The Zero Hour

Reviews, rants and oddities on video game and film culture.

Monthly Archives: April 2013

Hollywood into Darkness: Star Trek, 3D and the potential default shift in cinema viewing

Today, I found out my local, erm.. “big corporate multiplex cinema chain” isn’t going to be showing the 2D print (oh, how archaic) of Star Trek into Darkness when it’s released in a couple of weeks and that 3D will be the only option they’re providing. I’d heard about other cinemas doing this a couple of weeks back, but I assumed “as release gets closer, more 2D showings will appear, Paramount just want to prioritise the 3D version for advance sales” Now, I’m finding this isn’t the case, and that priority has left any other version lost in the mud. Now, this worries me because there is absolutely no reason for them to do this.

See, Star Trek is a big name franchise, JJ Abrams is a big name director, and whilst the cast aren’t exactly “Tom Cruise” in terms of household names, they have at least some power in getting the audience to see it based on that, (esp. w/ the casting of Cumberbatch who is the actor of the moment). it’s impossible to predict the success of a movie, but Star Trek follows the “Hollywood formula” pretty closely that it’s a safe bet, so why are they essentially jeopardising their own movie?

So, what’s the problem with only doing 3D showings? Sure, they cost more to go see, therefore giving the studios a slightly bigger return, but Avatar aside, they are still not as popular 2D showings, which remain the default since that film of the train parking at a station that scared half the room of patrons in the 1800s (and ironically did a better job at showing depth then most 3D movies). Most movies still predominantely get their money from 2D screenings, although obviously 3D is still relatively popular and accesible to the casual cinema goer.

Which is fine, but there is still a large amount of people who find 3D uncomfortable, can’t see 3D, dislike or find the effect distracting or have to wear two pairs of glasses to watch the movie, which not only looks silly, but stops them fitting on your face and you have to constantly be distracted from the action by sliding them back up. Not to mention that most 3D movies are converted in post production gives it less of feeling of immersion and more of a feeling of a cash cow gimmick.

And allowing that cash cow gimmick be the default option is therefore alienating a good chunk of your potential audience. Star Trek is a film that inevitably will make money, but it will make considerably less because it’s not as accessible. Maybe that’s the plan though, and they’re hoping for a resurgence through home release in 5 or so months time.

A similar thing happened to Dredd, one of the more surprisingly solid movies of last year. Both movies were made with the ultimatum of “This has to be in 3D” (assuming because of the increased ticket prices?) and both movies have very limited 2D screenings (at least in Britain)  Dredd did not do well at the box office, performing lower than expected. It did make a lot more money on DVD/Blu-Ray though, and I think partly down to it being more accesible to people. I never saw it at the cinema because I have trouble with 3D movies, but I bought the DVD the day of release because I wanted to see it.

And Star Trek is doing a similar thing, as I’ve said a few times, it’s going to be successful in some capacity (whether it’ll be “Hollywood succesful” is anyones guess), but this is a huge gamble and one that could either kill the series, or shift the default towards 3D for films in the future, which as a fan of cinema, I do not think would be a positive move. 3D will make them money on opening weekend, but without the big 2D release to steady it, will it be enough?

It’s possible that this is just early worrying and by release date 2D screenings pop up all over the shop, but it just makes me think this is a trend that’s just going to get worse. I’m fortunate in that I’ve a cinema that is showing a 2D version (at double price to my usual haunt though??) but some won’t have that luxury and will be forced to wait till DVD release day, which to me, isn’t really fair.

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7 years of Mother 3

This article is spoiler free.

7 years is probably not a traditional milestone to celebrate an anniversary, but then Mother 3 was never a traditional game, its tagline perfectly summed it up as “strange, funny and heartrendering” after all. Nevertheless, I felt that celebrating its anniversary this year, what with the announcement only a few days ago that it’s prequel, Mother 2, or Earthbound as it’s more commonly known, is finally getting a re-release (and acknowledgement from Nintendo at all) in America and a first time release in Europe this year means that this year is the last year the series can really exist in an environment where it’s only known to hardcore Nintendo fans and video game affecionados (although it’s unlikely to set the world on fire anyway).

Earthbound itself is merely a footnote when talking about its sequel, sure elements and a couple characters are repeated but Mother 2 and 3 are so far apart, some fan theories predict Mother 3 is actually a prequel! But it’s still an important footnote, being the only game in the series released outside of Japan. Earthbound was not a commercial success, but those who liked it, loved it and kept a part of it in them, and as the years past and the game became rarer, it had developed into a wonderful cult fanbase online, without which, the re-release this year wouldn’t have been possible. And neither would the translation of the game we’re talking about today.

Mother 3 never officially got a translation in English, if you play it on an emulator in English, see screenshots in English, it’s because of its dedicated fanbase, or more specifically Tom Ato of Starmen.net, who spent two year singlehandedly translating it so English fans could play the game, if they hadn’t, I wouldn’t be writing this article right now.

So clearly someone doesn’t spend two years coding and translating Japanese and a legion of people (over a million at this point) wouldn’t have found a way to play the game if it wasn’t something truly special, it would have to be something more than the sequel to “that quirky RPG where you fight a pile of puke” fortunately, it is, it is so much more. It’s almost an epic, tackling themes of loss, family, nature  vs technology, the fall of utopia and so much more, seeing the change to the world through the eyes of an innocent child, with clear parallels to Nazism and this is no coincidence, Shigesato Itoi, more or less the series auteur, said he was heavily influenced by Agota Kristoff’s “The Notebook, and the game shares major themes and its lead characters names are the same as the books narrators. It’s interesting how he noted that the book read “like an RPG” whereas vice versa some have claimed Mother 3 as the closest video games have reached to literature.

On paper, it’s a crazy prospect, originally in development on the N64, the game was cancelled for many years before being revitalised for release on the Game Boy Advance, now sporting a look more reminiscent of Earthbound and truer to the series previous incantions. Whilst the early N64 footage looks interesting, and seems to contain elements of plot points that would be in the final game, it’s clear that game belongs on a 2D sprite plain, and if anything proves that the fanciest graphics and techniques aren’t the main ingredient to make a classic game, this is a 2D game that was on a system that was outdated, powered by clear nods to late 80’s RPG’s and a desire to tell a good story. If the story did more to address a commentary on the medium, it may have been regarded as a postmodern classic the way Bioshock, released a year later would, but sadly save for, one boss battle and the potential of the naming system, it sticks closely to traditional story structure and narrative.

But “traditional structure and narrative” are never a problem when they’re done well, through strong characterisation (again, props to Ato for really nailing this down in the translation) and decent pacing, as the game begins we are told “Welcome to Mother3 World” and by god Itoi went so far out of his way to create just that, every character has their own unique design and personality, creating that small town allowed him to really hone in on everyone involved. Minor characters have their own little arcs that you can completely miss as you progress through the storyline, and if you put in the effort to engage emotionally with these people, it makes the games ending all the more powerful.

Mother 3 takes place on the utopian Nowhere Islands, far away in both time and place from Earthbound’s pastiche of Americana, with clearly more of its homegrown Japanese influence on it, although the village in the early sections of the game isn’t dis-similar to that of a small town in say, a Western. The game mostly centres around Lucas and his family and how quickly it falls apart, within a short period of time into the game, things escalate and the family break in two, as strange creatures fusing of technology and nature begin to make the people of the idyllic Tazmily Village scared and sad for the first time, and then a bizarre army adorned with pig imagery begin to show up and slowly gain influence, introducing money and “happy boxes” that hypnotise the townsfolk (allegedly not a metaphor for television, but it makes you wonder…) the game takes a turn in its second half when the town is completely taken over by the Pigmask army, with Lucas essentially the leader of a 3 man (and dog) rebellion, uncovering the Pigmask’s dirty secrets and true plans and awakening ancient power to put things right on a roaring adventure through old castles, under the sea, a rock club, factories, mushroom tripping islands, and finally the “big” city.

Is it perfect? Of course not, the turn based battle system is horribly dated and incredibly slow (this is the same concern with a lot of Pokémon games), chapter 7 is far too long in comparison to the others and a big part of chapter 1 involves grinding for EXP, but really these minor things don’t dilute the experience, which I’m trying to really avoid spoiling for you because it’s something you have to see for yourself. It’s a world where mole crickets are sparring for a fight, where you can ride a table across a tunnel, and where tomboy princesses befriend monkeys and pigs sunbathe. And maybe one day soon you will get to visit that world as Nintendo intended, if Earthbound can be re-released, it opens that door for the rest of the series, I don’t think it is as big a crowd pleaser as Earthbound, but to me, it’s a richer experience, and you’ll never want to leave the world it creates.

The fan translation page
Starmen.net
A really interesting (but spoiler heavy) interview with Itoi about the game

And here’s a couple bits I’ve written in the past about it.

Thoughts on the importance of the games character naming system
No #2 on my top ten games of all time list