Browsing the archives for the Art category

Mass Effect vs. Lord of the Rings

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Art, Games

Just read a pretty interesting article which piles on the bandwagon pointing out why Mass Effect 3′s ending sucks, comparing Mass Effect to Lord of the Rings.

While I agree mostly with the overall thrust of his argument, the author of this article goes a little far in praise of Mass Effect:

The simple fact of the matter is that Mass Effect is a story, and it’s a very good story — in my opinion, it’s one of the best stories I’ve ever experienced. People can hem and haw about what constitutes a story — about whether a game can really be a story if people can play it — as though a story is only a story if it’s spoken or written or projected up on a movie screen. That’s like saying a person is only a person if they walk or ride a horse or drive a car… because we all know the vehicle in which the subject is conveyed changes that subject’s inherent nature.

Some people say it’s not a real story because the player’s choices can alter it. I think they’re full of crap, and I say the proof of its power as a story is right there in the story-pudding — it affects me as a story does — and that’s all the criteria met. Walks like duck, quacks like duck, therefore duck.

But the problem (if you’re BioWare) is that human beings understand stories; we know how they’re supposed to work, thanks to thousands of years of cultural training. Mass Effect (until that conclusion) is a nigh-perfect example of how a story is done correctly, thanks in part to the medium, which allows (if you’ll permit me the slaughter of a few sacred cows) a level of of immersion and connection beyond what a book or movie or any other storytelling medium up to this point in our cultural history can match, because of the fact that you can actively take part in that story from the inside. Heresy? Fine, brand me a heretic; that’s how I see it.

Our author here seems to have pretty low expectations for writing in general. Mass Effect is a mediocre story and always has been. But it cost a lot of money to make and has good overall production values.

The Watchmen Is Horrible

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Art, Culture

After seeing The Dark Knight recently and being exposed to The Watchmen trailer, I finally decided to sit down and see what this graphic novel was all about. Surely, I thought, there must be a reason why this graphic novel is universally lauded in this subculture. So I read The Watchmen.

I don’t regret reading it at all. But I do regret forgetting that most people have no taste, and those who aren’t, the ones who are always promulgating the comic-books-as-serious-art-form idea, are aspiring-to-be tasteless. That’s my fault for forgetting that these people are just remora catching on to the big sharks in the water.

On some levels I think The Watchmen is kind of interesting. It’s got an ending which is such a huge Deus Ex Machina that it puts Deus Ex Machina to shame. At least in a Greek play, if you are going to have a Deus Ex Machina, the existence of said god is understood to be true within the context of the world of the play. Which is to say, if Orestes is being chased by the Furies, and he cries out to Athena to save him — And then she comes and saves him — The world of the play has already established for us that Athena exists, and if she comes flying in on stage it’s not breaking any of our expectations. Now if, say, we were watching a play about say, Willy Loman, and in the final act Athena pops in without being mentioned at any point prior in the play — That’s exactly what the climax of The Watchmen is.*

Then we’ve got the whole Black Freighter incident, which in some ways reminds me of the Greek Chorus. I suppose the main difference being, the Greek Chorus actually served a purpose beyond reiterating and framing the action onstage — They served both an aesthetic and narrative purpose in driving the story. The Black Freighter, on the other hand, pretty much drags the whole plot down for me. Yes, yes, parallelism, get on with it. This whole side-narrative actively reduced my enjoyment of the main narrative, with nothing more to show for it than my own irritation at the pretense of parallelism equalling depth.

And, well, there are about a hundred other reasons that this comic was an unenjoyable read for me, from its lax worldbuilding to its unlikeable characters. But more importantly, I think is addressing the idea why Watchmen receives all the praise anyway — “It was the first.”

While Art History and the like loves to make a big deal out of firsts — The modern realm of literary and art theorization is built up on a foundation of incestual and incessant self-referencing, and it’s easy to point to firsts (or, more commonly, to designate a first). But I’m not particularly fond of this sort of notion of “progress,” at least not beyond the idea of sophistication of craftsmanship.

So while The Watchmen may have been first, I think it’s pretty inevitable that lessons in characterization learned from books, plays, television, and movies would have come to comics with or without The Watchmen. The cross-pollination is inevitable given the universality of media. And concurrent works like The Dark Knight Returns pretty much prove the point. The innovation here in being first (or rather, being designated first for expediency in a certain critical narrative) was coming, whether or not Watchmen came about. There’s probably even room to argue that, due to The Watchmen being raised up by certain cultural activists, the process was actually retarded.

The Watchmen’s major appeal to me was in the ways it utilized the comic medium in ways that many other comics I’ve seen do not do. And, although I can respect the technical merit of multiple encroaching simultaneous narratives like we have with the Black Freighter, the virtuosity of this technique doesn’t add to the story, or otherwise make for a more entertaining experience.

The closest analog that comes to mind is the virtuoso guitar work common in metal bands — As incredible as it may be to be able to play with that level of intensity, the end result is often less viscerally satisfying than more simplistic but well-executed musicianship. Even on the intellectual level where I can appreciate what Alan Moore is trying to do, the experience is often marred by Moore’s own craziness (The most apparent case-in-point, how he takes psychic power as a given in the story of The Watchmen).

I have a bit of trepidation about the upcoming movie — On the one hand, I fully expect audiences to hate it. It’s a bleak story, it’s a complex story, and it’s nothing like you’d expect from a “comic book movie.” That gives me a bit of hope, because even though we may hate this comic book for different reasons, at least it might become culturally acceptable to point out that it’s bad.
On the other hand, I also expect that if people are primed enough about how “good” Watchmen is, they’ll believe it even if they don’t actually like it. In which case it will be even more frustrating, because instead of hearing from one random person how cool it is when Dr. Manhattan demolecularizes some Viet Cong, I’ll have to hear about it from every random ten year old with an internet connection.

*I am not referring to genetic engineering here, since the universe of The Watchmen establishes genetic engineering. I’m referring to other aspects of the plan which are in-credible.

Diablo 2 Was Not Grey

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Art, Games

Apparently, after the Diablo 3 announcement and promotional/demonstrational videos, a couple thousand deluded Diablo 2 fans signed a petition asking for the colors in Diablo 3 to be toned down. This was followed by some silly Photoshop dabblers using the desaturate slider on some of Blizzard’s screenshots to turn down the intensity of the beautiful colors and effects Blizzard has shown to us so far.

So now the Art Director for Diablo 3 has sat down and taken a look at the screenshots and made some comments on why they chose the art direction they did. It’s a pretty interesting look into the rationale of their choices, although the reasons should be pretty apparent– Nevertheless, for things that seem obvious when spoken about in design principle terms, a lot of smart people consistently get this wrong in practice. So perhaps worth reiterating.

The most amusing bit of this story for me is just the patina of nostalgia that is obvious from people who are petitioning for a “darker” feel. Diablo 2 was not all that “dark” at all. 4/5 acts had major overland areas that were substantially non-greyscale. The lands around Tristram, the desert, the jungles of Kurast, and the Barbarian homelands… None of these were dominated by a grey color palette, not even the snowy areas of act 5. Act 4 was pretty grey, but it’s uh, Hell. As for me, I’ll be really happy to see vibrant greens and autumn hues, and then watch it all fall away as my character descends deep into the nightmare of Diablo’s realm.

Alien Architecture

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Art, Culture

A few weeks ago I ran across a link to the following picture on Reddit…

Architecture1

The headline being, “The aliens have landed.” And I can’t dispute that. Who gives the thumbs up to projects like these? Who thought it was a good idea to plop down what looks like a misshapen blob of Play-Dough on top of a glass box in the midst of what otherwise looks like a very pleasant area? I don’t even know what that building is supposed to be.

Here’s another example that I came across recently.

Architecture7

This one is supposed to be a civil court building. Check out some of the comments on the site. The more realistic reactions include, “Crushed coke can,” “squashed cheese grater,” and “toilet for giants.” How about another one: Ten minutes inside 3DStudioMax and a deform modifier. Any fifteen year old with a rudimentary understanding of 3D modelling programs could create this, so why is apparently so impressive when an architect comes up with it?

Here’s another angle:

Architecture3

Probably the most sensible comment so far, aside from the humorous and true quips about this pathetic lump of failure, is this one by commenter “ArchitectsAnswer”:

Is justice blind-to what its supposed to serve, the greater public? I often find Zaha’s work ironically announcing herself as an architect and using her own audacity to bring ‘meaning’ or importance to her work. I am amazed that the renderings don’t include any context of what already exists in this city. Obviously, these things didn’t go into consideration. But how can a civic building serve the popularity of the architect but also address the civic nature of a courthouse? Frank Gehry set up an appropriately pretentious art museum in Bilbao and Madrid is just trying to match its audacity in all the wrong ways.

It’s hard for me to wrap my head around why anyone thinks these are good designs, or, even worse, why governments are willing to blow millions of dollars so that architects can erect monuments to themselves. I mean, I doubt I would want a spaceship sitting in the midst of my neighborhood, but if I were going to have one, I’d like a nice one and not some blob of blue or a crumpled aluminum waste-bin. How about something that’s actually aesthetically attractive, like a Protoss Mothership?

Architecture6

Beautiful colors, harmonious design. It’d be a bit overwhelming in scale, but at least it has fine detail and other elements that relates it in an integral way to humans. As a court it carries a lot more sense of purpose than the meat grinder Zaha Hadid is foisting on Madrid. And all of this in spite of being intentionally designed to be an alien spacecraft.

What a joke.

OS-Tan

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Anime, Art, Culture, Technology

or, “People Scare Me (especially Japanese people)”

I remember seeing this image awhile ago and thinking how crazy someone must be to make something as weird and fetishistic as this.

OSTan2

Apparently though, there’s a whole genre of fetishization of software, operating systems, machines, and all that kind of fun stuff. It’s called “OS-tan” in Japan. Gigantic surprise — yet another crazy Japanese fad. I found this link over on Reddit to a repository of this madness.

This second one isn’t quite as technically good, but at least it’s not quite as strange. I have to admit I find the concept of a fox-girl holding a giant ball between her legs a little … questionable, but, at least it’s not as overtly sexual.

OSTan3

The weirdest one I’ve come across is this one. I dunno, just the combination of the prepubescent little girl with the text blaring you to “Try!” … Yikes.

OSTan1

Greek Artwork

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Art, Culture

TheoiAthena

I mentioned earlier that I was thinking about drawing on the Greek Olympians to try and bolster the familiarity and background of my campaign setting without putting a big onus on players to learn significant amounts of new background material.

Although I haven’t decided whether I’m ultimately going to follow through on that, tapping the resources of the internet for religious artwork seemed like a damned good idea on its own. After all, I don’t have time to sit down and draw all of this material, and even if I did it’s unlikely I could “get” the unusual mix of stylization and lack of sophistication that much early religious artwork has. It’d end up looking either badly done or badly imitative.

TheoiNereus

I did some searching around and came across this amazing site called Theoi. There’s a huge amount of Greek artwork there, mostly vases but also mosiacs and statues and paintings. All in all, an amazing resource. It took a bit of rummaging, but I was able to download their entire collection and I am reposting it here as a result. Filesize is around 80MB total, and be forewarned I didn’t do significant sorting. It’d be better if these were high-resolution images, but I really have no right to complain.

Download here.

Foreshadowing

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Administrativa, Art, Miscellaneous

NewYear1

So yesterday I was going to upload the high-resolution version of the Unreal Tournament 3 trailer when I checked in and noticed that I hadn’t uploaded anything at all to WordPress this year. I could’ve gone into the innards of WordPress and made all the requisite directories and whatnot to hold uploads, but I figured I’ve been putting off uploading these images for about a month now and I may as well clear them out of my queue.

NewYear2

Now that I’m thinking about it, I’ll probably try to update my WordPress install tomorrow. Lets hope it goes smoothly.

Omissions: A Link RoundUp

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Art, Culture, Miscellaneous, Visual

There’s a number of things I’ve been meaning to link to here over the past week or so, but haven’t gotten around to doing. Here are a couple:

Michael Blowhard, as always, is churning out amazing links and essays with ease:

Here he links to an essay by Richard Curtis about the publishing industry and print-on-demand technology. I find it particularly interesting because I know someone who has successfully used Lulu.com, one of the premier self-publishing outfits who use print-on-demand technology, and am thinking about pickup up a copy of his book. (Not to mention the future applications in self-publishing for my own writing!)

Michael’s got a posting called Private Pleasure, Public Vulgarity about a broad swath of cultural issues. The comments are a great read as well.

Perhaps related, perhaps unrelated to the above-mentioned posting are some of Michael’s thoughts on the New York Times Book Review section and its attitude toward “popular” writing. Part 2 is here, part 3 is here.

As always Michael seems to tread a fine line between populism (e.g. wanting the NYTBR to at least acknowledge the existence of popular literature) and elitism (e.g. condemning the pornification of much of popular culture) — It’s a line I find myself pretty darn sympathetic to, though naturally Michael does it with far more style and brain-stirring breezy musing than I can manage. In the past Michael has mentioned of of the abstract “themes” of his blog is the idea that the “Our Elites have turned against us” (paraphrasing) — And in that sense I can see a sort of unity between these seemingly at-odds positions. Namely in these disparate realms of society, the elite book-publishing crowd has created a hermetically sealed little world where nothing exists except for books, whereas elites of various stripes have completely made a mess of our popular culture, destroying social mores and turning everything that should be private into an inescapable commercial push.

*

Some other links from 2Blowhards:
David Chute writes about Children of Men. Children of Men has been getting some good reviews from some trusted sources, so I’m hoping I’ll get a chance to go see it sometime this weekend or next week. I’m still bitter that the last movie I wanted to see, The Fountain, was out of theaters by the time I managed to put aside some time to see it. Anyway, concerning David’s writing on Children of Men: The political angle of the movie is undoubtedly predictable and banal. I haven’t even seen the movie yet and I could already see it coming. It’s almost inevitable given the state of our current art elite, political correctness, the demands of the story and general cultural attitudes. I’m still planning on seeing it, though.


The Invisible Hand writes about brutalist architecture
. Good riddance to Boston’s City Hall. One reference I think is particularly apt here is to that of the Emperor’s new clothes — So much of modern art seems to be a play of experts with rigid minds prevailing over common sense or basic instinctual understanding of beauty — I’m just glad to do my part in tearing down that edifice.

*Note: Asterisk indicates that my internet connection failed at this point while I was writing this post. I was going to comment on some more stuff but was limited to only the tabs I had opened at that point in time. I’ll probably follow up in a day or so with some more things. It figures, that my internet connectivity goes out the first time in a week that I really sit down to write anything at all.

ArenaNet Owns Me

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Art, Games, Guild Wars

So ArenaNet announces the festivities for the Holiday Season 2006:

Even before the grand finale, wherein Dwayna and Grenth promise the crowds gifts to gain their favor, Wintersday will provide many opportunities for wintry fun and presents. Here’s what you can expect:

* The return of two well-known Wintersday quests, which give you the chance to side with Grenth and his grentchies or Dwayna and her snowmen even before their final showdown. Unsure of which deity to support? Try both quests to pick your favorite!
* New for this Wintersday season are two all new quest chains revolving around the two competing holiday gods. Polar bears, reindeer, and devious presents – Oh my!
* Venture into the Underworld for a series of repeatable snowball fights against either the forces of Grenth or the forces of Dwayna. Take control of piles of presents to ensure your side’s victory in this frosty fray.
* For another dose of snowball mayhem, try out the PvP snowball fight. Random forces will unite within an arena to fight for either Grenth or Dwayna. The first team to gather five presents for its patron deity will win the day.
* And, if you believe the old adage that it is better to give than to receive, try your hand at the city event game in Lion’s Arch, Droknar’s Forge, Kamadan, and Ascalon City during the festivities. Deliver presents to the children before the grentchies destroy Wintersday. And you never know, the little urchins might just reward you with something special for your generosity.

* Winter Gift: What surprise will you find inside? “Unwrap” it to find out.
* Snowman Summoner: Need an instant snowman? This gift is for you.
* Eggnog: The holiday season’s staple drink.
* Spiked Eggnog: A more potent glass of nog for the hale and hearty. Please imbibe responsibly—don’t drink and quest.
* Green Candy Cane: The return of the adventurer’s favorite candy treat.
* Rainbow Candy Cane: A different flavor of candy cane that should also make those long days of questing much more enjoyable.
* Yuletide Tonic: Drink this tonic if you want to be one of Dwayna’s little helpers during the festivities.
* Frozen Globs of Ectoplasm: You’ll need some of this collectible item when you get low on Yuletide Tonic.
* Candy Cane Shards: Collect these colorful fragments by questing and competing. The outcome of Wintersday hangs in the balance, and your contribution of Candy Cane Shards may make all the difference. Besides, you never know what somebody might trade for these once the festivities come to a close. Tip: Hold onto those shards until the Wintersday finale and use them for good (or mischievous) intent!
* Fruitcake: A tasty holiday staple that is sure to put a little spring in your step.
* Special Rewards: In the tradition of the season, you’ll receive special headgear during the Wintersday finale. And even better, you’ll get a new means of storing it, as well.

ArenaNet also announces two really nice presents for players of Guild Wars available when the holiday festivities start:

Party Search — A brand new Party Search panel will be added to Guild Wars this December, which will allow players to more easily form groups. Casual and hard-core gamers alike will benefit from this new system, as it will make it easier for players to form parties for some of the tougher quests and missions in the game, find the last cog needed for a fearsome group that can tear through the PvP arenas, or just connect with old friends online to go explore the diverse Guild Wars world.

Reconnect After Disconnect — One of the most player-requested features comes to Guild Wars! If a player gets dropped from the game due to a connection problem, and that player can reconnect within ten minutes, the player’s character will be relocated to the spot of disconnection. If the character was performing an action, such as casting a spell or auto-attacking a target, that character will complete the action as if still connected. If a player is in a group when disconnected, the other members of the party will be notified about the player’s connection problems.

Awesome. A better grouping mechanic, and a way to reconnect to an instance after being disconnected are just about the most popular requests for the game in general. Add on the fact that we’re getting additional storage for holiday items and this will be a very merry Wintersday indeed. I’m crossing my fingers that next year I’ll find additional general storage, a stylist NPC, and an auction house — If that happens my Guild Wars life will be complete.

I also ran across this gem of a thread. Apparently one of the special editions of Guild Wars: Nightfall had a concept art book that contained beautiful concept art, which is now being reposted here online to this thread. Some samples:

NightfallStructure

NecroHighland

WingedParagon

Everything in that thread is stunning. An absolute treasure trove. Happy Wintersday, ANet!