Assassin’s Creed: The Movie Based on the Game Based on History

As I alluded to in my preceding game log, an Assassin’s Creed movie is actually being made. Ubisoft, who fought movie publishing houses to retain creative control over their franchise, started developing the project in 2012. The film stars Oscar-nominated Michael Fassbender (a producer on the project) and Oscar-winning Marion Cotillard and is directed by Justin Kerzel, who directed the most recent Macbeth film adaptation with Fassbender and Cotillard (Armitage). The plot is basically lifted from the games’ main protagonist, Desmond Miles, as a new character is captured by the sinister Abstergo Industries and becomes an assassin through exploring the memory of his ancestors (through DNA, technology, and whatever). But, that transplanted plot isn’t really important. What is important is that yet another video game movie is actually being released but this time during Christmas. Yes, Ubisoft seriously thinks a video game movie can actually compete with both a Star Wars and a Harry Potter spin-off during the holiday season. 

Perhaps, I should slow down on my knee-jerk skepticism. Not all movies adapted from video games have been flops. The Tomb Raider and Resident Evil movie franchises have each made hundreds of millions of dollars, about $400 million and about $500 million respectively (Hillier). Critics hailed the moderately successful Prince of Persia movie as “far from perfect, but fun to watch” and “a movie that knows exactly how dumb it is” (Rotten Tomatoes). However, these three movies deviated a great deal from their respective franchises. The Resident Evil created a new character for Milla Jovivich to play and storylines that had stuff very loosely relating to Raccoon City and somewhat referencing the games’ characters. According to game blogger Brenna Hillier, a video game movie wants “to wring a pretty penny out of a gaming property you need to shuck off most of the trappings of established narrative and personalities and focus instead on a few core takeaways (Hillier). Video game movies cannot rely on video games for a good story because video game narratives are: 1.) much longer than a movie narrator (8-10 hours for a typical FPS story v. 1.5-2 hours for a typical action movie); 2.) reliant on the opposite of the necessary passive watching required for movies: interactivity. 

Video games are meant to be played. Now, it didn’t take me the whole semester to discover this truth, but that statement needs to be emphasized here. Put another way, video game narratives are meant to be played, acted upon by a player who guides the actions in the digital world and fill the identity of a typically empty protagonist (like the sort-of British Lara Croft or completely silent Gordon Freeman) in action games. The game’s journey isn’t so much for the protagonist but for the player. The whole experience is designed for the player to move around, observe, and perform certain actions through an avatar. Movies take an audience member through a guided, pre-set series of events for a diegetic protagonist that the viewer cannot affect nor control. That is why videogames should not be made into movies, or if they are, the movie only resembles the game in name. A movie should never borrow a game’s narrative just because movie execs think the game’s brand is strong enough for them to plug mindlessly into a three-act plot structure without any extraordinary critical thought. That leaves us with abominations like the Super Mario Bros. movie or the Alone in the Dark movie that has a 1% score on Rotten Tomatoes (Rotten Tomatoes).

So, videogame narratives depend on player interaction over a long span of time. Movies depend on spectator compliance for around two hours at most now. Coincidentally, that’s about how much time I spent on Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, which insists on forcing a player to be a spectator for the first two hours of the game. So, maybe I was wrong. Maybe Assassin’s Creed will be a good movie because those games have already tried so hard to be movies.  

Works Cited:

“Alone in the Dark.” Rotten Tomatoeshttps://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/alone_in_the_dark. Accessed 27 Nov. 2016.

Armitage, Hugh and Rosie Fletcher. “Assassin’s Creed movie: Everything you need to know about Michael Fassbender and the cast, spoilers, and release date.” Digital Spy, 27 Oct. 2016, http://www.digitalspy.com/movies/feature/a672940/assassins-creed-movie-everything-you-need-to-know-about-michael-fassbender-and-the-cast-spoilers-and-release-date/. Accessed 27 Nov. 2016.

Hillier, Brenna. “Metal Gear Solid and the gaming curse.” VG 24/7, 31 Aug. 2012, http://www.vg247.com/2012/08/31/metal-gear-solid-and-the-gaming-cinema-curse/. Accessed 27 Nov. 2016.

“Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.” Rotten Tomatoeshttps://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/prince_of_persia_sands_of_time/. Accessed 27 Nov. 2016.

Pokemon Un(Nuz)Locked

The Pokemon games have always easy to play. Its game mechanics fit into the “easy to play, hard to master” philosophy nicely. Pokemon: Alpha Sapphire takes these easy mechanics to a new game level by introducing mechanics that make this fairly easy game somehow even easier. Pokemon now receive experience from battling Pokemon that don’t faint but get caught, and the EXP (experience from battle) share applies to the whole party (as implemented first in Pokemon: X and Y). Gone are the days of having to use then promptly switch out a weak Pokemon to a stronger one. For someone who’s played Pokemon—one of the most formulaic games series ever—for a good bit, this gets really boring. However, while I was browsing the internet during my play session of Alpha Sapphire (it got so boring), I discovered a meta-game older Poke-players called the Nuzlocke challenge. It definitely makes things more interesting.

The Nuzlocke challenge is something a self-proclaimed “bored not-yet webcomic artist UC Santa Cruz” (Nuzlocke.com). This student, the one known online as Nuzlocke, started a play through of the original Pokemon Ruby in 2010 in which he implemented two rules to make the game more interesting and difficult. On his website, Nuzlocke states that “1. He could only capture the first Pokemon he encountered in each new area. 2. If a Pokemon fainted he would consider it dead and release it” (Nuzlocke). These are the two main rules of any Nuzlocke challenge but each user can add other rules to further increase the difficulty. According to game journalist Patricia Hernandez, these other rules are frequently added to Nuzlocke playthroughs: “You can’t play with traded Pokémon, unless it’s a Pokémon an NPC can trade you. 4. No resets. 5. If you black out (as in, if all the Pokémon in your party faint), that’s it. The playthrough is done. Game over. You gotta restart if you wanna keep playing…Banning the use of Potions and healing items…No catching/using Legendary Pokemon…Pokemon must be nicknamed” (Hernandez). These player-added and self-disciplined rules exponentially increase the difficulty of a game designed to be extremely simple. The older Pokemon players made a game out of a game (a metagame, if you will) to fulfill a need for challenge. This exemplifies how adding rules can change the whole meaning of a previously well-established game. 

However, the most interesting to note in players’ responses to their Nuzlocke runs isn’t so much the marvel at how much more difficult the game is. What struck me most about their responses is that players reported becoming much more attached to their digital pocket monsters. In addition to the ownership they got from having to name their Pokemon, the added stake of “death” (releasing a Pokemon) really makes players acknowledge the bond they form with these digital creatures you spend so much time training and using. One YouTuber, ProJared, whose finale of a Nuzlocke run I watched was legitimately yelling and on-edge during his battle with the champion of the Elite Four. I know he was doing it for an audience, but I could still genuinely feel his frustration, anxiety, and genuine connection to Pokemon he managed to level up for presumably many hours among countless close calls and “deaths” of many other good Pokemon (here’s a link to the video if anyone’s interested: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zlSbrwxPZso&index=36&list=PLO7ChEvlE6fcO8tMq7hhuf5qy1cwZyp6e; ProJared). Not only can the metagame of Nuzlocke add difficulty, it can also make you attached to the cute little creatures who can get taken away from you like those you love in real life. Nuzlocke has strengthened the nostalgic connection to Pokemon for older players, bringing an element of reality into a game of absolute fantasy. 

Works Cited:

Hernandez, Patricia. “Think Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire Are Too Easy? Try This.” Kotaku, 26 Nov. 2014.

ProJared. “Nuzlocke Challenge – FINALE: The Champion.” YouTube, uploaded by ProJared, 10 Sep. 2013, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zlSbrwxPZso&index=36&list=PLO7ChEvlE6fcO8tMq7hhuf5qy1cwZyp6e.

“What is the Nuzlocke Challenge?” Nuzlocke.comhttp://www.nuzlocke.com/challenge.php.

For Melee, Forever (Ryan Rotella)

Game sequels are usually the inverse of movie sequels. Game sequels are generally better than their predecessor (with exceptions, of course) because game developers, at that point, usually have better and newer technology, better funding if the previous game was a success, and better familiarity with which mechanics work in a game and which don’t (thanks, consumer feedback). Moreover, players find it much more palatable that mechanics be familiar (especially if the first game was good) with refined controls, better graphics, and some slight tweaks/new gameplay elements. The focus on a game sequel is usually not eyeing surprise or newness like a movie sequel’s story and narrative structure (which can rarely be found to be reliable to the first movie but still fresh in its own right). In fact, gamers can prize familiarity more so than any other audience. This is most apparent in the Super Smash Bros. franchise, where Super Smash Bros. Melee reigns as the undisputed favorite of many Smash players.

Super Smash Bros. Melee was initially released in North America on Dec. 3, 2001, making it one of the first games for the Nintendo Gamecube. A good number of players and online commenters, such as professional Melee player William “Leffen” Hjelle, say that what drew them to Melee as children was “being able to play the well-known Nintendo characters in a game that’s a ton of fun to pick up” (Zacny). However, what has made Melee a popular 15 year phenomenon and retained the interest of these now grown-up players are the “well designed intricate mechanics were, and how much further you could push the limits of the game” (Zacny). In fact, a vibrant professional community has gathered around Melee because of these intricate mechanics in the game (and without the support of Nintendo) (Minotti). These mechanics include wave dashing (players can move horizontally while still able to perform moves), L-cancelling (stops momentum and helps characters take less damage), and chain grabs (multiple grabs performed in a row). These more advanced mechanics were the results of programming oversight on glitches in the game, which the Smash community has now taken to be another metagame for superior players. These more advanced mechanics along with game’s faster speed than other installments (which have been purposely made slower in later installments to include more casual players) make Melee the best candidate as a casual game turned hardcore. Advanced, rich gameplay mechanics with a shot of nostalgia has made Super Smash Bros. Melee the choice of many Smash players.

Some, like Kotaku’s Ben Bertoli, argue that the newest Super Smash Bros. for Wii U (or Super Smash Bros. 4) should dethrone Melee as the top Smash game (Bertoli). In terms of graphics, character roster, and overall accessibility (I have no idea where my GameCube or my Wii is anymore), I would agree. Smash 4 delivers a refined yet familiar experience to a game series that many (including myself) love and will continue to love for a good while. But, that almost doesn’t matter so much when comparing it to Melee. Melee will always hold a special place in many gamers’ hearts, and that’s an impressive feat in itself. Not many 15 year-old games can still hold weight in terms of fun (and not frustration) in light of game with much better technology and programming. The fact that people love Melee so much that it’s still relevant and preferred in competitive tournaments really cements how truly special and well-crafted (intentionally or otherwise) a game it is. Like a good old movie, Super Smash Bros. can be enjoyed as a not bad remake in Smash 4 or as a nostalgia-aged artifact in Melee

Works Cited:

Bertoli, Ben. “Why Super Smash Bros. Wii U Deserves to Dethrone Melee.” Kotaku, 9 Apr 2015, http://kotaku.com/why-super-smash-bros-wii-u-deserves-to-dethrone-melee-1696512607. Accessed 21 Oct 2016.

Minotti, Mike. “How Super Smash Bros. Melee’s esports community keeps the fighter relevant 15 years after release.” VentureBeat, 16 Mar 2016, http://venturebeat.com/2016/03/16/how-super-smash-bros-melees-esports-community-keeps-the-fighter-relevant-15-years-after-release/. Accessed 21 Oct 2016.

Zacny, Rob. “Leffen on Why We Still Play Super Smash Bros. Melee.” Red Bull: eSports, 30 Aug 2016, http://www.redbull.com/us/en/esports/stories/1331815023939/leffen-why-we-play-smash-bros-melee-cultivation. Accessed 21 Oct 2016.