Why Dead Space 3 is an Important Question

I write horror. So do hundreds to thousands of other people out there. And serializing horror is not something that has ever been done particularly well. For that reason, Dead Space 3 is something anyone who takes their craft seriously should keep an eye on.

It’s certainly been tried so, so many times. Friday the 13th, Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street, Resident Evil, Silent Hill. Each of these movies and game series have their hey day and begin to fade, their sequels becoming derivative. A recent interview over on IGN certainly suggests that the artists and designers at EA and Visceral Games are doing their best not to let the horror element get away from them.

Now, I certainly don’t feel any need to defend EA or the game. I am looking forward to it, but that’s not to say I cannot be disappointed. It might be, as many other gamers worry, too much action and not enough scares. But I think that overall, based on a few things I’ve seen and heard, there are three things worth discussing and thinking about when it comes this trilogy’s ending.

So how do you keep horror fresh?

Extreme Venue Change

In the past two Dead Space Games, outdoors meant trying to find oxygen tanks and avoiding floating bodies, because you were in zero gravity space. While I certainly hope that there will be some actual moments spent in the void again, the frozen tundras of Tau Volantis have all kinds of possibilities too.

The open spaces make for an unusual set of circumstances. Before, we always had reason to fear the vents and the tight, claustrophobic tunnels and shafts. Which means that if the necromorphs (or whatever monster you are writing about) want their prey, they have to develop new, interesting ways to get close. Hunters always adapt or die, as is the law of the jungle. Camouflage? Tunneling beneath the snow? Masquerading as a snow mound? All possible. Even probable.

But here’s an idea. What if you had to trudge through a snow storm and you see a human looking figure ahead of you. (I know of at least one monster type that is already doing this.) Crazy thing is, your mission is to rescue survivors. And let’s say you can hurt or even fail your mission if you shot them just to be sure.

Which means you have to get close to confirm. Kind of like The Thing. A real moral dilemma.

Admit it. It would freak you out as you have to guess. The question alone causes hesitation.

Someone Else’s Madness

"There is no John Carver, fleshling! It is I, Megatron!"

“There is no John Carver, fleshling! It is I, Megatron!”

John Carver. We don’t know crap about him. Except that one, he’s a soldier. Two, he’s starting to hallucinate. Badly. And three… you’re stuck with him. Now if these ingredients aren’t a recipe for disaster, I don’t know what is.

That first point is either a good thing or a bad thing depending on the second point. What if the game designers decided to really play with your mind, and player one looks like a necromorph on the screen from a hallucination? And friendly fire hurts?

Yeah. I’d be furious myself. You got necromorphs, the environment and unitologists trying to kill me. And now I got to deal with a rampaging player who is freaking out? No wonder they didn’t want split screen co-op. And I couldn’t really blame the other player. When I see a necromorph, my first instinct is to blast away too.

Oh yeah, nothing adds scare like desperation. Survival horror, not just horror. How are you two going to divvy up the ammo and credits? The last thing I need is to find out my partner is an ammo hog and a really bad shot…

The Still Unknown

One large and very disturbing fact is that no one knows what or where the marker actually comes from. There are theories and ideas, but the only thing that seems to stick is that it’s alien. But obviously, there must be a marker on Tau Volantis for there to be necromorphs. Possibly even the original, the black marker. The Dead Space 3 trailer suggests as much, but it could be something else.

It would be strange at this point not to use the marker to open up a larger possibility. Maybe humans and necromorphs won’t be the only foes Carver and Clarke face. Maybe there’s one more thing somewhere down there. One more faction to the already expanded list, that wants its property back. As Dead Space has proven over the last two games, what you don’t know can and will kill you.

Imagine something comes after you. Something that is not remotely human, its skin is smooth. Its features more animal like terror. There is no rot, no gore, the blood it spills is different in color. It might even sound like it’s saying something. You manage to kill it. And Clarke examines the body.

And admits it does not even look like a necromorph.

… guess we’ll find out on February 5th.

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Script Writing…

There are two things that really inspire people artistically. The first occurs when something is incredibly good. You can bring up several directors and comedians on Wikipedia and they’ll have a small section dedicated to other directors, comedians and philosophers who have inspired them to greatness. Fantastic writing charges me to keep trying.

The second is when someone takes something you love and screws it up.

For example, there has yet to be a truly amazing movie about the Punisher for one. Thomas Jane’s The Punisher was probably the most successful of all three (yes three) Punisher films, and yet was not a huge success. It has garnered a cult following and was financially successful, though not a box office smash. The first and third, starring Dolph Lundgren and Ray Stevenson respectively, were not amazing commercially nor critically. The irony is that Garth Ennis produced some incredible source material with the Punisher Max imprint. I own almost all his work on the Punisher and it is applause worthy in its execution.

Born

How good was Ennis? Even the origin story, the stereotyped, boring birth of the hero, rocked. Garth Ennis’ Born took place during the Vietnam war, with Captain Frank Castle leading his men on patrols into the jungles and dealing with military bureaucracy. Instead of life-long lessons in the middle of puberty, we get hard edged tests of morality that Castle already knows his answers to.

It’s incredibly bizarre that someone has taken the time to create a magnificient, powerful character with intriguing stories. And no one has yet to do him justice on the screen.

Of course, the Punisher is not the only character or franchise to get shafted by the Hollywood machine. And for some of these, Hollywood is trying to correct the problem. The recent reboot of Conan did so poorly, they’ve actually asked Schwarzenegger to come back. If they decide to make the new movie about King Conan, it will be interesting to see if Arnie’s experience as the Governor will be relatable on the big screen.

But the most recent failure that has prompted me to say something is Silent Hill: Revelations 3D.

The first movie was alright. It was a horror franchise, which lowers the bar of expectations. But it was reasonably faithful to the source material and visually appealing. The story made some sense. A lot of it was based on the first game, but they were willing to take elements of other titles. It was also financially successful, earning around $97 million out of a cost of $50 mill. 

The most recent movie took the majority of its basis from the third game. And apparently, it has failed the test badly. The critics, who weren’t really impressed with the first one, were not as forgiving the second time. It is not yet a commercial success, although with a price tag of $20 million, it is somewhat likely to at least earn back what it cost.  What’s even more scary is the fact that this movie happened to have some decent acting talent to it, including Carrie Anne-Moss, Sean Bean and Malcolm McDowell.

It is a Halloween miracle that they decided to skip the second game, which so happens to be my favorite. Which means its still open to development. Silent Hill 2 flourishes on the elements that can be better related on the big screen. Character development, dialogue. An intriguing story of guilt and personal demons over the monsters and cults.

So I’ve been thinking about trying my hand at script writing, a different media compared to the short stories and novels I am used too. With the right actor and right script, Silent Hill 2 could smash the video game-movie stereotype over its knee. Done wrong, my soul will be murdered. The cause of death? Cynicism.

The sad fact is, whomever is picked as the director will have more power than the script writer would. And video game inspired movies always tend to attract real bottom-of-the-barrel directors. Uwe Boll and Paul W.S. Anderson for example.

Ideally, a growing number of people are determined to prove that video games are art, and I am among them. The problem is that this definition has failed to be carried to another media. But art is universal, it should be able to be crafted beautifully on the big screen. There must be a way it can transition, and well. Until it can, Roger Ebert is being proved correct in his assertion that games cannot be art.

Silent Hill: Homecoming

I like Alex, but his under development doesn't quite put him on the same level as James Sunderland.

I like Alex Shepherd, but he feels under development compared to James Sunderland.

There’s always a sense of nostalgia when a long time Silent Hill fan goes back for a visit. There’s a few monsters who are just, classic. The creepy atmosphere. The same sense of foreboding and the story concept often have to do with the subject of sins left without atonement.

Let’s start with the story and characters. A major difference between this Silent Hill and others is that the likeable main character, Alex Shepherd, knows almost everyone in his home town. This sets the plot apart in that Alex has existing biases (both favorable and not) for the people of his hometown. I feel this better drives the story than a handful of strangers. Yet at the same time, the story itself wasn’t exactly well executed. I had to deduct points for the poor voice acting with memorably bad lines like, “Where’s… my… brother?!”

Although the developers did a great job of maintaining the mystery element, the ending was not quite what I expected.

One can draw a lot of parallels between Silent Hill 2 and Homecoming. At its heart is the denial of one’s sins and atonement. However, it is hard to top the overall experience and discovery of the earlier game. Homecoming‘s ending surprised me, just as SH2‘s did. But it does not give you time to really reflect on the surprise. I like, if not love, twist endings. But the main character needs a bit of time to really reflect on the surprise. That was something I got with SH2 but not with SH:H.

Another point of contention that many fans feel is how Pyramid Head was resurrected strictly to draw upon SH2 appeal. Rather than as a masculine avatar of self punishment that he was for James Sunderland, Pyramid Head was used as the Boogeyman for Shepherd. A scary entity of revenge.

Although the third possible ending made some sense of Pyramid Heads return, Konami blew two great opportunities here. First, they had a great opportunity to develop a monster that is parallel to the original Pyramid Head, but different and just as memorable. Considering how awesome the bosses were in this game, they have no excuses.

Scenes like this make Sunderland difficult to forget.

Scenes like this make Sunderland difficult to forget, and hard to compare too.

Second, they never successfully developed just what the Boogeyman was, a conjuration of childhood fears manifest from one’s lack of parental protection. Instead, they plugged Pyramid Head into a role that didn’t quite fit.

Again and again, the developers wrestle with the combat system. I admit they have to strike a difficult balance between keeping the main character as combat green as possible, while allowing the player to succeed against rough odds.

One considerable difference is that Alex Shepherd is a soldier, and it shows in the game. He can switch weapons on the fly, which is great because the various monsters are weak to various weapons. He can evade and duck, and recover from being knocked down. Getting your timing down for dodging is very tricky.

The music is good as ever, as are the sound effects and the atmosphere. I got a little frustrated by the shadow effect that creates pixel-shadows on the characters during cut scenes.

I think what frustrates me the most about the Silent Hill series, and SH:H, is that the game developers don’t want to get off the path they’ve worn. Sure, there was Silent Hill 4: The Room, but the game play wasn’t terribly different.

Personally? If I were to develop another Silent Hill game, I’d focus a lot more on sneaking around. Sure, you can cut out the light, kill the radio, but there are areas where combat is unavoidable. I want to move with stealth across the map. Even with bosses, I’d try to avoid being spotted and steal or undo something important that kills them. Combat would be a last resort. Shake it up already.

Silent Hill: Homecoming was satisfying enough, but will not enter my hall of favorite games.

Super Hill or Silent Bowl

Can’t believe that Patriots lost like that. I don’t follow football often, but that game was a see-saw of expectations. Most of my friends, who are Patriots fans, were not pleased.

I totally can't wait to see this family's photo albums.

I totally can't wait to see this family's photo albums.

So anyway, I beat Silent Hill: Homecoming yesterday. Yeah, it took forever because I didn’t hammer away at it.

The ending wasn’t quite what I expected. I understand that the developers were really aiming to pull from the same psychological vein of Silent Hill 2. They even borrowed and re-purposed Pyramid Head strictly to draw upon that fan mystique and loyalty. I have to applaud their effort, but I’m still struggling with some of the plot holes. I’ll talk about this more in depth later.

On another note, I noticed that the developers of Silent Hill drew inspiration from the movie Jacob’s Ladder. Without even reading what the movie is about, I’ve added it to my Netflix. I don’t care if the movie’s bad, I’m watching it.

Which brings me to another concern. I seem to be out of a story-driven, single player game for now, as I wait for the price of Gears of War 3 and the latest Castlevania game to go down.

So despite reservations, I am considering BioShock for now. I feel cautious and leery because I’ve done reading about the game development of it. And I guess I worry that the game is a form of interactive propaganda against certain philosophies. Or maybe that’s wrong, and the critics merely misinterpreted the game’s themes.

Eh, I’ve made up my mind. I’ll give a whirl. Write a Silent Hill: Homecoming review later. Time to hunt for jobs and write.

Silent Hill and Good Horror

Those aren't pinatas... those aren't pinatas at all.

Wait a moment... those don't look like pinatas...

So for the first time in probably two years I’m playing a Silent Hill game. A sale on Steam however put Silent Hill: Homecoming on my plate. Within the first few seconds, the game assaulted me with the old, familiar aspects but I felt as though something was missing.

I bring this all up for a few reasons. First, the second Silent Hill movie is being produced as I speak. The first Silent Hill movie was, when you consider that it was a horror film based on a horror video game, fairly decent. The acting was poor and the plot needed some work, but they did an alright job of maintaining the setting.

There are many things I’ve always loved about the game series, especially Silent Hill 2. This game is what good horror is about. To explain, the plot was entirely character driven, and the setting was merely a reaction to the characters, even if they didn’t know or understand at the time.

People don’t really come to the ghost town of Silent Hill willingly, you see. They go there because they are guilty, they have sinned. In the second game, James Sunderland is brought to the town by a letter from his dead wife. In the midst of his investigation, he encounters troubled individuals who apparently have checkered pasts themselves.

The monsters, like good horror, have a reason behind them. They have themes.

To explain, my horror films course back in college discussed some classical monsters with regard to themes. Count Orlok (one of the earliest vampires on the movie screen) was one we contrasted against Frankenstein’s monster. The two villains are different in that Orlok is the nobility, upper class or bourgeoisie to the monster’s proletariat, or lower, working class. The vampires feed on those that are weaker, as they are regal and all powerful. Meanwhile the monster is slower, more dull and dressed plainly, causing destruction more out of ignorance. The vampire intentionally takes the lives of others while, while the monster doesn’t seem to understand the death it causes, such as in the scene with the little girl tossing flowers.

But whether out of naive innocence or intentional viciousness, both are a form of villain.

Reason is not absent with the monsters of Silent Hill 2. The nurses and mannequins are said to be symbols of James’ repressed sexuality, which the story eventually unfolds. One could view the faceless and almost shapeless ‘human roach’ characters as the strangers in the streets, the figures in the void we scarcely remember while we pass them by.

...

Good eeeeeeeeeeevening.

And then there’s Pyramid Head.

Pyramid Head is one of those monsters that stays with people. He is iconic and unforgettable despite how little people see of him. He made enough of an impact to have his own Wikipedia article. In the original movie he had a couple of scenes, the most memorable of all being when he ripped the entire skin off of a woman.

Although I will link to the video of this, I think it’s pretty clear that this scene is awfully graphic. Horrible acting aside, it makes me nauseous to watch it.

Many things make Pyramid Head unforgettable. There is the impact you feel upon looking at him as he is quite trademark. There’s the sounds he makes, as he drags his great knife over metal grates, a terrible sound that is also iconic. What little clothing he does wear is something between a judge and a cultist’s robe. People debate to this day whether or not he was raping a pair of mannequins in his first appearance.

But like my analysis of Tzeentch’s symbol, Pyramid Head refuses to be completely and easily defined. Some say he’s a judge of the old world, attracted to the guilty and sinful and existing independently of any greater powers. But others feel he is a symbol of James Sunderland’s anger and desire to both punish and be punished, and with the conclusion of Silent Hill 2, has no further place within the series’ story.

The combination of unmistakable imagery coupled with an unclear and undefinable-though-hinted at origin has kept Pyramid Head in people’s nightmares years after the game’s release. But Pyramid Head is simply a quintessential aspect of everything that embodies Silent Hill as a fantastic horror story. He is a manifestation, alongside the town and, of human sin. An equal and opposite reaction. His appearance, like the town of Silent Hill, can only come with recognition of guilt.

Going to Silent Hill is a trip into a person’s mind. The horror is merely the self discovery.

Another 10 Music Pieces

So immediately after my last post giving 10 pieces of music for writing, I started another post with more music. It takes a little research to find good music with little or no lyrics, while trying to avoid re-using artists I have already mentioned before.

  1. Nothing Else Matters, by Apocalypta.
    “What, no Apocalypta?” MisterEd asked on the Shoutbox immediately after my last music listing. Self-induced cranial knockings commenced afterwards.
  2. Blade Runner Ending Theme, by Vangelis.
    You may find this hard to believe, but Ridley Scott is actually looking to do another movie set in the Blade Runner universe. I honestly don’t know how to take the news given that the sci-fi/noir flick is one of my all time favorites, and that Scott doesn’t seem to have ever done a sequel in his life. We will see what comes of this. Until then, enjoy the original sound track.
  3. Escape, by Craig Armstrong.
    Just when you think it’s over, they’re still coming after you! Run, you fools!
  4. Canabalt Theme, by Danny Baranowsky.
    Canabalt is a simple flash game that came out sometime back. All you do is jump, timing yourself to avoid obstacles and land safely on buildings. Click the link to play, but watch the clock: Your day could disappear playing this.
  5. Factory, Vagrant Story OST.
    Vagrant Story was a one of a kind game. A dungeon crawler influenced by Shakespearean plot writing with supernatural elements.  I have heard talk and discussion of sequels to Ashley Riot’s story, but looking at the direction the Final Fantasy series went after the tenth or eleventh title, I’m not interested.
  6. Escape from the Tavern, by James Horner.
    Willow. Now there’s a movie time forgot. Let’s face it, Hollywood has only started to be kinder to the fantasy genre in the last decade or so with stuff like the Harry Potter series. Still, there maybe some treasures in the soundtrack, if one is willing to look for them.
  7. Give them a shot. You may find your new favorite band.

    Give them a shot. You may find your new favorite band.

    Babylon of the Orient (instrumental version), by The Shanghai Restoration Project.
    The Shanghai Restoration Project is a great band whose discography continues to grow. Most of their music has some lyrics to it and always has an Asian flair. You may also want to check out the lyrical version of this piece.

  8. Just For Today, by Hybrid.
    Oh man, I actually almost don’t want to share Hybrid simply because of how amazing their work is and how much it inspires me. Still, if I like a band I should support them by passing the word along. This song makes me imagine flying and fighting, but if you want something trance and dark, try Dreaming Your Dreams.
  9. Metal Gear Solid 2 Theme, by Harry Gregson-Williams.
    The Metal Gear Solid series continues, but will be doing so without Solid Snake. I can’t blame Hideo Kojima. He was probably scared to death of some other producer butchering his favorite character. Still, damn good music though.
  10. Promise, by Akira Yamaoka.
    My favorite of the Silent Hill series of games was Silent Hill 2. But the music overall has never disappointed. Spooky and eerie, like a ghost tale told properly.