Friday, May 21, 2010

The Status of Print Media in Gaming OR What Gamepro & EGM are Doing Right

There are people who have been shouting loud and long from the rooftops, of late, that print media, especially as it pertains to videogames, is dead in America. These people believe that the internet has invalidated anything so slow and behind the times as print media. These people point to USA Today's decline, amongst others, as evidence that print will never be relevant again.

These people are fucking morons.

The problem with print, especially in the US, has been twofold, particularly in the case of gaming, but also in general. The first part is that print outlets have a nasty habit of giving away their content for free online. Why would I ever buy a copy of a newspaper that puts its content on its website simultaneous with sending the paper to newsstands? I wouldn't. It's dumb, and requires more work than just getting it for free. But all while lamenting USA Today's downward spiral, people are ignoring that the Wall Street Journal is doing fine for itself. Why? Because in order to access most online content, you have to subscribe.

The second problem with print, particularly magazines, in this case, is that they have been trying to do the same thing they've always done in many cases, which is to provide content that can now be gotten online much faster. Reviews are the biggest example of this. If I want to read a review of something, I'll go online. It'll be there day and date with the product I want the review of.

And that brings me to the focus of this little post. EGM recently relaunched and Gamepro recently... hm, how do I say this? Gamepro recently... well, grew up, for lack of a better term. Gone are the Johnny Ballgames, and in is the Johnny Davison. And Davison has dragged Gamepro kicking and screaming into the modern age.

Diehard Gamefan has recently resurfaced as well (well, minus the "Diehard" part, anyways), but I can't bring myself to check it out. I've never been a fan of Dave Halverson's magazines, and while I like that he's putting an obscure, download-only game on the cover of his first issue (Blade Kitten), his brand of games journalism never appealed to me. In fact, the Happy Videogame Nerd pretty well hit the nail on the head when he called Halverson's last venture, Play Magazine, "the fucking Pitchfork Media of gaming." Halverson's stuff is just a little too-cool-for-school for me, and I can't handle that. At least he can save money on a website by just telling everyone to go to

Of course, Game Informer is still around and will presumably be around forever, but I think we all know the reason for that is because their subscriptions are tied to a discount card for the nation's largest videogame retailer. No secret that it isn't the quality writing that puts those numbers up, but forget about Game Informer. It sucks, it's always sucked, and it more than likely will always suck. The only thing it's good for is it's exclusive previews that it only gets because, once again, the mag is tied to the biggest game retailer there is. It's basically a catalogue, and if we're being honest, publishers give those exclusives to get them in the hands of people they know are people who frequent a large game retailer.

So... What are EGM and Gamepro doing to bring back print? The answer's surprisingly simple. They're providing content that people care about, and they're not running to post it on their website as soon as they do. They're providing a platform to some of the best games writers around (Leigh Alexander, Dan Hsu, etc.), and they're not stuffing the mags with reviews of products I could've read reviews of three weeks ago.

In fact, in the latest issue of each magazine (Street Fighter cover EGM, Force Unleashed II cover Gamepro), surprisingly little space is given to reviews. In Gamepro, 12 pages out of 92 covering five games is dedicated to reviews, and they are all reasonably high profile titles. EGM, on the other hand, dedicates 11 of 99 pages covering 7 games, most being big titles, but giving half a page each to the quirky Cave Story for WiiWare and Infinite Space for DS.

This is a far cry from the 250+ page EGMs of the mid-ninties that touted "OVER 50 GAMES REVIEWED!" Those were important then, but with the internet, they're meaningless. What's important now is what's been important in magazines covering other lifestyles for some time now; articles on the culture and people who move the industry. The new EGM features a massive, GQ-style interview with David Jaffe by Brady Fiechter. It's eight pages long, and it's really just a transcript of two dudes talking in a cafe. It's also really informative, whether you like Jaffe or not (I do, if you're curious, but I know many who find him abrasive).

The new Gamepro features a great story by Nadia Oxford about the history of Gamestop that includes comments from their executives and details their rise to the top of the game retailing industry. These are things that can't just be found at the click of a mouse. They're written by respected journalists, and they are of interest to people who take games seriously.

In fact, even the previews in these publications have taken on a largely different tone than that of their earlier counterparts. The bulk of previews in these new magazines focus on the creators of the games, producers and directors, and discuss their vision and ideas. Almost like a real art form! How about that?

Overall, it's the same thing I was talking about the last time I posted. Games are growing up, and now the enthusiast press is treating them like the enthusiast press for film and music treats its subject matter. Like art. Like an art form with a culture and a history, which is exactly what it is.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Videogames and the Mainstream

Videogames may finally be getting a fair shake from the mainstream. It's true. Take a look around. In the last month, a major title was announced on the network broadcast of a late night talk show, the Boy Scouts of America (an organization I don't particularly care for, by the way, but that's another blog altogether) have legitimized it by creating merit badges (or activity pin? Something?) for them, and, most recently, the Wall Street Journal linked to John Davison's "Too Long & Too Hard" article.

Welcome to the mainstream.

Now, for the record, there are only a few reasons this interests me at all. One of those reasons does not involve my hobby being socially acceptable or whatever, because, quite frankly, I could give a fuck less if what I do is socially acceptable. I'm a straight edge, athiest libertarian. I get enough sideways looks that by now being a nerd is just icing on the cake.

No, the reasons more have to do with an art form (yes, art form) finally be accepted as what it is (Roger Ebert being the holdout, of course) and the entertainment industry realizing, after a crash and recovery that happened nearly 30 years ago, that games aren't just a fad, like hula hoops and pet rocks. Of course, they're realizing what we, as gamers, have known for a long time.

Still, it refreshing to see the hobby we've loved that has been alternately demonized and ignored getting some traction. This most recent burst started with Gears of War 3's unveiling on the Jimmy Fallon Show. Quite frankly, I can't stand Jimmy Fallon. I find him to be insufferably un-funny. The man is a terrible performer, to the point that he can't even keep a straight face while doing comedy that isn't very amusing to begin with. Be that as it may, however, he's taking steps to bring videogames to the same level as movies, by having guests like Cliffy B. and Tim Schafer and treating them with the same respect as people like Martin Scorsese and Christopher Nolan. As well they should be.

The reason he does this is because he, like me and, I'm guessing, you, grew up with videogames, and to him they are as legitmate, both as entertainment and works of art, as films. That's what is really bringing games to the mainstream. The same thing that brought rock 'n' roll to the mainstream. People who were kids when it was new are adults now, and they're the tastemakers.

Another example is the Boyscouts of America lending some credibility to gaming. They're offering something called "activity pins" to Scouts who educate themselves on ratings, and learn to hook up their systems by their damn selves. By offering a reward to Scouts, not for playing games, but for informing themselves about them, they are showing parents and teachers that games are something that are as worth learning about and looking at from an academic standpoint as films.

Even more than either of those things, though, are two other things that really opened my eyes to the fact that the mainstream is finally catching up. The first is the semi-recent coverage of games by the Wall Street Journal. The Wall Street Journal is a paper that I read on occasion, but my grandfather reads everyday. My grandfather is not a gamer. He doesn't understand videogames, and he probably never will, and he's ok with that. And I'm ok with that. But the fact that one of the best, and most respected papers in the country is now covering videogames says a lot to the rest of the media. Of course, they're covering it (or at least linking to people who cover it) the way they always do, with a slant of academia, which says even more. It says that this is material that's deserving of the kind of in depth discussion and coverage that other art and entertainment forms get.

The second of those things is the recent inclusion of Penny-Arcade's Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins on Time Magazine's "100 Most Influential People" list. There have been gaming personalities on that list before, but they were designers. They were executives. The Penny-Arcade dudes aren't either of those. They aren't even reviewers. They're just dudes who draw a comic about videogames. Really, they're tastemakers. That's important. For two dudes who are really naught but tastemakers, tastemakers in this media that the mainstream has been woe to acknowledge until recently, to make the Time 100 above Oprah and the President of the United States sends a clear message that games are viable. They are important. Most notably, they are not going away. So, as a gamer, thanks for that, Time Magazine.

You see, games are growing up, and more importantly, the culture around them is growing up. Quite frankly, I'm surprised it's taken this long. Artists in other mediums like Clive Barker have been saying this for years. (In fact, Sir Ben Kingsley recently said that games are art, and even that performing in them is a unique challenge, different from stage or screen.) I'm not going to go on and on about why it did take so long, because I'm honestly not sure. I'm only going to say that I'm happy that they finally are.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

A Nightmare on Elm Street OR A Nightmare of a Remake


Ok, so first of all, I can't more highly recommend a series of blogs than my 'net homeboy Evil Dead Junkie's weeklong retrospective of the Nightmare on Elm Street Series over at Things That Don't Suck. Go read it. He provides the kind of insightful commentary usually reserved for art house cinema on b-rate horror and schlock (and I love him for it), but this is an A+ effort even for him.

That being said, I don't have the time/effort/want to discuss the entire series in the detail that he does, and he's already done it better than I ever could. That's why I'm only going to discuss the remake and how/why it fails at things the original succeeds so well at.

I'll try my best to point out positives before I get into picking apart what ruins this experience. Firstly, despite all of its flaws (and it has many, to be sure), it manages to be more watchable than most of the original Nightmare sequels. The sequels almost universally fall short of what makes the first film genuinely shocking and terrifying, and even the ones that don't fall short of that get lost in their own meandering storylines of mediocre performances. This film provides some good jump scares, a great deal of gore and a genuinely creepy performance by Jackie Earle Haley.

In fact, this film, like Watchmen before it, is watchable entirely as a product of Haley's performance. The man is swiftly becoming one of my favorite performers, and to someday share a set/stage with him would be a great pleasure. He's pitch perfect as Freddy, and while he talks more (a lot more) than Englund's Krueger in the original Nightmare, he doesn't get jokey and start spouting one-liners like Englund's later Krueger. He makes you genuinely unsettled, and makes sure that you never forget that he's a kiddy raping psychopath (something the sequels tend to be happy to let you forget).

Unfortunately, the movie surrounding this brilliant performance is flawed so deeply that the best way to watch this movie will probably be to buy the DVD and just watch the scenes with Freddy in them. It wouldn't really affect your sense of dread or any of the buildup, since nearly every dream sequence involves the audience seeing the characters fall asleep. The original film almost never shows Freddy's victims falling asleep. Much as when you nod off and start dreaming, you often don't notice it until something odd happens, or you wake up. The original keeps the viewers perspective that way, not giving any tells of dream sequences until the bizarre begins to happen.

When Nancy nods off in class in the 1984 film, we don't know she has until Tina walks (hops?) into the classroom in a bodybag. And even after that, Nancy doesn't seem to notice that she's dreaming, even following her best friend's bloody corpse down the halls. This is central to the film creating it's atmosphere. The new movie shows us characters going under more often than not, and, in some particularly egregious moments, has blatant lighting changes. The suspense is gone, I now know you're dreaming, and I now know that Freddy's probably going to do something nasty to you, and it won't be a surprise, there won't be any tension.

Also removing tension is the fact that the first act lays everything out for us. We start with average high schooler Dean, and his dream. (This should not be confused with "Dean's Dream," by the way.) In his dream, he's stalked by Freddy through a diner. The same diner he has actually fallen asleep in, as it turns out. Then his hand is cut by Freddy. When he wakes up, his hand is really cut. We now know that what Freddy does in dreams affect's the real world. Thanks for taking all the mystery and suspense out of it in the first five minutes, guys.

The worst bit is, this could have easily been alleviated. He fell asleep in a diner, as I said. There is a knife on the table. We know this, because there's a blatant esablishing shot of it right after he wakes up, sitting on the goddamn table. All they had to do was put the knife in his hand upon waking, and now we don't know if he did it to himself or not. Which is extra interesting, given that his death (which comes moments later) is done in such a way as to make it look like Dean cut his own throat with the same fucking steak knife.

Which brings me to another blaring klaxon of an issue with this movie. The kids figure out what's going on way to fast. In Nightmare '84, the kids all discuss various nightmares they've had involving a man in a dirty striped sweater and a fedora. They talk about his "fingernails," before really discussing the glove. And even when they do, they don't immediately jump to the conclusion of "oh, hey that guy must be killing us in our dreams." In the new movie, there's one brief discussion of it, and, just like the stumbled out of the goddamn Mystery Machine, they've figured out what's going on. Not to mention the parents acting completely shifty and weird when the kids bring up anything even tangentially related to what's going on.

The pacing is just all wrong with this movie, and that's the biggest issue. I could go further into how the boyfriend's death in jail is done to look like suicide in the original, but looks like an invisible Alien burst out of the kid's chest in the new one, but what's the point? I could talk about how the infamous "Freddy coming through the wall over Nancy" scene looks like complete garbage thanks to CG, but you probably guessed that without seeing it. What matters most is that the pacing is horrifically bad in this movie, and that while the third act has some good ideas and genuinely creepy moments, it's all for naught because the ending doesn't make any sense, and you've already been taken out of the experience by the hideously bad buildup.

The best praise I can lay on this movie is that if you've never seen Craven's original, and you've been let down enough by excrement like the Friday the 13th remake/reboot, you'll probably think it's decent enough. Or maybe if you're a big gore hound, you'll appreciate the kills, because they are pretty good, even the last one, despite it not making a lick of goddamn sense.

Really, though? If you're interested, just watch Wes Craven's original A Nightmare on Elm Street. It's much more effective, entertaining, and overall well done than this movie.