Amoeblog

Films and Video Games

Posted by Eric Brightwell, March 16, 2010 12:34pm | Post a Comment

With Tron – Legacy, the sequel to a movie about video games, scheduled to open in theaters this coming December and Tron – Evolution, a video game based on a sequel of a movie about a video game scheduled for release in November, now seems like a perfect time to look at the Ouroboros-like nature of film and video games and film.

     

In the early 1980s, Hollywood still sometimes made films that weren’t re-makes, adaptations or sequels and before there were movies adapted from video and computer games, there were movies about video and computer games. Tron (1982) was the granddaddy of them all. The Wizard (1989), WarGames (1983), Joysticks (1983), Cloak and Dagger (1984) and The Last Starfighter (1984) soon followed. 

In a culture where toys (Rubik the Amazing Cube anyone?) and sugar cereal are fleshed out into serialized children’s narratives (Cap'n Crunch - available on DVD), it was perhaps inevitable that video games would be adapted into cartoons. About the only thing memorable from Saturday Supercade (with segments including Donkey Kong, Frogger, Q*Bert, Donkey Kong Jr, Pitfall Harry, Space Ace and Kangaroo) was the excellent theme song. I have little memory of Pac-Man (1984) but was a big fan of Pole Position (1984), a show that really fleshed out the narrative of the game, which just featured a race car… racing. A couple of years later, the first film based on a video game appeared – in Japan - Super Mario Bros. - Peach-Hime Kyushutsu Dai Sakusen! (1986).

Continue reading...

(In which Job introduces the character Ryan.)

Posted by Job O Brother, February 21, 2010 06:56pm | Post a Comment

Ryan "Mouth-hole" Cassano

This weekend I played host to a friend of mine, Ryan “Mouth-hole” Cassano, who was visiting from my beloved home town of Nevada City, California. He had come to investigate 1980’s video arcade games and literature concerning it for some future enterprise that I’m not at liberty to divulge but involves alcohol, supermodels, and rooms of plastic balls.

He met me after my hard but spiritually fulfilling shift at Amoeba Music Hollywood, waiting out the last few minutes of my shift by browsing the clearance section of soundtracks, where he found two items that made him squeal like a flame-covered, 500 pound, chocolate gorilla who sounded like a happy little girl: the soundtrack to the film Kill the Moonlight (which features some very early work by Beck), and to the documentary King of Kong: Fistful of Quarters.

The latter was serendipitous, as it was related to his arcade quest. In fact, he was traveling with a copy of that very film and insisted I watch it with him. I told him he wasn’t the boss of me and I can do whatever I want and I hate I hate him I hate him, then we drove back to my place for a home-cooked dinner of gimlets.
Just like Ma used to make!

I introduced him to the refined art of Tom of Finland, who’s work is so lovingly collected in my Taschen art book. He found it deeply educational and oftentimes frightening. Imagine my embarrassment when, half way through flipping through the book, I realized it was a souvenir photo album of my trip to the Anne Frank House! A common mistake, sure, but no less silly.

Puzzler: Can you tell which one is which?

After half an hour of explaining to him the difference between gay sex and the methodical genocide of six million people, we decided to go to bed.

I had a dream in which I was at a garden party and ended up befriending Petula Clark. We casually chatted about mutual interests while noshing on celery sticks and cucumber sandwiches. I woke up feeling refreshed and utterly disappointed by the profound wholesomeness of my subconscious. What happened to my suppressed anxieties of homelessness or the crippling self-doubt that’s sabotaged my sense of worth? Them’s always make for the juiciest dreams.


The next night was swell. We went to see Brett Shady and Golden Shoulders play in Hollywood. Both sets were awesome, and I eagerly await Brett Shady’s debut album, due to come out “in two months,” he said. He didn’t mention what it would be called, but let’s assume the title of it will be Mr. Brother’s a Rad Guy.

Once home, we went to bed again. (We’re totally into that.) Then I had a dream that an FBI agent was pinning me down and slamming coat hangers into my face!!! Way to go subconscious! Welcome back!

The next day we went to the LACMA and perused the Joseph Beuys exhibit, which makes me hungry every time, I guess because he incorporates so much butter into his work.


Just like Ma used to make!

Once home, we cuddled up with my boyfriend and watched King of Kong, which proved to be utterly gratifying. If you like things like that, be sure to check it out.


It came time for Ryan “Mouth-hole” Cassano to leave. We hugged and said goodbye. I mentioned that I would blog about his stay, and he told me to tell you "hi," but I told him it would be better if I assigned him an arbitrary, vaguely disturbing nickname which would hopefully stick. He didn’t like the idea at all, but that’s ol’ “Mouth-hole” for ya.

By now he’s descending into Sacramento International Airport, enjoying a stomach ache from eating a $9.00 Snickers bar from LAX. And isn’t that what family is all about?

No. But it’s a nice way to end a blog, right? And isn’t that what family is all about?

Chip off the old tune - chip music for the masses - apologies for the strained, non sequitur, idiomatic headline...

Posted by Eric Brightwell, November 28, 2009 01:13pm | Post a Comment
Trailer for Blip Festival: Reformat the Planet

Chiptunes (or chip music) is a genre of electronic music made using (now) old video game and computer hardware. The limitations of 8-bit technology present considerable challenges that require surprising creative solutions. Kōji Kondō, pretty much the Mozart of the scene, composed the score for Super Mario Brothers that shows how brilliant the music can be. Using a remarkably tiny sonic palette he managed to create a catchy electro-Afro-Cuban melody that could be looped over and over without driving the gamer completely insane, even in shameful, febrile, all night gaming sessions. When the DJ Jubilee-led Take Fo' Superstars used it in "Do the Mario," it was amazingly still fresh. Witness:



The roots of chiptunes date back to the 1970s. In the first part of the decade, video games like Pong used sound effects sparingly. With the introduction of the Atari 2600 and the Apple II in 1977, video games and computers began to use music more extensively. Then Asteroids debuted in 1978 and ushered in video games' golden age with distinctive bleeps, blops and white noise.


The music and sound capabilities were a selling point for video games, and computers and programs like 1980’s Atari Music Composer and 1987’s Ultimate SoundTracker (preceded by the 1982 introduction of MOS Technology SID in Commodores) allowed users to make chip music. Eventually, Atari’s POKEY, Nintendo’s Ricoh 2A03, GI’s AY-3-8910, Yamaha’s YM2612 and other hardware fueled the growth of chip music.


Celebrated professional chiptune composers of the golden age include Ben Daglish, Chris Hülsbeck, Hirokazu "Hip" Tanaka, Jochen Hippel, the aforementioned Kōji Kondō, Martin Galway, Nobuo Uematsu, Rob Hubbard, Tim Follin, Yuukichan's Papa and Yūzō Koshiro.


Prominent amateur chiptunes composers include Baroque, Duz, 4-Mat and Turtle. Their preferred way of making their music available was through computer files, although, by the late ‘90s there began to be CD releases of chip music – roughly coinciding with contemporary video game scores moving toward indistinguishablity from those used in films, relying increasingly on full orchestrations or collections of popular songs. Nonetheless, there remains a dedicated movement of musicians who still make chiptunes.

In many of the musicians’ cases, they’re probably too young to have played video games that used 8-bit technology, which probably leads some to dismiss the practitioners as engaging in hand-me-down nostalgia. That may be partly true (although chiptunes have recently been revived for several new games). Some chiptunes musicians bristle at the suggestion that their music is merely a retro trip and distance themselves from the music’s video game roots, attracted more by the unique aesthetic, timbres and artistic limitations of the format than an ironic revivalist spirit. In fact, many newer acts don’t limit themselves merely to chip music, instead using the technology (and samples of it) into more conventional genres like indie rock, heavy metal (e.g. Nintendocore) and dance.


Newer chiptunes progenitors, in addition to releasing recorded music, have, unlike their forebears, turned to live performance (although some professional video game composers have adapted their scores to symphonic performance. This era was ushered in with 8 Bit Weapon’s 2005 performance of "Bombs Away" and "Gameboy Rocker" on G4's Attack of the Show! Today, performers like Alex Mauer, Aliceffekt, Anamanaguchi, C-jeff, Firebrand Boy, mcfiredrill, Paza Rahm, PDF Format, Random, Role Model, Sabrepulse, Solemn Camel Crew, Trash80, Virt, XC3N and YMCK incorporate chiptunes to varying degrees in music in many cases made available through netlabels like 8bitpeoples, 8bitcollective, micromusic, Pause, superbutton and mp3death.

For more about chiptunes, check out these links:

A Few More Thoughts on Technology and Realism: Pac-Man and Surrogates Trailer

Posted by Charles Reece, August 9, 2009 10:16pm | Post a Comment
 

I gave up playing video games when I encountered the second button. I was alright with jumping, but combination moves and shit like that tended to take me out of the formal (as in Platonic) perfection of a Pac-Man or Space Invaders. If I want gritty (as in non-Platonic) realism, I'll read Bukowski, or watch a Cassavetes film. I've since played a few of these realistic "moving" games where one drives through a simulated real city, running into other cars or over innocent bystanders (other variations of this game type have the player as a superhero, vigilante, soldier, or cute creature on some ostensible quest -- e.g., killing zombies -- but they're more about just moving through a virtual environment). The only thing they add to the endless struggle (at least, ideally) of a little round guy eating dots is more detail -- the ontology remains unchanged. Pac Man already had the truth of its and the player's existence written into its elegant design. That is, it said everything that needed to be said: keep playing, desire can now be quantified by the score; the goal never changes, nor will you ever get closer to it, no matter how fast things start moving.

Speaking of existence being reduced to the score, the reknowned junkie William S. Burroughs once narrated a video game based on the writings of Edgar Allen Poe called The Dark Eye. Looks interesting, although I hear it bombed:


But back to the yellow fellow: Speed, color scheme and fruit are pretty much the only differences in its levels. The game's "progression" is a matter of pseudoindividuation: slight variation to keep the player committed to/distracted from/entertained by the standardization. The techno-realism of a Grand Theft Auto only adds more complex layers of novelty to Pac-Man, bogging the player down with data (more places to visit, more visual detail, more complex controls), keeping him or her lost in the details. If Pac Man was sort of an existential map, the purpose of which was to lead us temporarily away from life's troubles, the more realistic derivations seem to be moving us in the direction of cyberpunk dystopias, where the map (virtual reality) is just as convoluted as the mapped (old-fashioned reality), eventually rendering any distinction seemingly useless, like in David Cronenberg's eXistenZ. Most games now have to supply the player with a map, so can the possibility of getting lost "in there" be that far off? And isn't that the fantasy behind realism, to get lost within the simulated reality, to not be able to distinguish the depiction from the depicted? If reality can't be controlled, substitute its image, which (supposedly) can, or, to appropriate Theodor Adorno once again:

Reality becomes its own ideology through the spell cast by its faithful duplication. -- "The Schema of Mass Culture"

I remember a bunch of criticism directed towards the blandness of Cronenberg's design for the gaming environment in his film, that it looked too plain. However, I took his point to be Adorno's: that no matter how much a game (or movie, or any other art) allows us to fantasize about being in control over our surroundings, someone else is doing the programming that sets the rules. The technologically enhanced realism furthers the fantasy, while ultimately decreasing our (the players') control on reality. The endgame of this fantasy -- where reality itself becomes its own simulation for our avatars to play in -- is the conceit of the new Bruce Willis vehicle, Surrogates (adaped from a comic book):


An intriguing idea, even if the execution looks like standard Hollywood sci-fi cheese. I guess what I've been angling for is this: If one of our primary fantasies is being in control, then it would seem that its logical, utlimate, fantastic realm would not look like some weird alien world, or an abstract dimension of colors and shapes (such as Pac-Man or TRON), but exactly like the one we know, only without any of the risks and vicissitudes of the real deal. That's why with all the technological innovations in film production, with a near boundless potential to create increasingly bizarre (ir)realities, the fantasy genre (in which I'd put science fiction, cartoons and whatever else I've been talking about lately) has been getting more realistic. Barring the occasional fetishist, I suspect most people would have sex with a simulated human on Star Trek's holodeck, not some sentient squid creature. Rather than expanding, or questioning, the predisposed ideas wrapped up in our common conception of reality as a good fantastic yarn can do (e.g., pick one of Samuel R. Delany's books), the realistic capabilities of technology are limiting the possibilities of imagination, of counterfactual situations, to think outside the box, when it makes the fantasy look like reality.

Thus, when it comes to diversionary entertainment, Pac-Man remains for me the most virtuous example, its abstract design never letting the player forget the line between simulation and reality. It might distract us from ideological concerns, but at least it doesn't indoctrinate us.

Asteroids in animation, games, movies & television

Posted by Eric Brightwell, July 30, 2009 04:26pm | Post a Comment
Asteroids have capitivated the imagination ever since rocks first looked into the heavens and asked, "Are we alone?" The entertainment industry has shown asteroid fields to be a place to hone your space navigation skills and target shooting and rogue asteroids as hell-bent on destroying humankind. As far as threats go, to me the gigantic, silent, soulless killing machines arouse a similar fear to that inspired by sharks. And now, as announced in the Hollywood Reporter earlier this month, Universal has acquired the rights to the classic Atari game and plans on adapting it into film. Matt Lopez (Race to Witch Mountain and Bedtime Stories) pitched the idea and found himself at the center of a bidding war between four studios. From Wing Commander and Double Dragon to House of the Dead and Hitman, films adapted from video games are generally quite good.


Although the chart above shows the existence of many real life asteroids, the entertainment industry almost always portrays fictional or just un-named space rocks.
 
ASTEROIDS IN COMPUTER & VIDEO GAMES

     
Final Fantasy IV   

The aformentioned Asteroids is the best known example of a game focusing on asteroids. Descent, The Dig, Final Fantasy IV, Homeworld, Millenium 2.2 and The Orion Conspiracy all feature un-named or fictional asteroids to various degrees.

ASTEROIDS IN ANIMATION

   

Danny Phantom's "Phantom Planet,Futurama's "Love & Rocket," and the anime Metal Armor Dragonar (Kikō Senki Doragunā) have all got some asteroids in 'em too.

ASTEROIDS ON TELEVISION


           

In "The Wandering Asteroid" espisode of Space Patrol, the crew must destroy an asteroid on a collision course. On Star Trek's "For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky," a group of aliens live on a spacecraft disguised as an asteroid. On Buck Rogers's “The Golden Man,” in the name of accuracy one of the crew at least points out the dense field is the densest he's seen. Red Dwarf features several references to asteroid mines, which are also mentioned on Battlestar Galactica's “Scar.” Although often described as a documentary, the BBC's depiction of a near catastrophe by the Pegasus spacecraft in Space Odyssey - Voyage To The Planets never actually happened. Stargate SG-1’s “Failsafe” features the common "Asteroid on a collision course" theme.  
 
ASTEROIDS IN MOVIES


             

In 2001 - A Space Odyssey, realistic asteroids are seen as Discovery One approaches Jupiter. The Green Slime, also from 1968, was slightly more fanciful. Star Wars - The Empire Strikes Back followed Atari's depiction of asteroids as densely flying in all directions, randomly exploding and providing navigational challenges for space pilots. In Revenge of the Sith, Luke and Leia are born on an asteroid colony. In 1979, Ronald Neame had a go at the fadingly popular disaster genre with Meteor, which was about an asteroid, despite the title. Though nearly universally reviled, it was practically remade by the campily enjoyable Deep Impact and the truly inept, J.J. Abrams-penned Armageddon. A year earlier, Starship Troopers had featured aliens wiping out Buenos Aires with an asteroid weapon.


REAL ASTEROIDS IN FICTION

Although un-named, un-specified or otherwise imagined asteroids appear far more often on the screen than their real counterparts, the real-deal-asteroid-fields have nonetheless made appearances here and there.

Ceres, a dwarf planet located within the asteroid belt, is the subject of a separate blog.

 

Pallas was the second asteroid to be discovered, in 1802, by a German. It's named after Pallas Athena. One of the largest asteroids in the belt, it may contain 7% of its total mass. In “The Shrinking Spaceman” episode of Space Patrol (1962), there is a sonar beam transmitter located there.

asteroid 1997

Eros
was discovered in 1898 and was the first Near Earth Asteroid discovered. It's believed to be even more massive than the impactor that created the Chicxulub Crater in the Yucatán that wiped out the dinosaurs and led to the evolution of the Voth (as seen on Star Trek - Voyager). Eros was featured in the 1997 TV movie Asteroid.

   

Juno is named after Juno, "the one unique," the wife of Jupiter. It was originally considered a planet but is too small, although it may contain 1% of the entire mass of the asteroid belt. In Mobile Suit Gundam, it's relocated to Earth's orbit and renamed Luna².
 

Hygiea is named after the goddess of cleanliness, health and sanitation in the Greek religion. It's the fourth largest object in the asteroid belt and was discovered in 1849 by an Italian. It has thus far provided the setting of no known films, games, TV shows, &c. Hopefully it'll show up in Asteroids.

Become a fan of Eric's Blog on Facebook!
BACK  <<  1  2  3  4  5  6  >>  NEXT