Wolf Children - Mom

Today is mother's day; a day to remember and celibate the remarkable people that have set all else aside to dedicate their lives to their children. Nobody else in this world is as devoted to another individual's well being as a mother is to their child. Even now, long after childhood, I am amazed to see my own mom putting me and my sis before herself each and every day. It is am amazing gift and something I feel I could never fully return. But of course, she would ask nothing of me and assure me that she is proud of her children and will love us unconditionally until the end of time.

The journey a mother undergoes while bringing up children is something I can hardly understand, especially when I was a kid. When we are young, we easily take our mother's efforts for granted and see it as a normal part of our upbringing. I'm sure any mom want's to make things as comfortable as possible for their kid and by doing so we rarely see the adversity they tackle every day to keep us safe and happy. Looking back, my sister and I couldn't have made it any easier for her or my dad. It's astounding that any person could persevere with what is often times such challenging and thankless effort.

The story of Hana and her wolf children is one that rings very true in my heart. Her struggle to raise two children on her own and the passion that motivates her is inspiring. What I find most moving is that her story in many ways is no different from any mother's. All mothers must have found themselves caring for, what would seem like wild baby creatures that depended on their care to survive and not quite knowing what to do at times. To Hana, her relationship with her love, the adversity of raising their kids, their move into the mountains, and watching her children grow was a new and frightening direction for her life that I believe most mothers can relate to. This entire movie is a testament to the beauty, burden, and melancholy of motherhood.

I absolutely adore Wolf Children because it brings to light the truly valiant and selfless nature of motherhood and shows much of the fear, heartache, and wonder that comes with raising children and letting them free into the world. I hope everyone has the opportunity to watch this film and see their own parents in Hana's shoes as she takes on the terrifying and miraculous lifelong adventure of being a mom.

Ico - A True Experience

When you think of the word "experience" regarding video games, or any media for that mater, you may be inclined to think of moments. Events in something you watched or something you played that really stood out. It might be the death defying leap out of a cargo plane in Uncharted 3 or the mystifying walk through the forests of Pandora in Avatar. Moments like these were made to capture the imagination of the audience and leave us in awe. Generally, these are the moments that we remember and attach ourselves to when looking back. Most every large production has these kinds of spectacles in the hopes too create a memorable and long-lasting experience to cherish for years to come. However, most games coming out in recent years don't seem to stick as well as they would have liked. This is because most people look to games for an experience but it seems like games have forgotten what that truly means.

If you step away from the use of this word in entertainment you will remember it's origin in life itself. It no longer means seeing something spectacular and vicariously living it. Instead it means doing and feeling something first hand and taking the knowledge with you. Part of this does involve seeing but it also means personal mental and physical investment. Someone who has actually experienced what it's like to jump out of a plane or explore a forest will say there is much more to it than just a view. There is the adrenaline of mortal danger or the excitement of discovery. The wind on your face or the smell of the trees all around. Most importantly of all; a true experience isn't always going to be positive. What makes true life experiences so worth while is the challenge, pain, and stress involved in reaching a goal. Having undergone the trials and mastered the task makes the achievement so much more fulfilling and memorable in the end. This is part of nature and it is what keeps us striving for what's just outside our reach.

Ico is a beautiful game from an important time in video game history where game's didn't always pull the player along from beginning to end. While at the best of times, gorgeous, peaceful and mysterious, Ico is, at the worst of times, cryptic, confusing, frustrating and generally stressful to play for good portions of the game. Much of the fault is due to my kid self not understanding the puzzles at the time but the game is still inherently challenging. Figuring out how to progress through an obstetrical while the numerous shadow monsters attempt to steal Yorda away is made all the more difficult due to the cumbersome fighting system and quirky platforming. Regardless of the games shortcomings, those who persevere will enjoy a heroic journey through that haunting castle and a conclusion to be remembered by fans for many years to come.

While the game's atmosphere, visuals, and gamepaly give a breathtaking sense immersion, I can't say that after playing the game, I now know what it is like to be Ico and have experience that journey first hand. I can say, however, that playing the game itself was the actual experience. Hitting those lows and reaching those heights all added to the final payoff once the game concludes. Much like any life experience, Ico demands effort, endurance and time from the player before rewarding triumph but once it's completed, the memory of playing is very fond and stays relevant in our lives, perhaps forever. In contrast, it is plenty of fun watching Nathan Drake carry out some kind of high stakes action scenario no mater how many times I see it but what I take away from that doesn't stick in the same way. I don't have anything to move forward with other than the remarkable thing I did with Nate and how I just want to go back and do it all over again.

The way games are handled now is very similar to how a blockbuster is. A lot of the value relies on the visuals and set pieces. I'm a huge fan of both movies and games of this nature but what ends up happening is we get games that feel more like empty calories; games that just don't seem to stick or become as important because they are rarely challenging or confusing us. Ico, and other games of that essence seem to shine brightest and burn longest because having to push onward through the strain and see all the wonders that the game has in store is a true life experience.

Resident Evil 4 - All Aboard!

When I was growing up, I missed out on most of the Resident Evil games. By the time I knew about the series, the PS2 was well into its life cycle and I had already devoted myself to a more fast paced game called Onimusha. Comparatively, they are pretty similar as they both have the player dispatching the undead and solving puzzles in dark and creepy locations. But where Onimusha only had its first two games going on; both of which I had already played through and knew very well, RE had numerous installments and a very complex plot. I distinctly remember looking at the RE series and being overwhelmed by its long history and lore. There were seven or eight games out already before I even heard of the series and by the looks of it, there was quite a bit to read up on if I wanted to make sense of the elaborate setting and cast of characters. Even to this day, I'm still turned off by the series' convoluted plot and science-fiction-style zombie setting. When it comes to horror, I prefer a more primal and mysterious approach with much less explanation.

Resident Evil 4 was announced and slipped right under my radar. As you might imagine, the thought of yet another RE installment didn't really take me by surprise. If it weren't for the impressive visuals in the trailer I caught on G4 or IGN at the time, I would have never acknowledged it. When the game was finally out on the Game Cube, my good friend, who was much more cognizant of current video games, picked it up and invited me over to play one night. Regardless of having no expectations for what the game might be like, the two of us found ourselves completely absorbed. Even if we weren't fully aware of it, just like the hundreds of thousands of other players who picked up the game, we could feel that we were experiencing something far ahead of its time. We stayed up playing until early in the morning the next day. It was a genuinely immersive experience. We both wanted to see what happened next and to continue exploring these detailed and atmospheric locations. It was nothing like either of us had ever experienced; in fact, there was nothing else like it before then. Even next to the previous games in the series, this game set itself far apart.

One of my favorite aspects of this game and one of the main reasons why I was able to jump right in without yet having played the previous games is the way it builds off of the earlier installments. Instead of picking right up where the last game left off and continuing the plot, it uses the established story and setting but then steps aside and charts its own path. Because it is such a diversion from the overarching story, it made it much easier to get on board. The events in the game seem much more isolated and less about the big picture and that all works to its advantage. I was able to focus on what was happening in the moment as I followed the characters on their perilous trek through the rural countryside and uncovered the grotesque secrets of the inhabitants living there.

With video games, you tend to see story coming front and center or it is left alone to make way for a more gameplay-driven experience. RE4 struck a great balance by having the story there for fans who were interested while also letting the events of the game play out and not be held up by the backstory and exposition. I know there are plenty of references to the prior games, but because they weren't relevant to me, I could overlook them or in some cases completely ignore them altogether. Without any tie-ins to the previous games or any involved exposition, the game still makes for a wonderful survival horror game because of its exquisite pacing, eerie atmosphere, finely tuned gameplay, and its own fresh approach to the RE mythology. For the developers to take an established zombie series and introduce a fascinating and all-new infliction is very extraordinary and something to be proud of.

With a long series like Resident Evil, it is important to change things up to bring in a wider audience and I'm sure they were very aware of that when they were developing RE4. While it still holds true to many of the core characteristics that made the former games as great as they are, it also changes the formula and creates a fresh experience that more people can easily enjoy and that stands on its own to this day. Without this departure, the series would have held just as much interest to me as before, regardless of further releases. But instead, it brought to life one of the most innovative games ever made, set a new standard for future action games, and became one of my absolute favorites of all time.

Welcome to MotorStorm

With the new Mad Max movie right around the corner, I've been finding myself in quite the mood. It gets me thinking of the first time I ever heard of Mad Max. Of course it was my dad that introduced me. He brought up the movie when we used to take our ATV's out to explore the woods. Every so often we would come across old rusted car wrecks that were left there by their owners after being run to death and abandoned. The rotting overgrown metal skeletons had a lot of character to them and always emanated a sense of mystery and wonder for me. My dad said it reminded him of the crazy modified junkers of Mad Max.

Many would say the stars of those movies were the cars and I wouldn't be one to disagree however if you asked me, they seemed more like battle machines rather than vehicles. Fitted with scraps of metal plates artlessly welded and riveted to their steal frames and driven by as much horsepower the marauder could get their hands on, these metal heaps were made for the sole intention of being fast and deadly. When it comes to the mindset of a race, it's all about being the first one across the finish line by any means necessary and these ironclad abominations personify that feeling in such a primal way.

Looking at Motorstorm puts me in that exact mindset. The cars aren't super tuned, shining sports cars made for comfort and safety, these are busted up decommissioned veterans packed with too much horsepower and equipped some kind of speed boost that would scare the adhesive off of any inspection sticker. Somewhere between a demolition derby vehicle and a race car reside these proud scrapyard warriors. For me, the most appealing aspect of this design is each vehicle becomes it's own character. By looking at them, you get a glimpse of where it came from, where it's been and what kind of person sit's behind the wheel or worked under the hood. My favorite element in any story; the part I attach myself to the most are the characters and as a big fan of racing games, this is the first time where I felt that same connection with the vehicles. Because the vehicles have that much personality, it helps to create this great setting Motorstorm has where people from all over have gathered to put their creations to the test and prove their stuff in a brutal and unforgiving tournament.

When I first played Motorstorm it quickly became my favorite racing game and remains to this day because of its thrilling gameplay, unique setting and beautiful presentation that holds up even in this new generation. That same sense of high-stakes, die-hard racing that Mad Max inspired lives in this game and is refined into its highest concentration of madness. This game never lets up. The other racers are ruthless and will do what ever it takes to reach first place even if it means taking you out with them. There is rarely a time when you aren't dodging the flaming wreck of an opponent that's flipping through the air or another racer flying in to ram you off the track. Opposing drivers aren't the only thing out to get you; the track itself takes on a character of its own and puts your vehicle and your nerve through its paces. When it comes down to it, you have to be fast but ripping through the mud and dirt at insane speeds will go against every impulse in your brain as you wonder how you even managed to make it through that narrow rocky pass or drift around that cliff's brink. The tracks have you on the edge of your seat feeling like you could fall to your doom at any moment and by the end, you're thankful to even cross the finish line intact.

Motorstorm added something really unique to racing games with it's overall style and attitude, grand tournament setting, expressive vehicle designs, and treacherous environments. Everything from it's visual presentation to the music all played their part in creating that perfect energy and excitement for each race and I hope that it won't be long before we see another game follow in its path.

Onimusha: Warlords - One Hell of a Night

A good atmosphere is something a lot of games and movies strive to achieve. One of the main reasons I, personally develop games is because I want to create something that gives off a particular feeling to who ever is playing or watching. Most people developing games are after a similar outcome but because it is such a large and complicated task, many games that do try, end up falling flat or not quite reaching the captivating effect they were after. This is why when a game is successful in creating an enveloping atmosphere, it is a remarkable accomplishment. Ico and Shadow of The Colossus are very well known examples of games that emanate with thick and mystifying atmosphere. Because there are so many, I can't speak for all the reasons why but I know it is at least in part due to the game's pacing. Both those games take their time in presenting the environment to the player and let them go through it at their own pace. The setting takes on a real weight when presented this way and I believe it plays a big part in making the player feel like they are part of this world instead of just passing through. But why am I talking about the atmosphere and pacing of SoTC and Ico? The title clearly reads 'Onimusha: Warlords'! Last time I checked, these games have nothing to do with each other!

For the most part, my two examples are very different from Onimusha but they do share at least one thing in common. It is something I have come to associate very heavily with great atmospheric games and movies. It may seem like a simple observation with little meaning but what these three games share in common is they all take place in real time. What I mean by that is, while playing, the game never forces the player through time or between scenarios. The time within the game remains consistent with the world and I think this has a great deal to do with their substantial atmosphere and overall appeal. Even more unique to Onimusha: Warlords is that it takes place over the course of one night. The Protagonist travels through the battle torn and corps laden countryside at sunset and reaches the ominous castle by the time night falls. From here, the game consists of searching the perplexing pathways and lonesome corridors of the castle, unlocking its secrets, and making very strange and horrific encounters throughout the night. The events that take place in the castle feel isolated and because of that, all the more urgent. There are no jump cuts into the future, no breaks away from the setting to disrupt the pacing or tone, and no relief from the terrors the lurk inside the rooms and dungeons. All of it is left to build up on top it itself and create a very tense and ominous atmosphere. It is clear that what ever happens from this point on, and however grueling and morbid the events of the night may get, the player is stranded in a castle full of undead monsters right along side our hero.

This is a feeling that I have always gotten from this game as well as others with darker horror settings but never relay noticed how or why. It wasn't until collage when I watched the movie 'Who's Afraid of Verginia Woolf?' that it was brought to my attention. As I highly recommend anyone who is a fan of physiological drama to watch this, I will try to keep this short and not to spoil anything.

The film begins with a couple making their way home late at night from a family gathering. When they arrive home, the thoroughly drunk wife informs her husband that she has invited a much younger couple over for some drinks. The husband gets aggravated because he wasn't informed of this beforehand and she is in no state for entertaining guests. The young couple arrives and soon find themselves in the middle of some kind of marital battle between the older couple that gets out of hand. As the night goes on, the film begins delving deeper into the older couples dark and unfortunate past and the young couple, along whit the audience, is in for a long, uncomfortable, and threatening night's stay.

As the events of the film play out and the night goes on, most everything is taking place in real time. There are never any cuts that take the characters more than a few minutes from where they were and the tension in the atmosphere continues to build up. It is easy to relate to the exhausted and delirious state of mind most people find themselves in during a long night forced to be awake through. It is times like these where the mind tires and our judgement becomes impaired. We switch into a primal state of thinking and become much more cautious of our surroundings. This is why most horror stories take place at night; it is the furthest most people can get from feeling comfortable. But instead of using the night simply as a backdrop, both Onimusha and Virginia Wolf  use it as a device to create an unsettling atmosphere that wears you down as the night draws out. By the end of the movie or by the end of the game, you really feel like you have been to hell and back with the characters. After seeing this movie, and picking up on the mood it sets, it's easier to see how a lot of horror themed games use a very similar feeling to this effect. Onimusha: Warlords was one of the first games I ever played with this trait and it is partly because of it that I still admire it today.

Onimusha: Warlords was the first horror game I ever played and the memories of spending late nights with my friends all snuggled into our sleeping bags, trying to solve puzzles that were way over our heads are some of my most cherished. Although it was my first entry into the horror genre, its technique for creating a truly haunting and immersive atmosphere is something I still look for in horror games today.