Look! It’s the Art of The Last of Us

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Naughty Dog brought one of the most fascinating and interesting games to the PS3 last year in The Last of Us. I will spare you the long details of how the post-apocalyptic “zombie” game unfolds but I will like to touch on the environments that they present.

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While zombies, or fungus infected humans, might still be foreign in our pre-apocalyptic world, the easiest way for a narrative to relate to an audience is to have meaningful environments surrounding the player. There are moments, big moments, when I feel like a human being again and sharing sweet moments with the main characters Joel and Ellie as they travel. In an effort to avoid spoilers, I will leave the characters to that description and move onto the art of the game. While it is a game, the chapters act very much like chapters in a book. They are not always followed from each moment that the characters share, but the game progresses through a story where we are left out from moments that might dull the interactions.

The-Last-Of-UsWhat I can say about The Art of The Last of Us is how wonderful it is to see a development process that goes through many changes to suit the changing narrative. What stood out most to me, as I am from rural America, is how the character Joel appearance changed from a rural looking hillbilly to a slightly more educated appearance. Each page of the book highlights to process that took years to develop a compelling story told by the environment and design. The game play is relays on this artistic style to be a success and all those involved need the credit as well as the writers. Above all the sketches of the locations, character designs, and simple decisions of how Joel will carry his weapons reveal the long process to make the game. The cinamatics and music highlight these moments as the characters wonder throughout the game and come upon wonderful views that are often unexpected. The Art of The Last of Us takes you further into the story and remains just as a good of a story teller as the game itself.

If this is a game you haven’t played yet, I highly recommend getting a copy and enjoying the full experience of the compelling survival story.

Magic Girls Return in RWBY

rwby-long-logoWith the recent release of RWBY from Rooster Teeth, it is worth looking back at the incarnations of shows that surrender all power to the girls.

To catch you up to speed. RWBY is the latest series from the creators of Red vs Blue, a series I wrote about a couple months back. The letters in the title stand for the corresponding colors of the characters. This may be more complex in the future as it develops as it has only seen 3 episodes. The series has positioned itself closely with animations such as Sailor Moon, Cardcaptor Sakura, and I would even put a comparison with Teen Girl Squad. The characters have separate motivations while maintaining a innocent cuteness that one can’t help but identity with. Ruby maybe be the lead role that keeps our focus on a story, but the other characters create a diverse group that is both easy to identify but complicated from their unique approach.

The creator, Monty Oum. appears to have created a story that his own. While there are nods to past animations styles, he has created a digital rendered story that holds its own. The characters seem to fit what we would expect without letting us down. The style of animation can feel familiar at times however the uniqueness of the setting and interesting style choices of rending non important characters as silhouettes adds a level of intrigue about the importance of certain roles.

What is most exciting about this series is its appearance in a area dominated by overtly sexual roles and masculine characters. Ruby and company make an appearance that is meant to be seen. They story has a rich plot that started long before someone thought to press record. Where some parts seem simple and youthful, there are foreboding schemes at play waiting to be seen.

The Significance of Red Opposing Blue

red-v-blue-1People in my position, or anyone laboring through an MFA thesis paper, are often asked to write at length about influences into the work they produce. When pushed into directions that I do not find helpful I usually descend back into lowbrow influences and indulge in what I can enjoy without over complicating the material. Therefore, I have been pushed back into the pool of gaming and geek culture where I have no regrets. While on this hiatus away from critical thought, I cannot help but notice trends within the material I am viewing.

It seems for many years there has been a unique phenomena occurring in popular culture, i.e. video games, movies, and novels. This focus being on the distinction between two opposing sides, or three if you want to get picky. We can generally agree that two opposing sides are Good vs. Evil. However, the sides I am focused on are specifically concerned with the color of teams. There are many variations with colors current;y however they typically are a variation on what seems to be on the two primary colors; red and blue. I will not hesitate that the web series Red vs. Blue from Rooster Teeth reinvested my interested in this topic after getting their RVBX box set. This show has a literal title that distinguishes the sides against each other in a Machinima series of the Halo series.

I want to quickly spoil the history of the rise of color distinction in popular culture so I can concentrate more on the history behind the influences. For me, the reference is so obvious I feel stupid to have to point it out.

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The mood lighting helps with the mise en scene.

Although this connection to what is occurring today is pretty clear, there are particular elements that I need to point out. The entire Star Wars series, no matter how you feel about the prequels or Episode VII, essentially pairs good against evil. The Jedi, often paired with blue or green, and the Sith, commonly associated with red, square off for the control of the galaxy. However, I must point out the Jedi would never want to control the galaxy, but set up a system more like guidelines. To draw a quick conclusion so you don’t have to reread what many of you know, red equals bad and blue means good.

Star Wars however draws the line between what side the audience should be empathetic towards. Red should clearly belong to the aggressor in any dispute. However this brings me to leap forward a couple of decades to a groundbreaking PC game called Warcraft. The opposition of sides couldn’t be more clear as humanity itself is threatened.

Today these two would jump into a WWE ring and settle the score.

Today these two would jump into a WWE ring and settle the score.

I was lucky and was turning 7 at the time of its release, and just like any kid I was playing games I shouldn’t have. Blue often identifies the Humans as red represents the Orcs. Clearing being a human myself easily allows me to sympathize with my brothers in this game. The Orcs, which invade the Human world from Draenor, are vile and take no mercy in order to achieve conquest.  This should clearly paint the picture with red representing bad dudes with axes and the Dark Side. However the game developer behind Warcraft, Blizzard, throws a curveball and allows you to be the Orcs. Why does this matter you ask? To simply put it, colors no longer represent a good or bad side. They might be indicators of what you should feel about them, but we cannot expect to think someone is evil if they are fire-truck red.

Ultimately this brings me back to Red vs. Blue. I must admit that any game, movie, or novel that indicates distinction through colors, I am always drawn to whoever is wearing blue. This might be why I would also want to be in Ravenclaw, but let’s not think about that at the moment. Therefore when I see Blue Team in RVB I instantly am drawn into the war against the Reds. However I become in conflict with myself as I also enjoy the characters on the Red Team such as Grif and Simmons.Grif_and_Simmons_on_cliff

These teams easily dispute each other, but in the end they do seem to work out their differences. Why this show is so successful and transcending is the fact that the creators realized that colors and sides no longer matter. By forcing good or bad motivation towards a side, there is little room to navigate outside of that expectation. Halo can also take credit for part of this as they built the color based teams that RVB uses. I give most credit however to RVB for opening up the possibilities of alignment to any color and removing the tropes of identification.

In the end, the significance of red against blue is the way in which we have been trained to empathize with a color. Identifying a side with color is an easy method to develop a villain through red or our hero through blue, but this becomes to easy and not interesting as many films continue it. From that, I just encourage you to go watch Red vs. Blue and see what I am talking about.

The Game of Fans

12615-1-1331416751-1Recently I have been playing the hell out of Skyrim, or Oblivion for any of you from Tamriel out there. Half the time I shouting the shit out of bandits and dragons while I loot the hell out of the rich. Actually I have been caught more times pickpocketing and murdering for the sake of my guild that my wanted poster fills the halls of every Hold that everyone in Skyrim could put them their back pocket. Of course I must say that some of those people do not have back pockets if you are using some of the mods for the PC version. If you don’t want to click that link, just know that some people in the world end up getting naked.

The answer is the Pythagorean Theorem!

The answer is the Pythagorean Theorem!

Not exactly sure what my character is considered other than a Breton with volume control issue. I wonder how this guy got away in school whenever he raised his hand and threw the teacher across the room. Productivity for the day would be ruined and those beakers would be broken.

You can easily argue that I am an embarrassment to this game and that no one would ever choose my path.  However this game has been filling up a void in my interests that has been left empty for sometime. The last time I played a game like this would have to be Wizards & Warriors for the PC. I know it’s an old game at this point, but I took a break from RPG gaming for a while. Not unless you are talking about Balder’s Gate, then I could talk about a very pleasant summer in 2003. When Balder’s Gate 3 comes out you will not hear from me for a while.

But in Skyrim, unlike these other fantasy based games, the fantasy aspect of the storyline is minimal. At this time, thanks to movies like The Lord of the Rings, we can understand dragons, giant spiders, and sword fighting. Just as if you associate light-speed space travel to science fiction, these are culturally established tropes of the genre. For now, This assessment is referring to the main story-line of Skyrim and I will discuss the DLC content later.

game-of-thrones-free-burning-logo-110523The timing of this game couldn’t have been planned better with the release of Game of Thrones. Debuting also in 2011, this HBO series follows the story-line of the book series A Song of Fire and Ice by George R. R. Martin. Without spoiling any aspects of the story, just know that the opening scene establishes the fantasy surrounding the characters. Most of the interactions feel more like a drama, in the way Star Wars acts more like a space opera. There is no need for writers of this series to reestablish what dragons, kings, and magic are. As a culture we understand these elements of the story and they are no longer foreign to us. This series might seem unforgiving to an audience, but there is an expectation of disbelief into the story and prolonged immersion into the story. You are not expected to understand who characters are immediately, but while the story develops you develop your own assessment through their interactions.

What is important to me here, and why you should pay attention, is how these continue the story. But as Skyrim and Game of Thrones grows in popularity with an audience outside of the targeted audience, the viewers have been trapped further into a subject matter that is often associated with geeks in the parent’s basement. By the end of Game of Thrones Season 1 and the DLC content released for Skyrim, the fantasy is obvious and unavoidable to the audience. I have to contain all of my excitement and rage from this as my 15 year younger self would finally fit in with kids in high school. Trust me, I had my share of bullying and beat downs from the kids the swore they were my friends whenever the girls were around.

If you don’t have a console to play Skyrim, I will recommend watching Game of Thrones. Once you have gone away from a few hours, come back here and give me your review.