Saturday, February 19, 2011

Do you believe in Superman?

I've been looking out for news about the upcoming Superman movie lately. I've never been a huge Superman fan, but it's hard for any movie loving geek not to be interested in a film directed by Zack Snyder (300, Watchmen), and written and produced by Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight, Inception).

It got me wondering why I've never really warmed to the 'man of steel'. The character is arguably the most definitive super hero of all time, DC Comics flagship icon and one of the most revered and beloved comic book characters ever. I remember news reports of people actually breaking down in tears when DC 'killed' Superman back in the nineties. I've just never felt a connection to the guy. To me his whole mythology is kind of unpalatable.

If I had to pin down why Superman is so uninteresting to me it would come down to a few things. Firstly, he is too powerful. There is no way around it. He is just way too powerful. That's why writers have had to spend years coming up with these ridiculous plot lines just so there is some kind of threat. If it's not 'magic' it's someone who somehow gets kryptonite bullets or something similar.

Secondly, the guy is totally unrelatable. Not just to me, but to just about anyone as far as I can tell. I don't know what kind of comic book reader can relate to an almost invulnerable, indestructible being of virtually limitless power. He is basically a God. I remember reading books like X-Men back in school and finding a connection to the characters and stories. These books were about people who, granted, had almost god like powers themselves, but they were outsiders, misunderstood. This spoke to a shy, introverted kid. But Superman? He has it so easy. Nothing can touch him, everyone loves and admires him. I can't imagine how the guy can stay grounded (no pun intended). He would have to see the human race as a bunch of petty, imperfect little insects, but he never does. Everyone has flaws. It's what makes us human. But Superman is flawless. With all our wars, racism, hate and self destruction, how could such a perfect, morally inflexible, super powered god find any way to understand, and more importantly, tolerate all the human race's bullshit? A character like that does not fit on planet earth. Maybe if writers gave the guy some flaws he would feel different. I'd love to see Superman get angry and pissed off. I'd love to see him lose it a little. I'd love to see him show any semblance of human emotion other than 'love' for Lois Lane and his unbending sense of moral duty. There needs to be more complexity there. I'd like to see Superman tempted to wipe humanity off the face of the earth, not being able to put up with the fact that we can't help but do horrible things to one another and ourselves. I'd love to see him wondering, after years of protecting us, wether we are worth saving or not.

The likely hood of DC allowing something like that onto a movie screen with one of their top shelf characters is pretty unlikely, but who knows what will happen. Snyder and Nolan are smart and talented enough to make something interesting.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Insult swordfighting with Ron Gilbert

If there is one man that's had the average adventure gamer wandering around, collecting weird items and solving obscure puzzles ever since he released his first game back in 1987, that man is Ron Gilbert. The 'Grumpy Gamer' himself is among the highly respected few that defined the graphic adventure game back in the golden era of adventures, the eighties. Ron is, of course, responsible for the most famous mighty pirate to ever grace an EGA monitor, Guybrush Threepwood of the Monkey Island series. Ron was a writer, programmer and director on The Secret of Monkey Island and Monkey Island 2: Le Chuck's Revenge. More recently Ron worked on the awesome Deathspank games, action RPG's flavoured with Ron's trademark sense of humor. Ron currently works over at Double Fine, Tim Schafer's development studio. It's still a mystery as to what these two adventure gaming legends are working on over there but my guess is that it's going to be awesome.

Ron was kind enough to answer a few questions for me recently via email.

Me: Where did the concept for your original adventure game, Maniac Mansion, come from? Were you always interested in adventure games or were action/arcade genres discussed by Garry Winnick, yourself and Lucasarts?

Ron: Funny. I just gave an hour long talk in Germany last month on this very subject. I'll be giving the same talk at GDC this year and the video will be free online. The short answer is that Gary and I had a funny idea for a game about a bunch of kids that go into a creepy mansion and that was it. It wasn't until several months into the project that we figured out that it was going to be an adventure game.

Most of your games, classic and current, have a strong component of humor. Where do you think this stems from?

The humor in my games come from games being kind of ridiculous in the first place, so it's better to just have fun and not take yourself to seriously.

Of your classics, which are you most fond of?

Maniac Mansion. You never forget your first love.

What do you think of Telltales continuation of the Monkey Island series?

I think they did a good job. I'm glad Dave Grossman was there to watch after the project and make sure it was good.

You're somewhat of a legend of early adventure gaming among the classic gaming community. How do you feel about that?

It's a little mind boggling, but it's fun to have so many people love something you made.

Where did the concept for Deathspank come from? Is he a character you think you'll revisit after the first two games?

DeathSpank started out as a comic on my website that Clayton and I made ( He was this over the top video game character and he was so fun to write for that we decided that he needed his own game.

You described Deathspank as "Monkey Island meets Diablo". Are there any other genres you'd like to bring your trademark humor to?

FPS really need to be funnied up!

If you had a free afternoon for pure, uninterrupted gaming, what would you play?

I do, everything Sat and Sun, and I play WoW.

Unlimited budget. Expert development team. Total creative control. What dream game would you make?

Monkey Island 3a. The true 3rd game.

If you could change one thing about the game industry today what would it be?

That developers were correctly compensated for the work they do, rather than asshole CEOs.

You probably have no favourites, but if you Guybrush Threepwood and Deathspank were marooned at sea, who would get eaten first?

Guybrush. No question. DeathSpank wouldn't even ask.

Thanks so much for you time Ron.

My pleasure!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Gaming anthropology

As the business of video games and gaming technology continually expands, as if an explosion of big bang proportions happened back in the late eighties in the gaming industry, pushing out an ever expanding universe of games, things have just gotten bigger, bolder and more expensive. It's sometimes easy to forget the gaming industry is in it's relative infancy. The industry as we know it is realistically only about twenty-five years old if you're being generous. Gaming development budgets are into the hundreds of millions and big name franchise launches attract millions of first day sales. Gaming is no longer the domain of the socially awkward, bespectacled nerd. It's mainstream whether the hardcore elite of gaming like it or not. But what happens next?

Fast forwards two-thousand years...

If the human race can keep it together and we aren't headed for some war or pollution induced dark age, or religious or political zealotry doesn't result in games being 'outlawed' and unceremoniously thrown to the bonfire and purged from the internet, and provided the world economy can keep things together so gaming can remain viable, imagine surfing the information mega-freeways of 4010. Imagine scouring an ancient archive of two-thousand years and change of historical gaming. I can imagine social anthropologists of the future studying gaming of the 20th/21st century, trying to gleam some understanding and insight about the people who made and played these games. In two-thousand years what is Super Mario Brothers going to say about gamers of the late eighties and early nineties? Maybe they will see the platforming exploits of the titular plumber, who was so inexplicably popular in his heyday, as some kind of folk hero of the late 20th century. When these anthropologists study the ancient interweb of our time and they find the countless sites dedicated to Blizzard's World of Warcraft, the fan fanaticism and worship, will they interpret this devotion, and in some cases addiction, as an actual religion? I shudder to think what Splatterhouse, Manhunt and Postal 2 will say about us down the line. Not to mention our current obsession with 1st person shooters. Maybe they will see us as a society of violence obsessed caffeine addicts.

Whatever the people of the far future think about us and our games, I am happy at least that so many talented designers and artists are creating a legacy and writing the first chapter of gaming history. We are living in the ancient Greece of video games. Gabe Newel is like our Hercules. Jeff Kaplan our Leonidas. This is the time when myths are made.