Can't Stop the Movies - No One Can Stop The Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Nioh (2017)

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Final Fantasy XV fans take note - Nioh was in development in some form or another since 2004 and managed to deliver a game that was not a rambling, incoherent, passive-aggressive nightmare to play.  The key words there are "to play", Nioh has its fair share of storytelling problems that stem from a lack of faith in the gameplay itself being good enough to tell a story.  I'd say that stems from its long development, but there are so many cutscene, character design, and environmental choices that culled from tighter games that add to Nioh's sometimes bloated feel instead of providing texture.

Nioh's biggest problem is there's too damn much going on and not enough narrative focus to make the storytelling worthwhile.  The beginning and ends of many levels feature cutscenes that recall the classic NES Ninja Gaiden.  But Nioh's cutscenes are bland affairs, filled with wide shots of hastily introduced characters muttering something about the historical conflict in Japan and treating the player-character - William - mostly as an afterthought.  Ninja Gaiden's cutscenes were economic perfection, using tight closeups of Ryu's face to highlight the intensity of his journey and adding a layer of surprise when unknown figures entered or exited the frame.  Cutscene Ryu is just as determined as his tightly controlled platforming presentation, but William's surgical caution and the player's necessary observation of enemy patterns in the game bear little resemblance to the mostly mute presence cutscene William projects.

While the cutscene storytelling is unengaging, the environmental storytelling is a dull hodgepodge of influences. The levels themselves are often well thought out, the highlight a battle through a labyrinthine ninja training facility that flips in on itself while William works his way to the pipe smoking toad in command.  Dark Souls comparisons are tired, yet Nioh earns a mild nod with the completely unnecessary shortcuts built into the maps.  There's not enough sprawl in the paths William can take to suggest a web of people in the background working together to make the land their own, like when the unexpected environmental loops become apparent in the Dark Souls games.  Worse, the disconnected feeling is amplified by a world map where menus upon menus for level selection remove even more focus from William's journey, a similar problem I had with the otherwise excellent God Hand.


Annihilation (2018)

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Lena goes about her routine, teaching classes while rejecting the advances of a fellow professor and trying to move forward with her life.  When her long absent husband, Kane, returns to their home she is left with questions to match her elation.  Soon, she'll become intertwined with the investigation that left Kane a shell of who he was, and enters a mysterious zone where her worst fears are given life.  Alex Garland wrote the screenplay for and directs Annihilation, which stars Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tessa Thompson, Gina Rodriguez, and Tuva Novotny.

Depression is the greatest human paradox.  It stains as it drive bits of itself further out, slowly tainting every facet of your life.  But it continues pulling itself apart, reaching toward who knows what, and will not be satiated until everything in existence feels its touch to begin its own inexorable journey toward oblivion.  Up into space, into each other, into the fragrances and sights that give life meaning.  The pain comes not in knowing that you're facing the total annihilation of yourself, but the pieces that you thought gave meaning to others unfortunate enough to know you will eventually drag them down to your pain.

There have been successful expressions of depression in science-fiction, most notably the traumatic healing of Upstream Color and the egoist's self-destructive hope all will feel how you suffer in Melancholia. I can't think of another film that visualizes the paradox of depression as perfectly as Annihilation.  Lena (Natalie Portman) sees "the shimmer", an ever-expanding expanse bordered with hypnotic colored oils merging and pulling apart as it stretches off into the air.  It exists with clear boundaries, but its expanse seems to have no limit.  The colors do not reflect on Lena's face, instead brightening her features with an unnatural strength that recalls the lighting of daytime soap operas.  Inside the shimmer awaits not the varied texture of human melodrama, just a harsh spotlight on yourself, and no one is prepared for what that might bring.


The Messenger (2009)

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Staff Sergeant Will Montgomery, barely out of the emergency room, is reassigned to a "sacred" duty - informing the next of kin of the deaths of those in the service.  SSgt. Montgomery is mentored by Captain Tony Stone, a brash soldier with rigid protocol for delivering the news, and starts to wonder if there's a better way.  Oren Moverman directs The Messenger, from a screenplay written by Alessandro Camon and Oren Moverman, and stars Ben Foster, Woody Harrelson, Samantha Morton, and Jena Malone.

Interrupting himself during one of his many macho rants, Capt. Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson) loudly exclaims how the news should run footage of every body lost to America's wars.  In the context of The Messenger, he's talking about the dead and wounded.  Taken within the larger empathetic focus of Oren Moverman's film, Capt. Stone's talking about the pain of the survivors - not just the friends and family left behind.  Capt. Stone knows better than anyone the importance of showing respect to those bodies, but doesn't have a full grasp on what it means for the traumatized people he gives the worst news of their lives to.

Enter SSgt. Will Montgomery, played by Ben Foster in one of those performances that hooked my heart in 2009 and still bleeds fresh nearly a decade later.  Moverman and cowriter Alessandro Camon wrote the conventionally "juicy" bits of storytelling for Harrelson's Capt. Stone, but it's Foster's quietly tumultuous empathy that gives The Messenger its lasting affect.  In scene after scene, Moverman's camera will sit - barely stirring - and just watches SSgt. Montgomery trying to process the role he's been given.  The question that seems to be flickering through his mind with every flinch, barely held back tear, or as his rage builds to near breaking points is, "How?"


The Boy Who Stole The Sun: DevLog #10

Had another busy week. Dialog and thought bubbles are implemented, so Debug Bob now has things to say. Made a few changes to the test map, and put down a dozen new bugs on the list for editor tools and gameplay. Take a look at the latest in this week's video update.

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Planescape: Torment: Enhanced Edition (2017)

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Planescape: Torment (just P:T moving forward) was a "bucket list" videogame for me.  A former friend of mine introduced me to P:T back in 2003, a couple years after I got into other CRPG titles like Fallout and Baldur's Gate.  He handed the discs over with the promise that P:T was the greatest role-playing game of all time which, considering my love for the genre, placed some mighty expectations on it.

Playing P:T was, no joke, total agony.  The overwhelming grey, brown, and dingy oranges of the starting areas made it difficult to figure out where my characters were - a predicament not helped by primary PC The Nameless One's grey skin and first companion Morte being a tiny floating skull.  My mom used to warn me playing videogames for too long would give me a headache and that came to fruition squinting my way through P:T's awful aesthetic.  I tried playing P:T three more times before the Enhanced Edition came out, the second time with my then-friend guiding me to try and highlight the appeal, a third time after that, and a fourth several years later when P:T appeared on Good Old Games.