their hard-earned money in their living rooms as in Best Buy, playing titles that aren’t that dissimilar. Much like cinema in the wake of television’s grand arrival in the ‘50s, publishers will have to find even more reasons to entice gamers into retail locations for retail experiences.
Of course, Sony is betting that all games, big and small, will soon find their way to users exclusively through digital distribution: the PSP Go, the latest iteration of its handheld, released on October 1st, is completely physical media-less, making it the first system of any stripe to do so. And even Microsoft is already dipping its toes in the market, having launched Games on Demand – a service that offers (slightly) older retail games for (slightly) discounted rates – in August.
And behind this latest evolution of the interactive industry will be games like Shadow Complex, a bestselling title that has put the still-fledgling Chair on the map – along with, for many gamers, digital distribution itself.
Thursday, October 22, 2009
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
A funny thing happened on the way to the store…
Since the Nintendo Wii’s release on November 19, 2006, there have been only three months when the system wasn’t number one in console sales (in terms of overall system sales, the Wii has been frequently oscillating with Nintendo’s other mega seller, the handheld DS) – and two of those were November and December 2006, when, as is common with all console launches, the big N couldn’t produce enough units to satiate the demand of technological evangelists everywhere.
September 2009 is now the fourth month. And as if this weren’t surprising enough by itself, it is compounded by the fact that it isn’t Microsoft, the company responsible for the first three lapses in the Wii’s dominance, that has dethroned Nintendo.
To come from dead last place – the PlayStation 3 was typically outsold on a monthly basis not only by the Wii and Xbox 360, but also by Sony’s two other systems, the now-obsolete PS2 on the console side and the PSP on the handheld – to end Nintendo’s 22-month consecutive streak, and outselling the 360 by nearly 150,000 units in the process, is quite an impressive feat.
It’s a miracle the likes of which has been evading Sony since the PS3’s launch two days before the Wii’s, nearly some three years ago. So why now? What makes September any different from the previous 34 months, when the PS3 was in a sales slump so severe that it looked as if it were unending?
It turns out there are two possible reasons. First and foremost, Sony dropped the price of the system to $299 – finally – on the first of the month, making it half the price of the original (high-end) model, with 60 times the hard drive space, to boot. (It’s not all deals and sunshine, however; Sony has stripped some of that first iteration’s features over the years, including slots for PSX and PS2 memory cards and, much more importantly – particularly for a company that skewered Microsoft for omitting it – backwards compatibility.)
And then there’s Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, what just may turn out to be the PS3’s killer app, the next-generation equivalent of Super Mario Bros. or Halo (indeed, it was Halo 3’s release in September 2007 that caused the Wii’s last momentary tumble from the top of the sales charts). Although it didn’t ship until last week, on October 13, it may very well be that diehard gamers were already attracted to the title and they more than happily pounced on the opportunity to play it for a price point that was less than $460.
But U2’s release in and of itself probably isn’t enough to account for the massive surge in sales numbers, no matter how excellent the game may be – a point reinforced by two previous AAA titles that, while garnering critical praise and hardcore followings, still failed to break Sony’s behemoth of a console into the mainstream market: Konami’s Metal Gear Solid 4 (June ’08) and Sony’s own Killzone 2 (February ’09). And $300 is still a significant amount of money to spend, particularly if there are no up-and-coming titles to get the newly acquired userbase excited. It is more than likely the combination of the two, forming a one-two punch, that delivered Sony its single stellar month of sales (and less the nebulous lineup of 2010 software, as some venues are hypothesizing, even if that roster includes the likes of Gran Turismo 5, God of War III, and a new motion-sensing controller [assuming, of course, that it doesn’t get pushed back, as all Sony hardware inevitably does]).
A better question than why just may be what next? Will this prove to be an aberration, as with Microsoft’s sudden leap to the front of the line two years ago, or will it be the basis of a new trend: Sony resurgent, slowly but efficiently climbing past the formidable install base of the Xbox 360 and, perhaps, even beyond the unprecedented success of the Wii? Will Sony truly have the last laugh, riding the slower-but-stronger wave of a ten-year generational cycle, as it has been boasting since 2005, or will this merely be a flash in the pan, more a September “curse” for Nintendo than anything else?
Microsoft and Nintendo both have followed Sony’s suit in the several weeks since Gamescom, slashing their prices to $299 (the starting price of the original Xbox eight years ago) and $199 (the starting price of literally every Nintendo console for the past 24 years), respectively. Whether this affects the PlayStation 3’s sales or not, a financially scarred public, at the very least, will finally have the laws of economics on their side for the very first time this generation.
At a time when all previous console generations were ending, this one is finally getting started.
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Noun horror (plural horrors)
1. An intense painful emotion of fear or repugnance.
2. An intense dislike or aversion; an abhorrence.
3. A literary genre, generally of a gothic character.
4. (The horrors, informal) An intense anxiety or a nervous depression.
Horror Fiction Encyclopedic entry
FROM PEOPLE WHO KNOW
For me a horror film or horror novel involves fear, terror, and boundless fascination with some force that is unseen and difficult to define. Almost always, good horror novels and films have to do with the supernatural and the way that it menaces human beings, or works in their lives in mysterious ways. But not always. The remake of The Thing was an excellent horror movie and the source of the horror was an alien who could enter into and take over human form.
---- ANNE O’BRIEN RICE Amongst the finest Horror authors, and writers ever
Merriam Webster gives the following as the primary definition of horror:
Horror: noun. painful and intense fear, dread, or dismay.
While it's certainly all that, I've got a bit of a different take.
If you want to see ice hockey being played, you may trudge to the Nassau Coliseum (if you're an Islanders fan), or Madison Square Garden (for the arch-rival Rangers), to take in the game. At the arena, you'll see fast play. Passing and shooting. Scoring, on most nights. You'll see fans rise to their feet, emotions unchecked, when the home team hits the twine. You may see the crowd agonize if a favorite player or superstar goes down with an injury. You'll see collective tension as a member of the opposing team races in on a breakaway, and a collective sigh of relief if the goal tender makes a save and the puck squirts harmlessly away.
What does this have to do with horror? Go back to the Merriam Webster folks' summation.
Figured out my take?
Horror is the arena. Horror is Maple Leaf Gardens or the old Spectrum in Philadelphia. Horror is where you, as the creator or as the visitor, choose to go to attend the thrill-ride. Like buying tickets to a hockey game. Or like strapping on the blades and the helmet if you're fortunate enough to be on the proactive side of the equation.
When I write, I'm lacing up. I'm taping my stick and sharpening my skates and heading out to the ice to do my thing. And, my thing will be, in part, to bring the pain. To make the fans in the seats uncomfortable. To cause them to hold their collective breath as the bad guy threatens to lower the boom, before, perhaps, letting the goal tender bat away the shot.
Or perhaps letting it tear off his hand...glove and all.
Horror encompasses everything we have in the emotional toolbox of human existence. It's not just the painful and obscene and terrifying. It's the quiet dread, like a fan might feel before facing a favored opponent whose team leads the league and has all sorts of weapons on offense. It's the very rafters of the building. It's the seats upon which we spend all that time on the edge. Horror is all the negatives of our existence, put into black and white and stuffed down our throats, no different than the box scores in the paper the morning after a true whippin' at the hands of another team. Horror is the inescapable. You're there, in the building, trapped in your seat, or mucking about in the corners looking for a shift change. It can be exhilarating, it can be nerve-wracking, it can be heart-stopping. It does not have to be bloody...but sometimes it is. It doesn't have to be violent...but sometimes it is. It doesn't need to stay with you...but when it's good it does, following you around like the lingering afterimage burned into your retinas of a pass taken in full stride and fired into the net in the blink of an eye. Something you stop, examine well after its occurred, and can still find awe-inspiring, or blood-chilling.
Horror is our arena for taking people on the joyride. For others, the arena may be comedy or drama. For those of us who live and breathe the darkness; who seek to mold the unseen and unthinkable into our tools of the trade, horror brings us all together, tears aside our defenses and sends the lowest-common-denominator of our fears hurtling at us on an end-to-end rush.
That it breaks the rules, or occasionally locks the EXIT doors and pins us to our seats as the rafters threaten to crumble in upon us, is just part of the price of admission.
--- JOE MONKS Horror author, and Director
Horror is a feeling. People often want to define horror as the thing that CAUSES that feeling, but that's too vague. The causes for horror are too subjective. What horrifies me may not affect you the same way. Horror is personal.
It's more than simple fear. It's shock. It's revulsion. It's primal. It's so strong that we crave it until we actually experience it. Then we want to get as far away from it as humanly possible.
--- MICHAEL MAY writer and blogger
Like all genres, horror's main function is as a marketing tool: it lets book publishers and movie producers tell you succinctly, through the use of a universally recognised code, what sort of story you'll get if you buy a particular book or see a particular movie. It helps consumers to avoid the wrong kind of narrative surprise - the kind you'd get, say, if you were all keyed up for blood and gore and you found yourself reading a Mills & Boon novel.
Once you get into the specifics of the code, of course, you find that it's more subtle and variegated than you might expect. Horror narratives are distinguished by being - at least potentially - frightening or shocking or disturbing, but within that there are supernatural narratives, there's slasher fiction, there's the sort of cosmic horror of Lovecraft, genre fusions like urban fantasy, and monster movies that (at one extreme )may intentionally be far more cheesy than scary. there's no one, universal thing that both binds these stories together and separates them absolutely from other stories. It becomes a question of weighting and emphasis. Maybe you can still get away with saying that horror tells stories about things that are now or were once thought to be frightening: or maybe you should look at the narrative purpose of horror instead.
Brian Boyd's book "On the Origin of Stories" discusses the possibility that all narratives confer adaptive advantage - that they evolved because they're useful to our development ad our survival. If that's so, then one thing they do is certainly to allow us to test our responses to situations we've never encountered, so that arguably if we *do* then encounter them we don't freeze up from the sheer strangeness of the sensory input. Horror would be an extreme example of that process: it pre-adapts us to the most hideous and appalling events, toughening us mentally and emotionally.
Or maybe it's just fun to get pants-wettingly scared when there's nothing really at stake for us...
--- MIKE CAREY Writer of Hellblazer, Lucifer and far far more.
TWO HORROR AUTHORS in print have said
The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown. --- H.P. Lovecraft * Supernatural horror in Literature (1927)
Fear is an emotion that makes us blind. How many things are we afraid of? We're afraid to turn off the lights when our hands are wet. We're afraid to stick a knife into the toaster to get the stuck English muffin without unpluggin' it first. We're afraid of what the doctor may tell us when the physical exam is over; when the airplane suddenly takes a great unearthly lurch in midair. We're afraid that the oil may run out, that the good air will run out, the good water, the good life. When the daughter promised to be in by eleven and it's now quarter past twelve and sleet is spatting against the window like dry sand, we sit and pretend to watch Johnny Carson and look occasionally at the mute telephone and we feel the emotion that makes us blind, the emotion that makes a stealthy ruin of the thinking process.
--- Stephen King, Night Shift, foreword (1978)
And lastly Me
Horror is what humans do to each other, like war, terrorism, racism, and violence.
I am preparing a fun group interview about the definition of Horror to celebrate Halloween, but will post that tomorrow. Today PopLitiko saw the sad news that Captain Lou Albano died. He was a wrestler, manager, actor, and personality that saw popular culture and wrestling meet. It is only appropriate that a site like PopLitiko remembers him, today, for he exemplifies the fact that more and more, our mediums mix, and what used to be low brow or high brow entertainment, no longer has false walls to divide them.
full Wikipedia entry
“Louis Vincent Albano (July 29, 1933 - October 14, 2009), better known by his ring name Captain Lou Albano, was an American professional wrestler, manager and actor. With an over-the-top personality and a penchant for boisterous declarations, Albano was the epitome of the antagonistic manager that raised the ire of wrestlers and incited the anger of spectators. Throughout his forty-two-year career, Albano guided 15 different tag teams and 4 singles competitors to championship gold. A unique showman, with an elongated beard, rubber band facial piercings, and loud outfits, he was the forefather of the 1980s Rock 'n' Wrestling Connection. Collaborating with Cyndi Lauper, Albano helped usher in wrestling's crossover success with a mainstream audience. Capitalizing on his success, he later ventured into Hollywood with various television, film, and music projects.”
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
It’s the most wonderful time of the year again.
The sixth annual X-Files Halloween marathon is scheduled to start tonight, at the customary time of 8:00 pm sharp. Every night, for the next eight nights, a different episode from each season of the series will be screened, highlighting the scares and creepiness of the long-lived television show and savoring both the cool, all-too-brief atmosphere of the season and the warm companionship of friends and family.
But that’s not all the marathon is meant to underscore. The X-Files itself is, without hyperbole, one of the strongest-produced series to have graced the boob tube. From concept to cinematography, acting to music, special and visual effects to dialogue – the most subtly sublime ingredient of showrunner Chris Carter’s recipe – X-Files is on a par that few have reached.
The fundamental achievement underlying all this success, however, is the show’s incredible level of production value. Few, if any, television productions before or since have managed to maintain the sheer number of locations shot at every week, the consistency in detail of set dressing (“End Game’s” submarine tower and “Piper Maru’s” diving suit are just two examples of intricate – and, in this case, huge – props that come immediately to mind), and the prodigious but nuanced atmosphere assiduously applied to each and every scene. More than any other string of components, it is these elements that combine to create a movie each and every installment, doing so six years before David Chase would have a similar dream – and realization – with another seminal series, The Sopranos.
Yes, such glorious praise is, indeed, mitigated, if not hamstrung, by the arsenal of flaws that Carter and his writing staff brought to bear on their prodigal creation. The weaknesses – some systemic, some occurring at the end of a long marathon (no pun intended) of a production – exhibited in The X-Files are voluminous and run the gamut of incongruous continuity (“The Truth”), inconsistent characterization (Special Agent Monica Reyes), and ham-handed theatrics (C.G.B. Spender’s return in the series finale). It is not for nothing that I personally omit the ninth and final season from my personal version of the canon, though I still do include it, of course, in the Halloween marathon every year.
But to err is human, even in the immortal realm of art. And, ultimately, despite the stumbles and the failures, the missteps and the (sometimes very blatant) course corrections, the passion and soul that Carter and his cabal of writers poured into their baby shines through. It is such quality, both within and without, that keeps the show afloat through any marring or, indeed, the passage of time itself; no matter how dated the hairdos or the big, bulky cell phones become, the series itself never will be antiquated.
Making it the perfect choice for a perennial marathon.
Tuesday, October 13th – “Conduit” (season one)
Wednesday, October 14th – “Blood” (season two)
Thursday, October 15th – “Avatar” (season three)
Friday, October 16th – “Paper Hearts” (season four)
Saturday, October 17th – “Unusual Suspects” (season five)
Sunday, October 18th – “Tithonus” (season six)
Monday, October 19th – “En Ami” (season seven)
Tuesday, October 20th – “Roadrunners” (season eight)
Wednesday, October 21st – “Scary Monsters” (season nine)