Monthly Archives: September 2011

The Thing plus a prequel

Kurt Russel, such a handsome devil.

I’m sure most everyone has seen John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) by now, but if you haven’t, here’s me saying you probably should. I make a point of watching it every year or so. There’s not many films that compel me to watch them so often, but I just can’t get enough of Carpenter‘s approach to this premise. And it’s a simple one: a group of men work at a research outpost somewhere in Antarctica where they encounter an alien life form that imitates other living beings perfectly. Its intentions are never made clear, but its presence doesn’t bode well for the Americans (or the Norwegians for that matter).

No, the Norwegians punch their tickets at the very beginning of the film, because they fail so miserably at chasing down a simple dog. That dog is then taken in by the American research team. It’s not just a dog, however, and even after watching the film dozens of times, I still find myself hoping the Norwegians would do a better job of wasting it. Instead, they go digging after a live grenade in a pile of snow.

Things proceed to go south from there as members of the American team are slowly replaced by untrustworthy alien copies. It’s a great move for the film to have considerable lapses in showing who is where at any given time. The characters don’t know who’s still human and neither does the audience. This greatly enhances the sense of paranoia that is exuded by The Thing. It’s a central theme and it works perfectly against the Arctic backdrop that provides a lovely touch of the Lovecraftian. In a catchy use of deduction McReady (Kurt Russell) says: ‘I know I’m human. And if you were all these things, then you’d just attack me right now, so some of you are still human.’ Under any circumstances he must have felt uncomfortable assessing such a situation, but looking at the frozen wasteland surrounding him, he must have despaired. From the safety of your own easy chair, these are wonderful feelings to experience vicariously.

Apart from being a great psychological horror film, The Thing also offers a lot in terms of special effects. The ‘thing’ looks utterly disgusting and totally convincing even three decades later. I always preferred practical effects over CG and this film is a great example of what can be achieved with traditional methods. Still, it’s rumored Rob Bottin (responsible for effects and make-up) worked so hard on this film he had to be admitted to a hospital by the end due to sheer exhaustion. It shows though, there’s no better looking monster movie than this one. The film also has a number of beautiful matte paintings, most notably one where the American crew visits a large excavation in the ice that suggests the outlines of a vast alien spaceship. Call me old fashioned, but I think that small hint of something truly alien is more evocative than all of Pandora and its wimpy blue inhabitants combined.

The poster for the prequel looks pretty good.

The poster (the one above here) actually inspired my latest revisiting of The Thing, even though it’s part of the promotion for a different film; the prequel that’s coming in October. This new film will cover the events that befell the rest of the unfortunate Norwegians, but it’s probably going to be more of a remake. Now, upon its release, the original 1982 film didn’t do all that well, but has managed to gather quite the cult following in the years since then and is considered hallowed ground by now. Trying to remake such films will always be met with skepticism or outright aggression. My guess is that in order to avoid accusations of being a simple remake, the producers chose to focus on the Norwegian side of the story. The addition of an American character would then have this new cast speak a lot of English (instead of Norwegian, which doesn’t sell that well). In all fairness, the film deserves a chance. It’s not like we’re drowning in good science fiction horror films and Carpenter’s version of the film was a remake itself after all. Furthermore, this new iteration is Rated-R! That has to count for something. So we’ll see what happens.

You can view the trailer here.


Rage is coming

Nothing says 'apocalypse' like a ruined skyscraper.

With the imminent release of Id Software‘s new game, Rage, I’ve been reminiscing about my history with Id’s games, which started at a point where I didn’t even realize Commander Keen and Wolfenstein were made by the same developer. However, by the time Doom came around I had learned to recognize that little blue and yellow logo.

Id Software appeared on the scene in the early nineties with what is often described as a ‘meteoric rise’. Think of all the cornerstones of modern gaming: the first person shooter, online multiplayer, three dimensions, you name it, Id is pretty much responsible for all of it. Most of these innovations stem from games Id released in the 1990s: Wolfenstein popularized the FPS (1992), Doom marked the beginning of the ‘deathmatch’ phenomenon (1993), while Quake saw the step to ‘true’ 3D and further refinements to the online component (1996). For all these accomplishments, Id has not been able to make as much of an impact on the following decade. They released one game, Doom 3, and even though the game was a success in critical and commercial terms, most felt the game wasn’t as relevant as some of Id’s earlier products. There could be many reasons for this, but maybe the times had simply passed Id by.

I’m willing to bet that’s not the case however. Doom 3 might not have had the lasting impact of some of its predecessors, but I still enjoyed the game for its atmosphere and graphical innovations. Furthermore, Id Software’s absence from the last decade, where a lot of the ‘game’ has changed admittedly, also means they have something to prove. Digital Foundry comments on these stakes with a question put to Tim Willits (creative director for Id Software) in an interview for Eurogamer:

Digital Foundry: So you’re working tirelessly year after year and in the meantime, the level of innovation in the shooter genre, particularly on console has been stratospheric. We’ve seen the rise of Call of Duty, Battlefield… did the competition drive you or did you focus entirely on your own vision?

Tim Willits: One of the great things about id and John Carmack is that we’ve been doing this for so long that we get exactly what we need to get done. And John has a great ability to see into the future and yes, you can get yourself into a serious trap if you pay attention to other people. Nobody else was doing any of the kind of stuff we were doing back in the early days, with Quake 3, Quake 2… changing textures and how the world was made for Doom 3. No-one else was doing these kinds of things. We were comfortable in picking a direction, putting our feet down and moving towards that. We don’t have to spend a lot of time looking at other people. We have John. (source)

If that last sentence isn’t enough to make you feel all warm inside, I don’t know what is. It’s no wonder John Carmack is revered with an almost religious dedication by most gamers. He is, after all, responsible for the technology that blew minds and wasted youths (lots of them). The question is: can he work his magic again in a generation dominated by the likes of Call of Duty? The world waits with bated breath as the release of Rage approaches. Well, maybe not everyone, but I know I am.

Rage hasn’t arrived just yet however, there’s still an eleven day wait until the 7th of October, so I’ve been playing some Doom in anticipation and pre-celebration. I used something called ‘Skulltag‘ to run the .wad files. I’m guessing you probably purchased Doom on Steam at some point and Skulltag recognizes the necessary files automatically, which is convenient. But here’s the thing, I haven’t exactly been playing the vanilla version, I tried this conversion called ‘the modern warfare 2 mod’, or something along those lines. You can find it here. And to use one of the many clichés I have at my disposal: it’s an absolute blast to play. It’s still Doom, that means it’s as fast as ever and there’s this sense of physical connection when you trounce the opposition, but now there’s the added bonus of a large collection of machine guns, assault rifles, shotguns and pistols. And all of them feel really good, I’d say a lot of that has to do with the translation from 3D models to the no-nonsense Doom sprites. It’s glorious and I recommend you waste some time with it.

As for Rage, expect me to chime in on that subject once I’ve gotten my hands on it.


Beginnings and delays

This is it then, the first post I’m writing for this little experiment. I’m going to start this off on a bit of a sad note, since Blizzard broke the news yesterday that Diablo III would not be able to make a 2011 release date after all. This is what Blizzard’s Mike Morhaime had to say on the matter:

We commonly use the term “soon” when referring to Blizzard releases, because we know that no matter how hard we’re working to reach a target, we’re not going to compromise and launch a game before it’s ready. For Diablo III, we were aiming to launch by the end of 2011. As we’re announcing globally today, our new target for the game is early 2012.

While this news might not be a complete surprise, I know that many of you were hopeful that Diablo III would ship this year. We were too. However, this week we pulled together people from all of the teams involved with the game to decide whether we felt it would be ready before the end of December, and we grudgingly came to the conclusion that it would not. Ultimately, we feel that to deliver an awesome Diablo sequel that lives up to our expectations and yours as well, we should take a little more time and add further polish to a few different elements of the game.

The upside of today’s announcement is that we will be running the beta test longer than we initially planned, which will allow us to invite more of you who have opted in. (source)

Some sites are actually presenting this as good news, saying that Diablo III ‘now has a release date’. But for those of us who have been paying closer attention, considering the recent start of the ‘friends and family’ beta and Jay Wilson’s continued optimism regarding the push for a 2011 release date, this is actually pretty damn disappointing. Though we should have known better.

So now what? Well, I think it’s safe to say we can stop fantasizing about a little Diablo III by the fireplace this Christmas and start wondering what ‘early 2012′ actually means. In the meantime keep checking your accounts for the beta and have a little cry about it every time it isn’t there.