Browsing the blog archives for November, 2006

Narrativism

No Comments
Personal

Or, Metablogging.

Lately I’ve been noticing a sort of common thread throughout the posts I’ve been making and I’m not quite sure what to make of it, so to speak. What am I talking about? Well, in particular, my tendency as late to discussing various narratives (Movies and television mostly) and what I like and don’t like about them. I guess, for lack of a better term, I’ll call it discussion of narrativism. “Narrativism” in the sense that I’m using it might also be called “Narrative Theory” in academic jargon, or simply storytelling, or narrative craftsmanship in more colloquial terms.

I’m partially inclined to believe that this theme might be more a result of my general lack of time to think and write lately, but I’m not entirely convinced. I’m not, by the by, particularly excited by academic literary theories. I tend to lean towards Occam’s Razor, which is a real guillotine for outlandish amateur science and sociology conducted through “interpretation” of literature. At the same time, though, I am most definitely drawn to academic modes of discourse. The trouble I find is that a lot of my interest in narrative exists within a sort of limbo: I don’t particularly care for the academic tendency to discard story as a means to a political or social end. At the same time, I am not particularly endeared to the sort of craftsmen-charlatans who hold workshops or give seminars that are about as useful as an inspirational self-help seminar.

I don’t know if it’s coming through in these latest postings, but by setting down thoughts about the particular narratives I expose myself to and critique I feel like I’m developing a keener sense of what works within a certain structural framework. Since this is sort of an emergent theme from this blog, I’m wondering if I ought to embrace it more fully as a major angle to explore here, leave it in the background, or something in between. I suppose we’ll have to see how much work doing a little more restructuring would really be.

The Mists of Avalon

No Comments
Culture, Visual

As a bit of a prelude, let me mention that the Sci-Fi channel is apparently run by imbeciles. Instead of showing Heroes, Dr. Who, and Battlestar Galactica last friday, they decided to run a bunch of Sci-Fi original pictures that are so unoriginal they wouldn’t even be entertaining fodder for Mystery Science Theater.

Since my TiVo wasn’t busy for that three hour block I decided to look around to see what else was showing around that time and ran across The Mists of Avalon. I’d heard of the series of books from a few years back, and also heard that it was made into a TNT miniseries. Typically these adapted miniseries are crummy, but, well, it’s hard to resist King Arthur. Not to mention that my osmosis of information about the books told me that this was a heavily female-dominated narrative and the promise of plenty of attractive women swooshing around in beautiful dresses makes an enticing prospect. So I queued it up and watched it over this weekend.

Overall, I had a good time watching The Mists of Avalon. Don’t confuse that with saying that the movie/miniseries was good — It wasn’t. Still, I found it entertaining enough to watch, humorous where it was bad, and with just barely enough eye-candy to keep me interested. The only real draws here are Juliana Margulies as Morgaine, Samantha Mathis as Gweneviere (Gwenwyfar), and Joan Allen who plays Morgeuse (Morgoose? Morgouse? Morguse?). Juliana isn’t someone I consider particularly attractive generally speaking, but she has her moments, particularly in the second half of the movie/series. Gwenevere is very pretty, though not really striking, but she does have better costumes than Juliana. Morgeuse is also quite attractive, but she’s getting big bonus points for being a redhead in the film.

The whole thing starts off with narration about how “Everything you know about the Legend of King Arthur is wrong” and then drags on and on and on. That line alone was enough to elicit a chuckle from me. That’s a tough challenge to live up to for a made-for-TV movie, undoubtedly one it would fail to meet. The first real scenes we see are of our main character, Morgane Le Fey, her mother, Igraine, and her aunt Morgeuse. Morgane is a young child, looking about five or six. The actress playing Igraine is stately but not really attractive — My fantasy that this movie was going to be a parade of beautiful women in beautiful clothing is already on the rocks. Igrayne definitely shows her age, and the set itself is very humble for the wife of a nobleman. It’s clear this movie is coming more from the realism/historicism school than the romantic school of Arthurian retellings. What’s unusual is that even with the movie’s attempt to emphasize realism/historicism, it simultaneously attempts to incorporate magic as a real part of the narrative. A tough mix to pull off, and it comes off as pretty hokey.

My major problem with this film comes as a result of this. Putting magic side by side with an attempt at historicism is, before anything else, going to be a strained relationship. Things are made much worse though in that the magic in the film is justified as being part of some nebulous “Mother Goddess” worship. This is a purely modern invention and blows any credibility I place in the film. The funny part of the whole thing is that even though the idea behind the contrived “Goddess” worship is to create some sort of unified religio-political movement that basks in a bunch of platitudes about love and nurturing and motherhood, as depicted in the movie the “Goddess” religion ends up looking pretty darn ruthless and inhumane.

Despite its attempts to be a “feminist” narrative and to subvert the traditional Arthurian legend, what really ends up happening is that responsibility merely is shifted — In the traditional Arthurian legends, Morgaine is a character deeply involved in the downfall of Camelot. In The Mists of Avalon that responsibility is shrugged off onto Morgeuse, who assumes the “witch/enchantress” role that Morgaine typically fits into. Aside from this one role-shift, there don’t seem to be many significant differences between The Mists of Avalon and other Arthurian legends. You’ve still got Lancelot and Gweneviere having their affair, Mordred seeking to usurp Arthur. The major differences are all fairly cosmetic as far as affecting the flow of the story goes, merely seeking to add soap-opera levels of angst and drama to what already existed. For something that claimed that everything I knew about Arthur was wrong, this is a disappointment.

In any case, there were some definite moments. At its best it reminded me of the A Game of Thrones D&D game that I was involved in a few months ago. Though fleeting, the few times when imagination and reality were in sync… That is worth it.

Design Decline

5 Comments
Games, Unreal Tournament, Visual

UT2007UTR1

Above we have a promotional picture from Unreal Tournament 2007 (or possibly Unreal Tournament 2008 if the release schedule slips…). The characters above are Malcom and an as-yet unknown character belonging to a team called the “Twin Souls.” Both seem to be carrying what looks like a large yellow brick, or perhaps a UT2007 version of UT2004’s worst, and second-most overpowered, weapon the Mine Layer.

Now, I don’t recall where I heard this, but the yellow brick these characters are carrying is neither a yellow brick nor a new minelayer: It’s the Flak Cannon. Aside from the Shock Rifle, the Flak Cannon has to be one of the Unreal Tournament series’ most iconic weapons. How can this boxy monstrosity compare to the classic lines of something like this?:

UT2007UTR2

More below the cut…

Continue Reading »

Today is a Good Day

No Comments
Personal

Hope everyone has a good Thanksgiving, heading out shortly to go to the big family event. Take care and eat well, and hopefully I’ll be back sometime tomorrow.

Heroes, Preliminary Thoughts

No Comments
Culture, Personal, Visual

A lot of people recently have been talking up Heroes, one of the few shows on television I actually watch regularly. I like the show, but it’s rather confusing to me to encounter people claiming Heroes as one of the best shows on television — Is it really?

In a lot of ways, Heroes mimics comic books. Each episode is given a “Chapter” number and title, as if each episode of the show is actually an issue of a comic. Though this is good in that I really crave the sort of long-form storytelling that serialized comics, and Heroes, provides, I’ve always had trouble emotionally connecting with the majority of superhero comic books. This holds true for Heroes as well — Even though I enjoy the series, I never feel an emotional attachment to the characters in the way that I might for a good book or movie or even a better television series. Every time I feel like I’m ready to get into the series something happens and breaks my involvement.

I’ve been thinking about it a lot, and I’ve identified a few major issues. One is simply that each of the stories shares space with all of the others — This means the stories aren’t getting the sort of focused attention they might otherwise. This also lends itself to distancing via cuts between stories. As soon as any individual subplot reaches a point of emotional conflict, chances are the flow of the narrative will be interrupted by a change in focus on another set of characters.

Another thing that has begun to be problematic over the past couple of weeks is the insistence of turning every character in the show into someone with superhuman powers. The conceit of almost all live-action superhero projects is that they attempt to take a more “realistic” or perhaps “humane” approach to looking at comic book superheroes — To show them as humans rather than as super-human archetypes. In a situation like this I think it’s important to maintain a fairly strong connection with reality, but each episode seems to slip further and further away from that.

Suresh, the young professor who also reads the rather inane ramblings about “Genetics” and “Evolution” that precede each episode was one of the few characters who seemed to have no super powers — Yet the latest episode certainly casts doubt on that presumption. A young woman he meets also seems to be one of the few people without super-powers, yet we learn that she is involved with some sort of semi-sinister organization and clearly has some special ability.

This is not to say I don’t like the show. I definitely do. But at the same time I feel like Heroes is verging on being a really great series, but somehow always manages to fall a little bit short.

Battlestar Galactica’s Loose Change

No Comments
Culture, Visual

Or, a look at good and bad storytelling techniques.

I just finished watching this week’s episode of Battlestar Galactica and I felt compelled to make a bit of a comment on it. If you haven’t seen the episode yet I advise not reading any further as it’s basically impossible to talk about this subject without bringing up things of a spoiler-ish nature.

More below the cut…

Continue Reading »

Guild Wars: Halloween 2006

No Comments
Games, Guild Wars

My little screenshot album from Guild Wars Halloween 2006.

The town of Lion’s Arch had a bit of a makeover…

Guild Wars Halloween

The merchants were a bit tied up…

Guild Wars Halloween

Nicole Richie made an appearance…

Guild Wars Halloween

Lions Arch got a new dictator…

Guild Wars Halloween

Cenobytes escaped from their box…

Guild Wars Halloween

Cloudwatching became interesting again…

Guild Wars Halloween

Sauron paid us a visit…

Guild Wars Halloween

The Black Pearl docked in the harbor…

Guild Wars Halloween

And the death knights heralded Mad King Thorn’s return.

Guild Wars Halloween

This townsperson is looking ghoulish…

Guild Wars Halloween

Nightfall’s release brought with it a nice new feature, a dye preview screen to test what your outfit will look like with up to four dyes applied.

Guild Wars Halloween

Prophecies accounts finally got expanded storage.

Guild Wars Halloween

And…

Guild Wars Halloween

Candy Corn…

Guild Wars Halloween

Learned…

Guild Wars Halloween

How…

Guild Wars Halloween

To dance!

Guild Wars Halloween

I caught this glimpse of the Witch Hat, halloween gifts that were only available to people who had Nightfall.

Guild Wars Halloween

This dragon is presiding over a hoard of bones.

Guild Wars Halloween

And with the roar of a pumpkin bursting from the earth…

Guild Wars Halloween

The Mad King arrives!

Guild Wars Halloween

One of the Mad King’s games is to play Rock, Paper, Scissors with individuals. Unfortunately for the Mad King, he’s a rock-using moron. I played him three times and won three times.

Guild Wars Halloween

Note to potential Guild Wars gamblers: In a game where most men will choose “Rock” because of its presentation of strength, and in a game where /scissors is significantly harder to type than either /rock or /paper, Paper becomes the ultimate weapon.

Guild Wars Halloween

The Mad King is also notorious for his lame jokes, which you must laugh at otherwise he will kill you. Heckling him was great fun.

Guild Wars Halloween

A shot from eye-level at the big guy.

Guild Wars Halloween

Whew! That’s all.

General Updates

1 Comment
Games, Guild Wars, Personal

So, as you might be able to tell, I’m anticipating Nightfall a bit. From everything I’ve heard so far, Nightfall is the best of the Guild Wars games. Though Prophecies has its weak points, I consider it a pretty darn good investment for what I’ve gotten out of it. Even though there are a number of what I consider critical game issues that ArenaNet still hasn’t resolved with Nightfall, and doesn’t seem to have any interest in resolving, the promise of a substantial campaign and lots of pretty new things and places is tough for me to resist. The only downside is the $50 price tag for what is, in essence, an expansion pack. A $30 price tag is a lot more palatable to me, so when I saw it available for that price today I jumped on it.

I don’t have my hands on it yet, and I got the cheap shipping so it’ll probably take two weeks, but the price simply could not be beat: $30 for a game that’s two weeks old. I was even considering purchasing another copy for a friend, but unfortunately orders are limited to one per person (or, more likely, per card, but I didn’t want to bother with the hassle of two completely separate orders). In case you’re interested the $30 deal was found via GoGamer.com, but it’s only around for another eight or so hours.

On another note, yesterday I took a bit of stock on the things I want to and need to accomplish this month and realized that NaNoWriMo is just not going to fit in here. I’m a bit disappointed, but I’d rather dedicate more time and effort on things that I can finish rather than splitting my attention with another fairly substantial and time-consuming project that will not be finished in any meaningful sense by the end of November. I’ll inevitably pick this up again some other time, but I’m not going to lock myself into any definite time frame.

Guild Wars Nightfall: Character Creation

13 Comments
Games, Guild Wars

Clearing out my screenshots from the character creation process available during the Nightfall preview event…

More below the cut…

Continue Reading »