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Saturday, February 19, 2011

Oh God Hollywood, Why!???


It is one of those places most of us dream of, fewer still actually get to live there, and even less make it in the thriving and competitive world of acting.

I have had some fortune to work and have projects there, having gotten my feet wet as an associate producer and start a production resume. Who knows, perhaps a few years from now you might be watching one of my own films, cross your fingers. For now I get to talk to people in production, casting, directing, actors, writers, and get to learn from as many of their brains as I can pick.  

With the multitude of talent and creative personalities you would think that Hollywood with all the resources that exist could get some things done right when it comes to video game movies.  

I know, it is easier to say then do, but I am sure when producers, directors and writers sit down to look at a potential film franchise they look at the potential gain vs loss.  For the most part you will want to make gobs of money to be able to continue in the craft.  Then you have the independents.  They want to get enough to make their vision so that when it presents at festivals like Cannes, Sundance, Toronto, New York, Miami Film Festivals, etc, They hope that the critical acclaim can help them gain more opportunity to be picked up by a studio or for them to get the attention of those studios for more "Studio" sized work.  

Then there are those in between.  

For the most part what can be seen are some studios looking at what can be banked on for the lowest amount of money, and are producing junk and wrapping it in the names of genre pieces we know and love to get us hooked to what ends up being trash.  You also have the copycats, where a small percentage of these people jumping onto a bandwagon to make money from the current trend or mood of a population.  I think for the most part many of us are fed up with this line of thinking and are tired of spending our money to go see something that turns out to be junk.  

To a degree I believe this is what makes the piracy of a lot of media such a huge problem.  If you don't pay a cent to download a movie or a song and it ends up not being to your liking, you can erase it and be done with it, no money spent to rent or buy, perhaps you didn't even pay to see it in the theater. However, if you do like it or it surprised you, you now have a file.  Most file types now are such high quality they are the same as the Blu-Ray without the extras, which you can download now too...

Me, in truth, I download everything off of IRC, If I like it I go buy it.  I support the studios and companies that produce good work, if it is awful - then to me it was a great preview - I don't sell it or give it away and in my mind if it were to appear on cable I would normally be able to copy it on my DVR so essentially downloading to me is not the same as piracy from the standpoint I have above.

I am sure there are others out there that will rampantly download and never pay for a DVD or a Blu-Ray. Either way we can see how this problem in some ways were derived from the rampant output of crap from Hollywood.

The reason for this note is, recently, I have been working with different groups as a project manager. Getting the opportunity to make suggestions and even work with Casting Directors from something as simple as holding casting calls in locations I utilize or participate in a casting selection.  I have become much more picky to what makes the most sense for choosing characters from any existing medium - because of these experiences.

I recently looked up "The King of Fighters" film that was put out last year and "Tekken" as well as the older "Dead or Alive" film.  I am noticing, that:

1) Studios, Directors, Producers and Writers are taking their own creative license to make changes to a film because they think it is better then what we as fans of this material already know and love...

In response to this, The reason we as an audience love the material is because of what it is, how it is done and the existing storylines behind it.  It is not a canvas for you random Mr. Director/Producer/Writer guy to alter it to your liking and assume we will embrace your vision.

2) Some of the Worst Casting I have ever seen that kills authenticity and hurts the artistry of the representation

My Response to this, Use what is needed.  If the role calls for Japanese do not assume "Asian" if the role calls for Jamaican or Brazilian don't assume "African" if the role calls for Greek or Roman don't assume "Classically trained British"

These things are important for us as an audience to absorb the best possible representation.  Here is an example - I wanted to take a look at a film called "Mask of the Ninja" simply to see how poorly this was done - Most of the cast were Chinese and American Actors.  many of the Chinese actors were actually Stuntman well adept and skilled in a variety of martial arts, but none of them had any realistic Taijutsu, Koga or Iga-Ryu training...This produced a lackluster martial arts film with the general "wannabe" acrobats and martial arts scene we have scene over and over.  Aside from this, the Ninja attacks occurred in the day time and with litle to no stealth movement being utilized and looked at appeared ridiculous, where you can clearly identify martial art techniques that were not of a Ninja or for that matter of a Japanese origin.

Two very different but better interpretations are "Ninja Assassin" and "The Last Samurai"

While Ninja Assassin was a hyper exaggeration of mythical Ninjutsu and Genjutsu (I have studied Koga and Iga-Ryu styles when I was younger) it kept true to the mythical concepts of Ninjitsu (we all know its not realistic, but when done right it is quite artistic to see), while it did not utilize many actors with the same and proper training they had solid consulting to maintain the image and concept of what needed to be preserved for the film to gets its message across.  Realistically speaking it appears to be a modern version of "The Hunted" which was for all purposes a solid work for its time with appropriate representation as well.

"The Last Samurai" Used an amazing Japanese Cast, and presented the scenario almost like looking through a window in time of how an attack from Assassin's from a Ninja clan would occur and how Samurai would essentially deal with it as it occurs (I have held "A Day in the Life" style seminars in proper costume at the Morikami Museum in Florida for what a Day would be like for Samurai and for Ninja - this topic always get me riled up when I see it done poorly).   

3) Use of things outside of its origination simply to copy or recreate something and have the audacity to utilize its titling or namesake...

Going through the casting for "King of Fighters" I noticed an actor Sean Faris was playing Kyo Kusanagi - he absolutely does not fit, but we will get to this film later.  Looking at his credits he is an accomplished actor for sure, but he has no appearance whatsoever to Kyo Kusanagi...He has a film coming up called "Freerunner" which is about a guy getting chased with a bomb on his him and he has to get from one point in the city to the other, he is listed as young freerunner...There are none of the original creators of Freerunning / Parkour in this film which is in my opinion a crime. To create a film about someone elses highly sought after accomplishments and not even have any of them on this film, which were Yahn and Frederic Hnautra, David Malgogne, Stephane Vigroux Kazuma, S├ębastien Foucan & David Belle.

All of these issues I am raging about are the reasons why so many films in production today targeting us are horrible. 

A perfect example as well is Uwe Bole - we hate his movies, I don't think there is one I have liked, yet I have seen them all, and we even got to meet him last year through conference at SGC (he was unable to make it physically to the convention) and I remember a conversation I had with Stuttering Craig from SGC - "You can tell him you hate his films and he will tell you, so what, I don't care, I enjoy making films and will continue to make films" and i remember Craig saying no matter what you think of the guys work you have to respect him for continuing to do it in a way.  While I agree with him on a few levels I would also say, that is great but how about you stick to what it is and not recreate something that is already beloved...

It's the reasons why we love Batman and Batman Returns - dislike Batman Forever and Hate Batman and Robin...Why we like Batman Begins, and ABSOLUTELY LOVE The Dark Knight...Joel Schumacher made Batman into a Rainbow of color and while we love Arnold, made him the big deal in the film and utilized an Actor we love for his emotional characteristics and for his way of conveying that in his face...Bruce Wayne is not outwardly emotional he is a man of few words and is brooding with his rage and inner conflict...That's why we hated what Schumacher did and cant stop watching Chris Nolan's Dark Knight...

I'm looking at the cast list for "King of Fighters" and It is making me sick...

They have some great actors in the wrong roles...Ray Park...I will be seeing him next week and they have him as Rugal...??? I can see how this could work, Rugal is the longest running boss for King of Fighters, its not a totally incorrect placement but wouldn't Ray Park's facial features, size and masterful and internationally known ability with a Quarterstaff be better suited toward Billy Kane... or Perhaps even as a younger Geese Howard 

Terry Bogard was David Leitch....????? Dear god, what have you done to my childhood, whats worse he is a cop with no real fighting ability...ARE YOU SERIOUS, and apparently Mai Shiranui is the main character along with Iori Yagami...  I don't even want to go into how badly this film was made, the total botching and rape, yes rape of the story and misused characters and omission of key figures...I don't want to turn this into a review of "King of Fighters" but it is so wonderfully bad, I challenge people to sit through it that know the game or its storylines and come back and tell me about the excruciating pain of it.

If you look at "Tekken" some of the casting was not bad even though some of those roles should have been switched with other characters (Like Gary Daniels as Bryan Fury and Luke Goss as Steve Fox), and the story of the film was garbage.  But it stills goes to show the concept of adapting something far off from the original.  The end of Tekken used weapons...which made no sense and the fight choreography was atrocious.  We did use 3 locations to help with Casting Calls, and some of those folks were pulled in as extras.  I even remember a friend of ours who really wanted to audition for Julia Chun (she actually looks like her but cosplay and acting are two different things, didn't have the heart to be brutal with her)

Dead or Alive was roughly in the same level of these films but it actually was much more entertaining, the ending scenes were absolutely ridiculous but all in all worked well.  The casting was fairly decent and the fight scenes were great, the rest of the film was lacking.  

I simply think Hollywood, Hong Kong, Tokyo and the like need to really pay attention to what the fans love, you dont have to get the highest paid celebs out there, you can use new faces, don't go for the wrong situations I have stated above. Authentic is always better.  

Don't get me wrong the concept of Acting is to be something you are not and portray it well, and this can be done well by some people out there like Scott Adkins (Undisputed II-III, Ninja) who played a Russian in Undisputed II-III and did so really well.  I am sure good actors can make us sit through a film of those characters that they are not and make us believe.  But there is for the most part acting that, in the moment, we can't believe the person in the role you lose us and thus the audience.  

I can go on about "artistic license" in a film by directors, producers and writers - Legend of Chun Li, Dragonball Evolution, etc.  The point is we don't want your version...we want the version we already love.  Choose wisely the actors and the people that fit, don't just fill in the blank with pre-madonna A and pre-madonna B simply because the actor wants the role or lobbies for it, choose the right group of people to bring to life what we long to see because a lot of the material available is great for films but we are not dumb fans, we know we are looking at garbage when we see it.   Hell give me a call, I'll consult, and If I don't know, I'll get the right person who does to point you in the right direction.

I realize at this point I am burning a hole in my keyboard as I type this, and I have more to write in my book but that is another story.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Game Review - Returning to a Classic - Final Fantasy XI

Many of you know I'm an Old Pro of World of Warcraft and with Cataclysm out and pretty much conquered...I'm going back and looking at some classic MMO's that helped start the push in the MMORPG Genre of titles. Final Fantasy XI was not the first, or the beginning, but it helped push a movement into the next generation of MMO gaming that was followed by a multitude of titles that either tried to emulate it without FFXI's flaws.  Games like Everquest, Asherons Call, Dark Age of Camelot & Ultima Online all provided the framework for future titles. Oddly enough, most of the fantasy MMO titles we play today will pull from a few existing scenarios. Scenarios like JRR Tolkiens "The Lord of the Rings", which has currently been adapted as a modern MMO or the rule sets (and bestiary) of Gary Gygax and his 1974 Dungeon's and Dragons which to a degree derives from the fantasy storytelling of JRR Tolkien as well...

While this is all good and simple in an oversimplified set of statements. We can stem our necessity to play in a fantasy world from these two originators. Enter Squaresoft, with its amazing Dungeon's & Dragon's fantasy style Role Playing Game for the Nintendo in 1987, "Final Fantasy". Which was created to prevent Squaresoft, at the time, from going bankrupt...So much for nailbiting!

Final Fantasy was not what you would call a blowout title, but it did define the future of the genre and while it had its basic fantasy lines arguably from a Tolkien style of storytelling it had a large amount of background of its own that created a mythos and world that spawned over a dozen titles beloved by its players and lending itself to creating Final Fantasy XI.  This statement was made: 

"Final Fantasy XI is the most representative title of the Final Fantasy series", according to producer Hiromichi Tanaka.

Quite possibly for similar reasons to what I stated above.  When FFXI released it sold 90,000 units in its 1st week while the PS2 versions hindered its own sales due to the higher pricepoint from the Harddrive necessity. The sales were steady and allowed for a large portion of play to come from the US and mixed US and Japanese Player pools together regardless whether you were playing on the PC or the console. The later addition to the Xbox 360 added a different set of player pool from the Xbox Live groups.  

Let me go further to state. I was a pretty hard core player of FFXI when it first released. I achieved, the then level cap of 75 in under 1 month and followed it up with 4 other advanced level jobs from Dark Knight, Paladin and Summoner, to Beast Master and Ninja.  Not to mention the Base Classes of Thief, Red Mage and Black Mage to level 60 a piece.

While at the time the game was one of the best looking graphically for a title of this kind in comparison to Everquest, Asherons Call and Dark Age of Camelot (DAoC).  It was light years ahead of these other titles which looked horrible by comparison. By today's standards the game still holds up with its charm but does have signs of its age in comparison to the newer FFXIV and other graphically extensive titles like guild Wars and EverQuest II which at release most PC's strained to render the game in full fidelity.

Back in 2004-2005 The highest complexity a player would attain in FFXI required the mass coordination of 64 players in alliances to undergo semi-war skirmishes in one of the principle cities called 'Dynamis', These alternate versions of said capital cities where the mass of players would need to overcome invasions of extremely difficult and massively powerful mobs referred to as 'HNM', Hyper Notorious Monsters, were exceptionally difficult to complete, let alone gain individual items that were being farmed by the competing 63 other players with you.  

The low end game consisted of regimented sections of play that had very specific milestones that would allow you to gauge your ability to continue. Going back and replaying this title over the last 2 or so days I find myself easily remembering what I did over 5 years ago and slowly re-acclimating to the game. 

The game in its infancy had a learning curve which did hinder players in the long term to abandon the title after their free month of play (considering that most gamers may beat a video game the first week they own it and it sits on shelves, this didn't affect game sales, only continued game play).  

The first Arc of this game really is learning how to function in its game space, it will take players that are used to other titles or the massive game pool of say World of Warcraft which has considerably easier controls to get used to FFXI and its set of controls which are more streamlined in FFXIV.

This is easily overcome the first few minutes of the game as you explore your surroundings.  The one thing that is considerably more difficult in FFXI that most other titles don't do - but in my opinion is what separates Hardcore from Casual MMO's is the fact that Final Fantasy with the exception of FFX (which pretty much steered you where you need to go) was open worlded and you had to think and write down notes and put to use some brain power to figure out what you needed to do next.  Most titles like WoW will have markers on characters, the ever present "!" and "?" point things out on maps so you don't have to search for it and pretty much spoon feed you the game.  FFXI did no such thing, it would mark the quest giver for you in terms of a Map grid location (i.e., H-7) and list the current quest or mission.  

Other slight quests, or foreshadowings of quests and areas, you get from talking to characters and there are no markers.  So exploration is key in this title.  Maps have permanent fogs of war unless you purchase them from locations usually on the other side of said fog of war (However, the Grid is still present).  So unless you have experienced the game before you will learn from careful exploration, or from bad exploration and dying a lot where you need to go and how to level yourself with patience as you move on.

You originally would level only to your early teens before needing to group for everything from killing 1 mob to doing a quest.  Most Americans not used to this hardcore mentality would grind out (level by killing mobs, a slower process) solo by working on weaker and lower experience yielding mobs, then coming back to the lower level quests they could not do solo and do it at that point.

Now the game has had more of a balancing with all the most recent updates and expansions where leveling is more pleasurable and you won't be killed at level 75 by an Easy Prey Rabbit...I can elaborate on that in comments...^_~

So lets rewind a moment.  Your first set of levels 1-5 is best to get a grip of the control system and basic understanding of speaking to other players and how you interact with the search tools of the game.  Also learning that the hub of your learning and focus can be speaking with the guards at each of the gates in your city.

by level 6 you should have decent understanding of the mouse, keyboard or gamepad for the PS2 or Xbox 360 players. You will now also have questions concerning the various scenarios you have in the game.

Level Grinding - Experience gaining from killing mobs and how can this be gained faster (which you learn in your first parties around level 12 and up with EXP Chains)
Quests - which grant you any number of rewards within your city or the various reputations throughout the game
Missions - which change your rank from 1-10 and exist separately from each expansion.

you can grind through the entire game and level with no real problems and be limited to not having a whole lot of perks from quests or missions (like a chocobo mount, quest gained.  Or an Airship pass, gained from missions).

I find that the earliest players of the game will need to go from level 1-30 and get an advanced job to understand if they will like the gameplay or not.  

Which takes me to the 2nd phase of your gameplay.  You are now lvl 6 and should start doing quests and grab your first set of missions.  Quests can come from anyone in the game, and at this point starting fresh and installing the entire title ($10 with all expansions sans Abyssea) you will get quests from each of the new expansions, so it can be a little daunting and confusing.

Missions are pretty much an easy scenario to focus on.  You have 3 to take before moving to a new rank.  when you hit a new rank you need to turn in a few crystal items to be allowed to get new missions and so on.  Guards at the City gates give you a buff called "Signet" this allows you to gain Conquest points and mobs will drop crystals.  The crystals can be sold (lucratively) or you can use them to craft items in the game and level different jobs or you can use them to turn in for missions (you don't need a whole lot, usually a stack of 12 per rank opening).  

you can reach Rank 2 roughly by Level 6-10.  It is possible to do it earlier, but the final quest in Rank 1 requires you either group with players to kill the mobs you need for the drops or you can buy them.   Depending on the economy on the server your playing 1 stack of c rystals, which you should have at least 4-6 by level 6, can pay for the items on the auction house.

Rank 3 you should be able to get roughly around level 30.  The Conquest points you earn as you kill mobs can be used to buy gear from the same Guards at the gates.  This helps you save your Gil (currency used in most FF titles) so you can use it on other items.

at Level 18 you are granted to ability of a Sub Job.  This is one of those wonderful scenarios that FFXI setup which allows for a huge amount of character customization and individual play design and now with the additions of Aht Urgan and Wings of the Goddess the new job additions allow for a greater depth of play that available back in 2003-2004.  

At level 18 you are only able to work on the base jobs of Warrior, Black Mage, White Mage, Red Mage, Monk, Thief - the Iconic FF archetypes.  So once you hit level 18 you can go back to your city and change the current job you have to the subjob and begin leveling another job.  Whatever your current job level is your subjob is half of it.  So if you level a Warrior to start and hit lvl 18 then go back and decide you want to continue your warrior but want a little extra healing so you can solo better you might level a White Mage, so set your Warrior to Subleve and start again as a White Mage - when your White mage hits Level 18 (as an example) your War abilities will be that of a level 10 Warrior.  

Now you can go back to leveling your level 18 warrior and Sub White Magic (which will be level 9, half of 18), you can now continue leveling your warrior to 36 before you need to continue leveling your White Mage.  With the Level cap at 90 at the moment you can see where you need to go.

The next milestone is level 20.  At level 20 you should venture out to the central hub of this game - which is Jeuno.  and is conveniently at a midway point between the 3 major cities.  Level 20 allows for you to gain the Chocobo mount, which makes life a lot easier when it comes to traveling the game.  A few tricks for this.

by the time you are level 12-15 you will encounter roughly 2 areas outside of your city is a large white structure, when you check this structure you end of getting a crystel for that structure this is a portal point where you can be teleported for easier travel.  There are multiple Teleport points or "Crags" What I find to be the easiet scenario is to get these gems as early as possible reason being Chocobo's will kick you off after a certain point of riding, Each Crag has a chocobo rental npc near them so this makes it easier to port and ride in the game.  

Next Milestone, Level 30...

By now you will have ventured into the basic leveling areas of the game

for levels 1-10 outside your city and these three zones

East / West Ronfaure 
North / South Gustaberg
East / West Sarutabaruta

Level 10-14
Konschtat Highlands
La Theine Plateau
Tahrongi Canyon

Level 15-20
The Valkurm Dunes

Level 20-24

Level 24-30
Delkfutt Tower

Those were some of the best areas to level in the early days of the game, and they still hold true today.

While the expansions have provided a lot of new zones to work with for each of these levels, and since the bulk of players use the newers zones, it is easier to farm your quests and levels int he older locations without them being overcamped.

So with the level 30 milestone you can now venture into a quest usually soloable, but some are more intensive, that allows you to open an advanced job class.  This is the easier path to take for leveling - go straight to level 30 then add the sub class - by using the one you just leveled to 30 and start working on your new advanced class.  

I have found reexperiencing this game literally took me through the highs and lows of what most gamers will experience as they go milestone to milestone.  

Those first steps into the game may be daunting and boring, but once you hit 18-30 and are experiencing some of the more complex content, you have your controls down, made some friends, perhaps even joined a guild (here called Linkshells) and have given some though as to the first steps you want to take into the advanced classes (which the beauty is you can do them all) you may find that if you are a hardcore end game player like myself - you will enjoy the new changes and balancing that FFXI has put back into the game.  

I may get my old account back (whcih had all the classes I spoke of above in the 60-75 ranges) or not, it doesnt matter, a 5 year hiatus granted me the ability to relearn the game.

But after you hit that level 30 and start working on the rest of the game and start learning about skillchains (Renkai) and have even created macros for your controls come back and let me know how you are starting to enjoy the title.

I think I will hit level 90 on my Dark Knight and Sub in either a Thief or a Ninja, Maybe even make myself highly viable by creating a Palading for Tanking.  

So to all those out there that love their MMO's and want a break from the day to day or even if you play World of Warcraft and love it as much as I do, and I play as a Professional - but need a break - try FFXI - whether its your first time or your coming back like me - $10 bucks for the entire title and all the expansions is almost impossible to beat - just realize it can take about 10-12 hours for full installation as it will download updates and patches as it installs each title individually.  

GPX's FFXI Game Score Rating 6.5 out of 10 Overall
8 out of 10 for Hardcore Gameplay 
6 out of 10 for Graphics (title is from 2003)
8 out of 10 Music and Sound (Uematsu is a God among men)
6 out of 10 Gameplay (it has been rebalanced, the Exp grind is a more enjoyable experience where it can take days not months to achieve high levels without sacrificing complexity or making the gameplay to simple)
4 out of 10 game controls (the controls are unorthodox, but you can correct a lot of the weird mechanics with solidly planned and keybound macros)

Note: I will edit this whole review at a later date for grammar and punctuation...its an informal review.