Is Noby Noby Boy a game?

Noby Noby Boy is a piece of interactive software that, at it’s best, forces you to question the very definition of what a game is and can be.  At it’s worst, it is software that you immediately regret having spent $5 on and, somewhere in between, makes you wonder if something went terribly wrong during the translation from Japanese to English.


Noby Noby Boy is a game — I think.  You control a stretchy four-legged creature named Noby Boy who can elongate his body and eat anything.  Sometimes people will ride atop you, and sometimes they will run from you.  Sometimes a squirrel with antenna will appear in the corner of the screen to tell you your game has been saved.  There is also a parrot that will fly across the screen, which is very important according to the in-game manual, because if the parrot doesn’t fly, then you can’t play online.  There is also a Noby Girl who is trying to traverse the universe to bring people together.  Her progress is based on how far you can stretch yourself.  If this all sounds very confusing, don’t worry, you are not alone.  I may speak with conviction, but I have no idea what is going on in the world of Noby Noby Boy.

Noby Noby Boy comes to us from the mind of Keita Takahashi, creator of the equally strange game Katamari Damacy.  In Katamari you play as a small space creature who rolls a sticky ball around Earth’s cities and playgrounds collecting items to replace stars which your drunken space-giant father has accidentally destroyed.  Your sticky rolling ball swells and grows as it collects more and more items, which serves as an interesting visual reward for progression through the levels.  Noby Noby Boy does not have any kind of progression reward, or even a true goal.  In defense of the game though, it makes no attempt to hide this.  After learning how to control Noby Boy, the game informs you that there is no end goal or true motivation.  You are only there to experiment.

This is where the problem lies in the “game.”  With no motivation or reward, what is the point of playing?  Takahashi has supplied Sony with something akin to Microsoft Paint for the PlayStation 3: a piece of colorful creative software that you can do interesting things with, but not something you can play.

Takahashi strives to question modern gaming’s cliches, openly dismissing current popular gaming genres.  He is essentially a game designer who does not like games.  Noby Noby Boy is his brave experiment.  It can certainly serve as creative expression for both the player and the designer, but can it be defined as a game?  There is no high score to beat, no narrative to unravel, nor is there any real tangible reward for playing.  It’s just a weird stretchy thing that you can manipulate.  Is it worth $5 to take part in Takahashi’s gaming experiment?  Along with my perception of what exactly Noby Noby Boy is, I must admit that I have no idea.

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Harry Potter and the Great Gilliam Reference

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 has released, and it is the darkest turn yet for the Potter series. Harry has gone into hiding and can no longer make regular trips to the barbershop. It’s hell, and I don’t think I am spoiling anything when I say that the film does not end on a high note.

During Harry’s shaggy haired adventure, he and his pals have to make a rather dangerous trip to the recently overtaken Ministry of Magic. The Ministry is full of terrifying ladies in pink dresses, floating prison guards who bear more than a passing resemblance to common characterizations of Death, and references to the classic 1985 Terry Gilliam film, Brazil. It may have been entirely coincidental, but it seems that the Harry Potter director, David Yates, has made some intentional nods to Gilliam’s movie.

Brazil tells the tale of Sam Lowry, a man fighting against the beurocratic nightmare of his world. Everybody in Sam’s world is driven by policy, regardless of the implications. Things must be done a certain way, becasue that is how they are done. Also, it’s a bit whimsical. It all sounds remarkably similar to the Ministry of Magic. Referencing Brazil calls in a perfect metaphor for the nightmare of the Ministry following Voldemort’s re-appearance.

The references are quick, but they are there, and here’s proof.

The first referenced scene is difficult to encapsulate in still images, becasue it looks like nothing more than a small crowd. In motion though, there is a highly choreographed stream of ‘yes men’ following an all powerful executive as he spouts yes or no decisions to his devoted employees.

It passes by quickly in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, but you can see Pius Thicknesse, the newly appointed Minister of Magic, being followed by a similar stream of eager witches and wizards.

The final sequence of Brazil shows Robert De Niro quite literally succumbing to the evils of arbitrary paperwork, in what is likely the most bizarre death he has ever experienced in any film. He is overtaken by office filings, and becomes lost in the engulfing scuffle. It’s all an overt metaphor for the dangers of red tape, something Terry Gilliam has been wrestling with his whole career.

The Harry Potter similarity is simply one of happenstance. It’s a visually interesting attempt by Harry to block his pursuers. Within the Deathly Hallows film, it serves as no specific metaphor, but as a reference to Brazil, it further propels the idea that the Ministry has turned into the whimsical hell presented in Gilliam’s film.

As I mentioned earlier, these references could be totally coincidental. Yates may not have meant to specifically call out Brazil, but it is certainly an appropriate metaphor. It’s also worth nothing that when J.K. Rowling first began negotiations for turning her books into films, she requested that Terry Gilliam direct the first. The studio heads declined her request, but it all goes to show that Rowling always had a developed understanding for the artistic goals of her story. Gilliam may have delivered a very different, stranger Potter film, but it’s possible that it might have fallen right in line with the version of the books that Rowling wanted to see.

This was the first Potter film that J.K Rowling received a producer credit for, so this could all by a product of her influence, and her own likely appreciation for Gilliam’s work. All I know, is that she’s got good taste.

In Defense of Dante

 

The new Dante

 

I want the developers over at Ninja Theory to know, that I love the new Dante. I could not be more excited to see such a dramatic change for such an iconic video game character. We don’t know yet if it’s a young Dante, or even a child of Dante, but fans are already beginning to furiously type that, “Dante should only have blond hair!” It’s not even necessarily the physical aesthetics of the new Dante that I love. It’s just the idea of a different Dante that I love.

 

Didn't Dante have white hair?

 

People will scream, people will shout, online petitions will be started and every message board on he web will be rife with angry comments, but please Ninja Theory — do not give into the pressure.

In the world of film, beloved franchises undergo reasonably dramatic changes and reboots every few decades. A new Bond is cast, Sherlock Holmes is played by an American and Batman’s bat-mobile has a different designer every third film. These things happen because the people who control these franchises, are willing to let passionate directors put their own spin on their properties. When you let a new set of creative eyes look over a known fiction, we end up with things like The Dark Knight. If you are reading this blog, it’s pretty safe to assume that we all consider this to be a good thing.

Video games, for the most part, have not enjoyed this trend. With a few rare exceptions here and there, the creators of successful franchises own and protect their own products. A Company will hold onto and develop its characters and games to a breaking point, and it is only when their worth has disintegrated, that it will let them go.

 

Sony was done with Crash, so it got rid of him

 

Take for example Crash Bandicoot. Sony dipped its metaphorical mop into Naughty Dog’s orange bucket, and cleaned every single corner of there expansive new kitchen with Bandicoot scented soap. Sony cleaned, rang the mop out, cleaned some more, rang the mop out again, and then when the water was finally filthy, and no longer usable, it abandoned its distribution rights to Konami.

It has only been in the last few years that game developers and publishers have started to let other developers take on their beloved franchises. Nintendo, as usual, is the pioneer in this regard. Nintendo let Capcom take the reins on three hand-held Zelda titles, it let Sega take the reins for F-Zero and it let a little unproven developer named Retro Studios create the Metroid Prime series. It’s not all good news of course. The less said about Namco’s Starfox Assault the better. The important thing though, is that Nintendo let new people take on its cash cows, and the home-runs outnumbered the fly balls.

Capcom, perhaps after seeing the success of its Game Boy Zelda titles, have decided to try the process out on its own. Capcom approached a proven development studio team and offered them the  opportunity to work on a highly respected franchise. Devil May Cry is a franchise made out of stylized action, set upon a foundation of passable storytelling. The narrative holds up the house of action, and even though it was built by an ambitious construction worker, he was ultimately inexperienced. He wanted the story and characters to be good, and it is holding the house up admirably, but the whole thing could collapse at any minute.

The house was built in 2001, and back then it was new and pretty, and people loved it and wanted to live there. In 2003, the house got hit by a powerful storm, and it teetered back and forth violently until 2005, when the original builder came back to fix it up. People liked the house, but many were frustrated by its difficulty. I know — that part of the metaphor doesn’t make any sense.  In 2008, they overhauled the whole house, and it looked new, but it still felt exactly the same as it did in 2001. It was nice, but we had already been there. Now the house is teetering again. It didn’t sustain the same amount of damage as it did in 2003, but the house is ready to collapse.

Just to clarify, the referenced  years correspond with the release years of the first four Devil May Cry games. I just blew your mind.

 

Conceptual art for Devil May Cry 5

 

Capcom has nervously watched Dante’s house sway slightly in the breeze, and decided that it needed to work on the foundation. Capcom went to a new company, one that works extremely well with story foundations (remember the first part of the increasingly ridiculous metaphor?) and said, “This house used to be awesome. We don’t know if you can make it awesome again or not, but we want you to try.” Ninja Theory decided to accept the challenge.

Capcom is taking a huge risk, and whether it actually works out or not won’t be apparent until after the release of this new Devil May Cry. To automatically devil-may-cry foul at the new style direction is a mistake. Immediately jumping to complaints like, “His hair has to be blond!” — an actual paraphrased comment I have read — or “That game doesn’t look enough like the exact same game I already played” — a complaint I made up for the purpose of this editorial — could scare other developers away from making bold decisions.

I want something new, but I welcome the elements of the great action game I am familiar with. I know, deep down in your jaded gamer heart, that has petrified into a spike covered rock over time, that you want the same thing. Don’t listen to what anybody says Ninja Theory. Keep heading in the direction your heading and we will withhold judgment until playtime.

What do you think of Dante’s new direction? Love it? Hate it? Didn’t even think Devil May Cry was still relevant? Let me know.

Gabe Newell’s facebook account got hacked

It looks like the relationship between Apple and Steam is much different than we all assumed. If Gabe Newell’s clearly protected, and well secured facebook account is any indication of what is going on in the secret Apple/Valve meetings, it looks like Steve Jobs is letting Newell in on some very cool and totally legitimate opportunities to test out new Apple technology.

This is a deal that clearly should not be passed up.

My assumption, which is about as believable as free iPads on the internet, is that Newell agreed to develop Valve’s library of games for the Macintosh platform in one of these secret Apple/Valve meetings. Newell agreed to the development commitment only if he could get a good deal on Apple hardware. Jobs, who makes these sorts of deals in person, carefully whispered to his most trusted advisor, Justin Long, contemplating the precarious decision.  Newell sat across from him, arms crossed with his most trusted advisor, an android version of Gordon Freeman equipped with advance artificial intelligence. As Jobs whispered to Long, Newell whispered to A.I. Freeman, who of course, gave no response. Just a look of confident purpose.

Artist's rendering of a real secret meeting that actually happened.

When Jobs finally came to a decision, he said, “I agree to your terms, but only under the condition that you will tell me what you think of that iPad, and that you do it quickly.” Newell contemplated Jobs’ suggestion, and was about to agree, until he looked over at Freeman’s sullen face. Newell remembered that Valve was about community, and cool stuff for free (unless you’re on Xbox), and Newell said, “Okay Jobs, but I have one condition for you!” Jobs retreated slightly, scared, as Long stepped forward, making eye contact with Freeman. Newell said, “I will make my games play on your computer, and I will review your merchandise in exchange for free hardware, but if you want me to shake that mythical hand of yours and seal this deal, then you must let me offer free iPads in exchange for reviews, to all of my facebook fans!”

Freeman threw his fist into the air, and in all the excitement, accidentally fired his gun right into Justin Long’s chest. Luckily for Long, his commercial contract was quadruple folded in his breast pocket and the bullet was stopped. Unfortunately, the contract was destroyed, and that is why the, “I’m a Mac and I’m a PC,” ads are no longer on TV.

And that is how it all happened. Check out Gabe Newell’s facebook page for a free iPads. Trust him it works.

Christopher Nolan is a modern day Alfred Hitchcock

I don’t know if the title of this article has ever been written before, but I would not be surprised to learn if I were not the first to commit it to text.

There are many modern filmmakers who are extremely talented, but Nolan continues to stand out because of his ability to work so well within the Hollywood system. He has been able to continuously and consistently produce excellent films both critically and financially, while making very few, if any, sacrifices to be in the Hollywood system. He has actually stated a preference toward large scale production and American film making, something scarcely heard from directors of the same caliber.

“...there's a very limited pool of finance in the UK. To be honest, it's a very clubby kind of place. In Hollywood there's a great openness, almost a voracious appetite for new people.” - Christoper Nolan

Christoher Nolan and Alfred Hitchcock share as many similarities in their film making ideas, as they don’t in their physical appearance, but they each started from very different places. Nolan began as most modern filmmakers do, by making an impression with a independent film. Nolan released Following in 1998 to great critical acclaim. Nolan financed the movie with $10 and a handshake*, but let the writing speak for itself and created a compelling noir mystery on almost no budget.

 

*Not the actual budget

He used Following as a commercial to help him gather investors to finance Memento, and from there went on to his first studio production, Insomnia with Robin Williams and Al Pacino. It only took two films under his belt to work with such respected actors, not a claim many directors can make.

“We've got a pretty serious claim on being the cheapest film ever made.” - Christoper Nolan on Following

Hitchcock only became actively interested in film after completing college and it took him years to make his way into a directors chair. He began by working on sets designing title cards for silent films. It was only when the director of the film, Always Tell Your Wife in 1923 became ill, that Hitchcock was able to step in and finish the project. He impressed the higher ups with his work, and was able to move on from there.

Both Nolan and Hitchcock are of European descent, and both were quick to come to America to work in the American film system. Both have been quoted as showing preference to the American style of film making, with higher budgets and higher production quality.

Nolan married his wife Emma Thomas in 1997. She has served as producer on all of his films, and is clearly a very important part of his collaborative process.

Hitchcock’s wife never held and credited roles, but he often considered her his greatest critic and an extremely important part of his collaborative process. When accepting the American Film Institute Life achievement award, Hitchcock had this to say about his wife, Alma Reville:

“I beg permission to mention by name only four people who have given me the most affection, appreciation, and encouragement, and constant collaboration. The first of the four is a film editor, the second is a scriptwriter, the third is the mother of my daughter Pat, and the fourth is as fine a cook as ever performed miracles in a domestic kitchen. And their names are Alma Reville.”
– Alfred Hitchcock

Alfred Hitchcock promoting his film, The Birds.

Perhaps the most obvious similarity between the two directors is their preferred genre. Hitchcock made mystery thrillers almost exclusively, and Nolan has certainly not strayed very far from the dark, noir-thriller-mystery genre. Nolan’s first film, Following, especially feels like it could fit comfortably in the stable of Hitchcock films. Themes of crime, conspiracy, mystery and just general dark stuff run rampant throughout all of the films from the two directors.

Hitchcock was an extremely detailed director taking much of his production timeframe to write and storyboard his films. He expressed disinterest in the actual shooting part of the movie, as he felt the writing, story-boarding and eventual editing as the actual film making parts of creating a movie. He considered working with the actors and shooting as nothing more than the collecting of parts to later form into a movie and once referred to actors, rather controversially, as cattle.

 

“There’s a point during production which you’re really almost doing a paint-by-numbers thing; you’re almost just fulfilling a set of creative obligations that you’ve set up for yourself in prep. So, even though some of it can be fun, and it’s where a lot of interesting and amazing things can happen, there’s a point where you just want to be done with it and get into the edit suite and mess around with what you’ve shot.” - Christopher Nolan

Nolan has expressed a similar standpoint on film-making. With The Dark Knight specifically he said he found the actually shooting be somewhat tedious.
He does not storyboard his films to the same extent as Hitchcock did, but that can be attributed to technology. Hitchcock had to rely on large cameras and cranes, so the opportunity for improvised set-ups and sudden changes were a luxury he could literally not afford. Nolan has stated that generally the only story-boarding he does is for action sequences. He does take time to work with his scripts extensively, though. His latest film, Inception is a script he has been working on for ten years.

Though both directors spend large amounts of time on the creating their films, one thing they try adamantly to hurry along is the actual film itself. Nolan likes to cross cut adjacent sequences, to build tension and hurry the pacing. He often will cut from one scene to another so quickly that he cuts off the last few syllables of character dialogue in order to hurry the film along. Hitchcock’s preference of film pacing and speed can be summed up rather succinctly in one brilliant quote.

“The length of a film should be directly related to the endurance of the human bladder”
– Hitchcock

Hitchcock making magic.

A final similarity between the two film makers, is audience perception. Hitchcock has now become an iconic film maker, and many of his films are rightfully considered cinematic masterpieces. At the time though, he was often disregarded as a sort of pop-film maker, intentionally appealing to the masses, and not very well respected by critics of the time. He was well loved, and successful, but criticized. He never won a best director Oscar in all of his years of directing. He did win a Best Picture Oscar for his first American film, Rebecca, but Hitchcock became so separated from the film between shooting and editing, that by the time it was released, he barely considered it his own. It had been far too manipulated by the studio heads.

Nolan has had a somewhat similar experience in a few regards. For one, he has not yet received any major accolades from the Oscars. It’s likely that this will change, but many feel that Nolan deserved at least a best picture nomination for The Dark Knight. The Oscars don’t seem to have much respect for the comic book film genre, which highlights another similarity.

Hitchcock brought an air of sophistication and seriousness to a genre that was often written off by critics as nothing more than audience pleasing drivel. Nolan is arguably the first director to pursue a comic book film with the same amount of thought and serious consideration as any noir thriller, or serious dramatic film.

Vertigo, 1958

Hitchcock suffered a career injury after the reception of Vertigo. People did not like the film, and it was difficult for him to recover. His last few films were made outside of America with smaller budgets, and though they were good films, they were never able to reach the financial or critical level of acclaim as some of his previous masterpieces. Now he is considered a brilliant auteur, and one of the most prolific and skilled film makers of the last few decades.

There is no telling what the future will hold for Nolan, but right now it is looking much brighter than any of the shadowy sets featured in his films. Early reception for Inception has been extremely positive, and the word masterpiece has been thrown around like a batarang. Nolan seems to be on the right track, and he seems to know what he is doing. I for one can’t wait to see whats to come.

Update
Author D. H. Schleicher posted a blog discussing the similarities between Nolan and director Fritz Lang that compliments this article very well. Click this link to learn even more about Nolan’s influences.

Alred Hitchcock sharing a cigar with a bird.

Christopher Nolan on the set of The Prestige.

Spam Filter Fails to Prevent My Discovery of Binocktails

The spam filter on my e-mail has blocked some powerfully suggestive and oddly spelled products from making an appearance in my inbox, but I don’t think anything could have stopped the ferocious drunken stagger of binocktails from pushing past my spam filter bouncer and entering the club that is my e-mail inbox.

Here is an example of a product that is all brilliant epiphany without any of the actual follow through thought process. Imagine if you will, a late night infomercial with a desperate stadium attendee. It is just so difficult for them to sneak alcohol into an area where alcohol is not allowed from the outside! There has to be a better way!

Enter binocktails.

Drop the liquor into your binoculars, and pass the ticket tearing sentinel without them being any the wiser. It’s brilliant, and you’re already too drunk to realize that binocktails are stupid.

Yeah, they will get you past the door, but you don’t think a single flag will be raised from a dude awkwardly sucking on the scope of his binoculars? I haven’t used binoculars in many years, but last I checked, the appropriate way to use them was to hold them up to your eyes, not your mouth.

They are on to something here, though. Maybe there is some other product, something that would look slightly more normal to place against your mouth. Let’s see what the binocktail folks came up with.

Yes, that’s right. A camera. A product that is used almost exactly the same as binoculars. No one will notice someone stumbling around taking pictures with their mouth. If anyone asks, just tell them your replacing the batteries with your teeth, because you don’t want to get battery acid on your fingers. At least then they will disregard you as insane, as opposed to being drunk in public. Mission accomplished?

A List of Facts about Pixar and Toy Story 3

An unrelated picture of Steve Jobs as Woody defending the iPhone 4, much Like Woody defends his plan in Toy Story 3. The moral of the story is that in the end, Woody was right.

– In the future when robots have taken over humanity and there is a small group of humans fighting the oppressive force, Toy Story 3 will be used as a test of human emotion. If someone can watch Toy Story 3 without crying, or at least showing some semblance of emotion, then they can be destroyed, as it is obvious this person is a robot trying to infiltrate the resistance. If time is short, the prologue of Up will be an acceptable alternative.

– If Ira Glass ever teams up with Pixar to make a film, no films will need to be released afterward as they will have undoubtedly crafted the perfect story. There are teams of agents throughout Hollywood holding daily meetings to make sure that this partnership is prevented.

– Toy Story 3 is the kind of movie that makes terrible movies look like crimes against humanity. It is also the kind of movie that makes good movies look like terrible movies.

– Pixar has always shown an ability to predict the course of human emotion and affect the audience in unexpected ways. Basically, they know what they’re doing. They did not for some reason though, have the foresight to realize that it is very difficult to wipe tears form your eyes while wearing 3D glasses.

John Ratzenberger and his mustache.

– The simple act of watching Woody run from one place to another as his arms and legs flail about maniacally, is hilarious. If Toy Story 3 had been a Dreamworks production, the entire film would have revolved around this action. Also, the end dance sequence shown alongside the credits would have encompassed anywhere from 55% to 70% of the film.

– Why other film companies have not adopted the practice of placing John Ratzenberger in every one of their films is beyond me. Clearly he is the secret to the success of Pixar.