Monday, August 31, 2015

Video Game Trader #33 -- Sydney Hunter -- Intellivision Review

Video Game Trader #33 is now available.Click on the images below to check out my review of Sydney Hunter and the Shrines of Peril for the Intellivision, published by CollectorVision. You can subscribe to Video Game Trader HERE.
Click on the images for a closer look:

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Fall 2015 Video Game Preview

Click HERE to check out my fall video game preview in the online edition of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Or, you can simply read it below:

Fall 2015 Video Game Guide

This fall is shaping up to be one of the most robust video game seasons we’ve ever seen, especially in terms of potential blockbusters and highly anticipated sequels.

A virtual arcade full of top-tier titles is headed our way, from Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain (Sept. 1), the latest iteration of the popular stealth series, to Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege (Oct. 13), inspired by the works of the late author, to Call of Duty: Black Ops III (Nov. 6), the next entry in the ubiquitous first-person shooter franchise.

Here are nine more A-listers that are guaranteed to keep your thumbs busy, your adrenaline flowing and your wallet empty. As always, release dates are subject to change.

Super Mario Maker
Nintendo Wii U
Publisher: Nintendo
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Release Date: Sept. 11

Have you ever dreamed of designing your own Mario games? Now you can without going to programming school. Simply grab a copy of Super Mario Maker, which lets you create, play and share a virtually endless number of levels. The only limit is your imagination as you use the Wii U controller touch screen to place such elements as blocks, enemies, and pipes wherever you want, including the creation of non-traditional combinations. There are different themes/styles to work with: Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World, and New Super Mario Bros. U.

If you simply want to jump straight into the action, you can play levels created by Nintendo and by other gamers around the world.

Forza Motorsport 6
Xbox One
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Release Date: Sept. 15

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the “Forza Motorsport” series, and what better way to celebrate than with the release of a new game? In Forza Motorsport 6, you can collect and race more than 450 Forzvista cars, each of which is customizable to your liking. Authenticity is the order of the day as you compete in photorealistic races on 26 different tracks, some that feature up to 24 drivers at a time.

The single-player campaign mode boasts more than 70 hours of gameplay content, and you can race a buddy head-to-head in two-player split-screen action. New to the series is League play, along with nighttime driving and rain physics that mimic their real-life counterparts.

Rock Band 4
PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Publisher: Harmonix
ESRB Rating: Teen
Release Date: Oct. 6
$129.99 (with guitar), $249.99 (with guitar, drums, and microphone)

Once a cornerstone of any party where mere karaoke was considered as unfashionable as wearing  a lampshade over your head, rhythm games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band died out three to four years ago, relegating thousands of play microphones and plastic guitars to the bargain bins of thrift stores everywhere.

With Rock Band 4, Harmonix hopes to revitalize the faded fad by tapping into our narcissistic tendencies. Instead of simply following along with the on-screen prompts, budding rock stars can improvise their own guitar solos, drum fills and vocal gymnastics. In short, players can add more of their own personality to the game, which sounds like fun (narcissistic or not). There are 60 new songs built-in, plus more than 1,500 downloadable tunes available for purchase from the in-game Music Store.

Yoshi’s Woolly World
Nintendo Wii U
Publisher: Nintendo
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Release Date: Oct. 16

If you enjoyed Kirby’s Epic Yarn for the Wii, you should get a kick out of Yoshi’s Woolly World for the Wii U, a colorful side-scrolling platformer set in a world of yarn and cloth. As with the “Yoshi’s Island” series, the titular dinosaur can use his tongue to swallow enemies. However, instead of producing eggs to throw, swallowing enemies creates balls of yarn, which can be used to create platforms, tie up enemies and much more.

Available in Europe since June, Yoshi’s Woolly World, which includes two-player cooperative action, is easy to beat when played straight through. However, it offers special challenges when you try to find all the items, some of which are hidden in fiendishly clever places.

The Legend of Zelda: Triforce Heroes
Nintendo 3DS
Publisher: Nintendo
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Release Date: Oct. 23

While waiting for the long-delayed The Legend of Zelda Wii U, which has been pushed back to sometime in 2016, Nintendo fans can bide their time with The Legend of Zelda: Triforce Heroes, a game that evokes The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords, but focuses on cooperation between three players instead of competition among four.

Each of the three players, controlling a different colored Link (blue, green, or red), works together to battle enemies and solve puzzles, including those that require gamers to form a three-Link totem to reach enemies on a higher plane. In one-player mode, you can use the touch screen to control doll-like representations of the other two Links, who are mindlessly at your command. A competitive Coliseum battle arena mode is included as well.

Halo 5: Guardians
Xbox One
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
ESRB Rating: Teen
Release Date: Oct. 27

“Halo,” one of the industry’s premiere first-person shooter franchises, returns with Halo 5: Guardians, which developer 343 Industries promises to be the biggest game in the series. In Campaign mode, gamers play as Master Chief and Spartan Locke across three vast new worlds, with Locke in hot pursuit of MC’s rogue Blue Team.

New modes of play include Arena, which is four-on-four action created with professional eSport tournaments in mind, and Warzone, an epic battle in which two teams of 12 compete on massive maps. If you haven’t played Halo since the original Xbox game (Halo: Combat Evolved) came out way back in 2001, it may be time to jump back on the proverbial bandwagon.

Rise of the Tomb Raider
Xbox 360, Xbox One, PlayStation 4
Publisher: Microsoft Studios/Square Enix
ESRB Rating: Mature
Release Date: Nov. 10 (Xbox 360, Xbox One); TBA 2016 (PlayStation 4).

Surpassing even Ms. Pac-Man, Lara Croft is the most prominent female protagonist in video game history, inspiring the creation of action figures, comic books, paperback originals, theme park rides, feature films and more. She debuted in 1996 on the groundbreaking Tomb Raider for the PlayStation and Sega Saturn and has raided more tombs than Indiana Jones.

In Rise of the Tomb Raider, which takes place after 2013’s Tomb Raider reboot, Croft is at it again, using a wily combination of stealth, brains, athletic ability and weaponry (bows and arrows, a hunting knife, a pistol, a climbing axe and the like) to explore exotic environments, solve dangerous puzzles and survive against hostile humans and animals.

Star Wars Battlefront
PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Publisher: Electronic Arts
ESRB Rating: Teen
Release Date: Nov. 17

Star Wars and the Atari 2600 both launched in 1977, but an officially licensed Star Wars video game didn’t hit store shelves until 1982, when Parker Brothers released Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back for Atari’s venerable console. In that game, all players did was pilot a snowspeeder on Hoth, shooting missiles at Imperial Walkers.

Now, more than 100 Star Wars video games later, “We’ve Come a Long Way Baby,” as Loretta Lynn once sang. Star Wars Battlefront, which is a reboot of the “Star Wars: Battlefront” series, lets players engage enemies on a variety of planets (including a new one called Sullust), pilot airborne and ground-based vehicles, wield blasters and light sabers, encounter R2-D2, C-3PO and other popular characters, and much more. The force will be with you as you play as a member of the Rebel Alliance or the Empire.

Just Cause 3
PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Publisher: Square Enix
ESRB Rating: Mature
Release Date: Dec. 1

Set several years after Just Cause 2, Just Cause 3 once again puts players in the role of Rico Rodriguez, who has returned to his homeland (Medici, a fictional Mediterranean island) to thwart a brutal dictator named General Di Ravello. The chaotic, over-the-top action, which takes place among caves, harbors, prisons, military bases and the like, has been tweaked to let players wreak more havoc more efficiently and more dramatically than in previous games in the series.

Rodriguez’ grappling hook and parachute are more versatile, his C-4 explosives are unlimited and he’s equipped with a new wingsuit that lets him glide across the land very quickly. He can also commandeer a number of vehicles, including helicopters, speedboats, sports cars and tractors.

As if those nine weren’t enough, here are nine more big-budget games to look forward to this fall:

Lego Dimensions (PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Wii U, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Sept. 27)
NBA 2K16 (PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Sept. 29)
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5 (PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Sept. 29; PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Nov. 10)
Guitar Hero Live (PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Wii U, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Oct. 20)
Just Dance 2016 (PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Wii, Wii U, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Oct. 20)
Assassin’s Creed Syndicate (PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Oct. 23)
WWE 2K16 (PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Oct. 27)
Need for Speed (PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nov. 3)
Fallout 4 (PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nov. 10)

Comic Book Movies NOT Based on Super-Heroes

Comic Book Movies NOT Based on Super-Heroes

When Tim Burton’s Batman film hit theaters more than 25 summers ago, super-hero movies had been a relative non-factor. Sure, the first two Superman films were great, but comic book-based movies were few and far between.

Nowadays, with geek culture trending, it seems like a new super-hero saga debuts every weekend, such as the recently released Fantastic Four, based on the Marvel Comics property. These types of films are fun (actually Fantastic Four was a big drag, from what I've read), but we’re nearing super-hero saturation.

Fortunately for the comic book fan who’s tired of seeing super-heroes on the silver screen, there are some alternatives, movies not involving men and women in tights. These include such films as: From Hell (2001), a thriller about Jack the Ripper; 300 (2007), an epic fantasy war picture; and Frank Miller’s Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, a stylized, over-the-top crime drama debuting tomorrow.

Here are 10 more quality comic book movies—listed chronologically—with nary a super-hero in sight:

Fritz the Cat (1972)

Loosely based on the work of underground artist Robert Crumb (the subject of the brilliant1995 documentary, Crumb), Fritz the Cat was the directorial debut of Ralph Bakshi, the animator responsible for such controversial fare as Heavy Traffic (1973) and Coonskin (1975). Fritz is an anthropomorphized college student in mid-1960s New York City, a cool cat as it were. The freewheeling feline experiments with group sex, smokes marijuana and, in one of the film’s many satirical touches, gets chased by cops depicted as pigs.

While the current DVD release is unrated, Fritz the Cat was the first X-rated animated movie released in the United States. It is the top grossing independent animated film of all time, generating more than $100 million worldwide. Fritz the Cat is dated, but fascinating for its quirky encapsulation of the zeitgeist.

Heavy Metal (1981)
Rated R

During the mid-late 1980s and early 1990s, Heavy Metal, which adapted stories from the long-running magazine of the same name, was a staple of the midnight movie lineup at the late, lamented Forum 303 Mall in Arlington. Comic book aficionados and hipster film buffs alike enjoyed the animated anthology for its fantastic art (by the likes of Richard Corben and Bernie Wrightson), iconic soundtrack (including the title track by Sammy Hagar) and otherworldly characters, from futuristic cab driver Harry Canyon to nerd-turned-fantasy-hero Den to Captain Sternn, a “double-dealing, backstabbing, larcenous, perverted worm.”

To get the full effect, watch Heavy Metal on Blu-ray, with the speakers turned up to 11. Just be sure the little ones are asleep—as with Fritz the Cat, this is no kids’ cartoon.

Swamp Thing (1982)
Rated PG

A film that the late, great Roger Ebert said falls “somewhere between buried treasures and guilty pleasures,” Swamp Thing brought DC Comics’ mythical muck monster to the silver screen. The movie never reaches the heights of the two classic Swamp Thing comic book runs—the Len Wein/Bernie Wrightson story arc of the early 1970s and the Alan Moore-penned revamping from the 1980s—but it does entertain, thanks to ample doses of action, adventure and humor, and even a little heart: played by a rubber suit-wearing Dick Durock, Swampy has a touching relationship with the beautiful Alice Cable (Adrienne Barbeau).

Directed ably by Wes Craven (A Nightmare on Elm Street), Swamp Thing spawned a lesser sequel (Return of the Swamp Thing), a short-lived cartoon and a solid live action TV series.

The Crow (1994)
Rated R

Created by writer/artist James O’Barr as a way to cope with the death of his fiancĂ© at the hands of a drunk driver, The Crow is a character surrounded by real-life tragedy. During the making of the movie that is based on the comic book (The Crow first appeared in 1989 in Caliber Presents #1 and went on to star in several mini-series), Brandon Lee, who played the vengeful title character, was accidentally shot and killed.

Rising Phoenix-like from the ashes of all this carnage is a dark, dramatic, action-packed, visually arresting thriller that is as fresh and exciting today as it was 20 years ago. The film is also a fitting tribute to Lee, a great martial artist and budding action star whose life was cut tragically short.

Men in Black (1997)
Rated PG-13

Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld (The Addams Family), Men in Black was a blockbuster smash, turning a pair of obscure, poorly drawn comic book mini-series from the early 1990s into a full-blown franchise. The film, which eschews its more serious source material in favor of pure comedy (a welcome change), stars stone-faced Tommy Lee Jones as “K,” a secretive government agent who battles aliens, and dapper Will Smith as “J,” his wisecracking partner. Both wear black suits, ties and shades, and both handle funky weaponry as they vanquish a variety of creatures created by the ever-imaginative, Oscar winning makeup maven, Rick Baker.

A funny crowd-pleaser with boffo special effects created by Industrial Light and Magic, Men in Black spawned two sequels and a cartoon series.

Ghost World (2001)
Rated R

Originally published in serial form in Eightball #s 11-18 (1993-1997), Daniel Clowes’ masterful Ghost World was collected into a graphic novel in 1997. In 2001, it was adapted somewhat loosely for the silver screen, featuring Thora Birch as Enid Coleslaw, a pseudo-intellectual social outcast, and Scarlett Johansson as Rebecca Doppelmeyer, her misfit (though more attractive) friend. Both girls are cynical, and neither has a clue what to do after graduating high school. On a lark, they answer a man’s newspaper ad for a date, bringing a perfectly cast Steve Buscemi (as Seymour) into the picture.

In his review, Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly summed up Ghost World nicely, calling it a “buoyant, funny and disarmingly humane comedy of beautiful losers in revolt.”

Road to Perdition (2002)
Rated R

Anyone who thinks comic book movies offer nothing more than musclebound heroes thwarting cartoonish villains should check out Road to Perdition, an Irish Mafia thriller set in depression-era Chicago. Adapted from the graphic novel of the same name, which was written by Max Allan Collins and drawn by Richard Piers Rayner, the film features an all-star cast (Tom Hanks, Paul Newman, Jude Law) and received six Oscar nominations, including a win for Best Cinematography.

Although not universally praised by critics (some said it was “emotionally detached”), Road to Perdition has many esteemed fans, including Robert Wilonsky of the Dallas Morning News, who called it “wrenching but never manipulative, stoic but never dull, exhausting but never wearying.”

American Splendor (2003)
Rated R

Despite several appearances on Late Night with David Letterman during the 1980s, Harvey Pekar is hardly a household name. However, he was a legendary comic book writer, helping define the sequential art memoir, working with such artists as Robert Crumb and winning awards for his anthology series, American Splendor (1976), and the graphic novel, Our Cancer Year (1994). The film version of American Splendor, starring Paul Giamatti as cranky Clevelander Pekar, and James Urbaniak as Crumb, translates Pekar’s life beautifully, serving as both big screen biopic and slice-of-life comic book adaptation.

Although he didn’t win an Oscar for the role, Giamatti absolutely nailed Pekar’s look, mannerisms and voice, earning him Best Actor awards from the Chicago Film Critics Association and the International Press Academy.

A History of Violence (2005)
Rated R

Everyman Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen) owns a diner in the sleepy town of Millbrook, Indiana, population 3,246. “Nothing much ever happens here” until one night at closing time, when two men try to rob Stall’s humble establishment. Stall kills both bad guys and is hailed as a hero, but the action puts a strain on his family and sheds light on his secretive and violent past.

One of director David Cronenberg’s (The Dead Zone, Naked Lunch) most mature films, A History of Violence is based on a 1997 graphic novel by Judge Dredd co-creator John Wagner and Vince Locke. Masquerading as a mainstream crime drama, it is a gripping, Darwinian tale of survival of the fittest, exploring the nature of cyclical violence.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)
Rated PG-13

Likable nebbish Michael Cera (Arrested Development) is Scott Pilgrim, a Canadian bass guitarist who sheepishly asks an Amazon delivery girl named Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) on a date. Unbeknownst to him, in order to win her over, he must defeat her “seven evil exes,” including a super strong movie star and a pair of Japanese twins who can summon powerful creatures. The battles play out like a video game, complete with popup text, extra lives and exaggerated fighting moves, an innovative approach that complements Bryan Lee O’Malley’s graphic novel series quite nicely.

If the characters in The Big Bang Theory were real, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World would easily be one of their favorite films.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Look Inside - Brett Weiss's Retro Gaming Books

If you're into retro gaming and you've never read my books on classic video games, or you've only read some of my articles, please take a few minutes to preview the books on Amazon. Click on the title below the cover to read parts of each book. Once you are on Amazon, simple click on the cover (or below the cover in some cases) to "Look Inside."

As always, thanks for reading!

Oklahoma Video Game Exhibition -- Sept. 12 -- Osage Event Center -- Tulsa

Click on the flier below for info on the Oklahoma Video Game Exhibition, an annual video game convention that is always a blast. I'll be there once again this year, selling games and selling and autographing copies of my books.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Why Video Game Films Fail to Live Up to Their Full Potential -- By Spencer Blohm

And Now, a Guest Blog Post by Spencer Blohm

Why Video Game Films Fail to Live Up to Their Full Potential

On July 24, 2015, Pixels made its way onto the summer blockbuster list of movies this year. Soon after its release, the movie failed to impress the audience and subsequently bombed. Pixels is hardly the first video game movie adaption that bombed out in theaters. But has this been a trend and what can be done about it?

Ever since the early 1990's, several video game movies have tried and failed to impress critics and the audience. Both Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001) and Resident Evil franchise bombed out when many viewers criticized the mindless action and nonexistent plots. Time and time again, gamers are constantly let down with each adaption that veers drastically from the original story in the games or becomes too bogged down with emotionless characters and campy action shots. There are many reasons for this, but three reasons stand out on top: format differences between videogames and movies; understanding audience demographics; and most importantly, respect for the source material.
No one doubts there are tremendous differences in the storytelling between videogames and movies. Whereas movies follow a three-act formula that consists of a set chronological timeline, video games follow a nonlinear form of storytelling. There is no set timeline of events; instead, the player simply takes the story where it goes based on the decisions they make during the course of game play. It's what makes the game interactive for the audience. According to film professors, this is why film adaptations of video games fail to impress critics. Since the nonlinear storytelling of video games tends to have so much story material, film writers and directors tend to get in over their heads when trying to mold it into a three-act script format. The only film that came close to impressing critics was Prince of Persia: Sands of Time. Writers of Prince of Persia took the best parts of the game and molded it into a film script. Of course, being able to translate one media platform to another becomes a moot point if the project team doesn't understand who is going to watch it.
The stereotype many gamers face is that teenagers only play video games and grow out of the phase when they are adults. This however, is just not true. Not only are there more adults playing videos games than teenagers but women are steadily outnumbering teenagers. This means that many of the adult gamers looking for good film adaptations of their games are looking for the story plots they love and characters they can relate to emotionally. Unfortunately, many film producers don't seem to understand the statistics and are producing films adaptations that are filled with campy plots and emotionless characters. While this may suit the kid demographics that watch the adaption, it leaves the adult fans out in the cold. This of course transcends into our third point: respect.

Video game film adaptations are currently facing the same problem that comic book adaptations faced back in the early '90s: film producers not respecting the source material. The material for the story, timeline, and plot are already within reach of film producers, yet for some reason, they refuse to take the video game material seriously. Even with good source material in front of them, many writers in the past have ignored it in favor of the stereotype video games (and gamers) have: they are immature and should be treated as such. Of course, comic books and their film adaptations for years had the same problems with such stereotypes. But because of figures such as Dark Knight's Christopher Nolan and Marvel Studios taking control of their own material and selecting process for writers and producers, they have been able to make comic book film adaptations extremely successful and become a powerhouse film studio. Perhaps because of this turnaround, more film producers are beginning to look at video game films the same way.

As stated earlier, Prince of Persia managed to impress a few critics with its good storytelling and finding the right cast for the job. The tide might turn further with the promise of an Assassin's Creed movie. What makes this project promising is that Ubisoft, the company who created the Assassin's Creed games, took over the reins of the game's film adaption like Marvel did with their comic book movies. The World of Warcraft movie, slated for June 2016, holds a similar promise because the director, Duncan Jones, is a self-admitted fan of the game and would understand and (hopefully) respect the material. Both the games, which have taken on a life of their own thanks to the rise of online gaming and fiber optic internet, have massive built in earning potential, to the tune of $1 billion.

There is no doubt that video game movies have a reputation of bombing out. There are reasons for this long-standing trend though. Formatting differences, stereotypes, and filmmakers ignoring the source material are problems that stand in the way of making these movies great. However, there is a light at tunnel’s end. The Assassin's Creed and World of Warcraft movies, which if successful, might be able to turn the industry into more promising waters. If so, then we may be seeing yet another media platform makes its way to the forefront of movie industry.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015