WEEK IN GEEK: This week, Andrew and D. Bethel let you in on the newest in modern entertainment. Andrew takes a dip into Nickelodeon’s 2005 animated show, Avatar: The Last Airbender, while Dan finds himself charmed by the 2015 RPG by CD Projekt Red, The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt.
Shortcast 76 – “A Sense of Place” (30 Nov. 2020): Where D. Bethel mentions Red Dead Redemption 2 in a conversation with Andrew (who uses Fallout 76 as his example) to talk about world-building in video games and how they can be subtle with giving information to players to draw them in.
“Playing the Menu” (20 March 2020): Where Andrew picks up The Witcher 3 after being inspired to do so by watching the Netflix show.
“A Casualty of the Rhyme” (22 May 2020): Where Taylor Katcher shows up to talk to the hosts about the Snyder Cut being released on HBO Max.
WEEK IN GEEK: This week, Andrew watches the trippy but artistic and engaging new Amazon Prime show, Undone starring Rosa Salazar, while D. Bethel––amidst all of his academic toil––finds time to be challenged and charmed by the actual roguelike deckbuilding phone game, Meteorfall: Journey by SlothWerks.
FALL (TV IS) BACK: With the summer doldrums of tv coming to a close, Andrew and D. Bethel discuss the Fall tv they’re looking forward to, including the debut of a new Doctor (and production team) with series 11 of Doctor Who, Andrew’s circumspect approach to the reboot Magnum and quizzical anticipation for Alton Brown’s Good Eats Reloaded, D. Bethel’s blind eagerness for the new season of The Gifted and Outlander, and both hosts’ skepticism of the new Riggs-less third season Lethal Weapon. It’s nerdy Fall tv front to back.
E3 tends to throw a lot of information––and games––at the public. D. Bethel has thoughts on a few of them.
Having been a console-first gamer my entire gaming life, I tend to pay close attention to the news and videos coming out of the annual Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3). At this point, I don’t get particularly hyped about the games that get announced (I hear people that hit social media after a press conference exclaiming, seemingly in earnest, “I NEED THIS GAME NOW!” Chill, dude) especially since few games shown at E3 anymore are surprises, having been announced months or years earlier. If anything, being a guy who is way into process, I’m excited to see what state these previously announced games are in and what kind of games they actually end up being. It’s like a big public presentation of the middle portion of the transition from idea to final product.
With that in mind, there a few games really stood out to me, with a few that may have slipped under the larger coverage of the show.
The games I discuss in Shortcast 59 are only from the Sony press conference. Though I’ll be broadening my scope for this Spotlight, there was one game from Sony’s exhibition really got its hooks in me.
Sucker Punch is a studio with whom I’m nominally familiar. I never played the Infamous series of games, having been an Xbox 360 owner at the time of their release, but the idea intrigued me enough and the general response to the series was always positive, nor had I touched a Sly Cooper game as 3D platformers never really appealed to me despite the series’ general good regard among the community. With that said, I hold neither Sucker Punch nor their upcoming game, Ghost of Tsushima, to any metric aside from what they show of the game itself.
And what they showed of Ghost is fire.
In fact, it seems like a game made specifically for D. Bethel. According to Sucker Punch creative director, Nate Fox, Ghost is a wholly linear, narrative-focused game that takes the player through 13th century Japan in the midst of a war with the Mongols. With that, teenaged Dan, the Japanese history nerd, perked up. Additionally, it’s a historical samurai action game with no supernatural elements whatsoever as Sucker Punch aimed for “a grounded game.” Comicker D. Bethel, who’s making a western webcomic with no supernatural elements, perked up as well. Combined with the deliberate combat that looked similar (though let’s hope it’s not too similar) to Bushido Blade and Way of the Samurai, super gamer nerd Dan became invested.
Like with Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption before it, the idea of a AAA grounded historical game that isn’t simply a tactical war game nor an RPG seems like an avenue less explored by big studios; so to see Sucker Punch tackle it (and with Red Dead Redemption 2 out this October!), I’m definitely keeping my eye on this one where, before, it wasn’t in my field of vision at all.
Sable – Shedworks (PC only at the time of this announcement) – Late 2019
Here’s where I walk back my console cred and mention a PC game. E3 held what it called its “PC Gaming Show” that showcased upcoming PC games in the same manner that other press conferences showcased console-focused games. Tucked among those games was Sable, and I can’t believe it’s real.
Games––like any art––start with an idea; often, that idea can be rather abstract.
I’ve watched the trailer a few times and I know it’s a game, but I couldn’t tell you what kind of game it is yet. The visuals stunned me. Surely a lot of people are going to be calling this a “hand-drawn” game, which it obviously isn’t. Instead, it’s doing some high-level and artistic cell shading that eerily––EERILY––evokes the work of French cartoonist, Jean Giraud (aka Mœbius). Most accurately, it seems to be an homage to his long-running Métal hurlant (a magazine Giraud co-created and was published in the US as Heavy Metal) strip, Arzach.
Created by the two-person UK developer, Shedworks, their main source of inspiration seems to be from the strides in open-world development that The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild made than directly trying to interpret the work of Giraud into a video game space. Instead, the game apparently focuses more on the exploration and interaction with this breathtaking landscape rather than on RPG-like character growth and battle. Apparently, there’s no combat at all in the game, which is an intriguing proposition (No combat?! How is that even possible?!?!) that brought with it, to an extent, an internal sigh of relief. Finally, something different aside from just the visuals.
My joy doesn’t come from gleefully pointing out that this game seems to ape Mœbius’ style or comic at all––there’s no joy in that––but that this game vivifies his aesthetic perfectly. This must look like what the artist had in his head from which he could only capture still frames and arrange them on a page. Of all the games being written about, Sable genuinely gave me pause.
Sea of Solitude – Jo-Mei (PS4, XBox One, PC) – Early 2019
As an academic English person––albeit one who specialized in Composition and Rhetoric––whenever popular culture reveals a literary depth to it, it draws my attention with laser precision.
I heard on a podcast––sadly, I don’t remember which one, but probably Waypoint Radio––about a game shown during EA’s press conference that caught people off guard because Cornelia Geppert, the creative director of German indie studio, Jo-Mei, got surprisingly emotional and thoughtful when presenting the game, Sea of Solitude.
While “getting emotional” seems to be a highly subjective term––Geppert comes across as more nervous and genuinely excited to show off her game at the largest gaming trade show in the United States––her candor with the game’s themes andwhat they are trying to say with the game surprised me more.
A major argument in the discourse around games is that they are superficial entertainment, escapist power-fantasy exercises and that’s the baseline level of appreciation for them. Some even argue that such an angle should be our only appreciation of them (“Keep politics out of games!” “Keep your X agenda out of games!” “Games should be more like they were before!” etc.).
The problem with that is games are made by people who think very hard about their games. Like with any creative product (or any product), the consumer doesn’t usually see the majority of effort that went into making it. That’s part of why we are so quick to offer hot takes on games, movies, comics, toys, videos, etc. We are reacting to the product put in front of us, not seeing the complex web of thought, ability, and troubleshooting behind the shiny veneer. To an extent, good games look effortlessly made.
Games––like any art––start with an idea; often, that idea can be rather abstract. This has become more visible as creators have been more vocal with their process. From Hideo Kojima’s thematic and increasingly abstract approach to his Metal Gear Solid series to the small and decisively personal games like Brothers and Papo y Yo, consumers are seeing the level of critical and artistic effort creators put into their games.
Usually we hear these things after a game’s release. That Jo-Mei presented their literary ambition first, before the trailer, partly illustrates why I liked their segment of the press conference so much. This seems like a huge step forward for the developer whose previous games don’t seem like anything that really broke through to the larger critical discussion.
Luckily, the game looks stylish and fun––like LIMBO or INSIDE crossed with a post-apocalyptic anime––I’m excited because it piqued my academic interests while also being a game that––superficially––looks like it’ll be a fun time.
E3 has been particularly exciting this year. After a year or two of the industry being hit hard by extreme successes (2017 was an outstanding year for games) and existential dilemmas (voice actor strike, labor issues, continuing GamerGate behavior), seeing good games at the show as well as developers tackling some of these issues (both positively and negatively) head on puts this E3 ahead in a lot of ways. At the very least, we get good games out of the static as developers, journalists, and players try to move the medium forward and upward.
WEEK IN GEEK: Andrew talks about the premier of the new (and final) season of Star Wars: Rebels while D. Bethel talks about Netflix’s new based-on-a-true-story-kind-of David Fincher-led crime drama, Mindhunter.
SPOOKYTOBER: In celebration of the scariest month of the year, Andrew and D. discuss a movie each that really, truly gave them the scaries. Andrew discusses the cult classic, Jacob’s Ladder, while D. discusses the forgotten gothic horror of The Others.
Episode 20 – “Hydra Healthcare”: A previous Spookytober episode where, in the discussion, D. and Andrew discuss the video games that scared or unsettled them.
WEEK IN GEEK: Andrew dives into Paizo’s newest RPG, Starfinder (starts at 2:34), while D. Bethel checks out the premier episode of Disney XD’s reboot of DuckTales (19:46).
REAL MONSTERS: (30:45) Dan and Andrew just hang back and have a conversation rather than a guided discourse about Nazis in popular culture. They go all over the place, but hover around the topic of how (and why) they’re used in fiction.
WEEK IN GEEK: In a fit of nostalgia, Andrew picks up The Sims 3 again (starts at 1:49) while Dan can’t get past a nit-pick to enjoy anything Netflix’s Castlevania has to offer (20:46).
SDCC 2017: [starts at 34:04] It was a big weekend for nerd culture as the San Diego Comic Con dropped a bunch of new trailers on the world. Dan and Andrew look at three trailers and how they seem to be pointing out the creative direction of their respective studios with Marvel’s Thor: Ragnarok, DC/Warner Bros.’ Justice League, and Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One.
For reference, here are the three trailers the discussion focuses on.
WEEK IN GEEK: Andrew learns about the seedy underbelly of LEGO knock-offs while Dan preps for the upcoming Wonder Woman movie by watching the 2009 animated film.
DOCTOR WHO KNEW?: Dan and Andrew discuss their skeptical praise for the current series of Doctor Who. Five episodes in and all episodes have been undeniably good so far. Should they be waiting with baited breath for the show to stumble as it has done for the last five series? Or should they let their freak flag fly once again?
WAKING LIFE: Remedy Entertainment’s 2010 sleeper hit, Alan Wake, was summarily pulled from all digital storefronts last weekend due to the lapsing of the licenses paid for music featured in the game. It’s a strange situation considering exactly how many games––even those released before Alan Wake––use licensed music and are still available for purchase.
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Batman: The Animated Series has become a show whose perennial place in nerd culture is all but assumed and revered. Andrew and I discussed the show, albeit briefly, back in Episode 59 – BTAS, as a segue to talk about dreams and dreaming in fiction, but the show, obviously, has done a lot more than that throughout its 110 episodes across seven years of airing (I’m including The New Batman Adventures in the tally). When talking about the show, one conversation that must surface is its diversity of storytelling and the risks it took. What set the show apart from not only every other animated series on American television may also have set it apart from nearly any other television that aired at the time of its release. Namely, it’s willingness to have strange, experimental episodes that challenged the expectations of superhero fans and television viewers.
Sure, it will be remembered for its strong, more traditional, Batman stories like “Heart of Ice”, “The Demon’s Quest”, and “Robin’s Reckoning (Parts 1 and 2)”––the last of which won an Emmy––but it will also be remembered for its non-traditional, esoteric stories like “Perchance to Dream”, “Legends of the Dark Knight”, “Over the Edge”, and “Almost Got ‘Im.” It was a show that learned to take risks, and what’s fascinating is that, apparently, a lot of that ethos was there from the start.
One of my prized possessions, creatively, is a book written by Paul Dini and Chip Kidd called Batman: Animated which covers the history of the show and is filled with amazing photos of everything from concept art to marketing photos for Batman-branded soap. But a bit of space is devoted to the development of the idea of what Batman: The Animated Series would be, hinting at the thorough show bible that Paul Dini, Bruce Timm, and Mitch Brian put together. Basically, a show bible is a treatise on the characters, stories, tone, and plan for a tv show used to keep the studio on track as well as acting as a set of guidelines for artists and writers hired to work for the show. Somehow––and thankfully so––the show bible has gotten out there in pdf form and it is as glorious as I was hoping it would be.
Whitbrook points out in his article (which also has a link to the pdf) that the show bible takes firm stances in how the creators saw the show. Even if the show wiggled its way out of those chains a bit as it went on (you can’t not have a bat signal), its overall view of the character himself was carved from stone and rooted in change from the status quo:
One big emphasis throughout the bible is an ardent desire to tell darker Batman stories; after all, the last solo Batman TV series before this one was Batman ‘66. Like Tim Burton’s 1989 movie, The Animated Series sought to distance itself from that interpretation. Sometimes it did so subtly, with mentions like “no Bat Signal or hotline” to keep him separate from the Gotham police, or by making Robin an occasional partner rather than a full-time companion.
While the show worked its hardest to separate Batman from his previous televised iterations to make him into the brooding loner we all know and love, what Whitbrook’s article and its attached copy of the Batman: The Animated Series show bible illustrate (pardon the pun) is how something as important and groundbreaking as this show actually came together through an almost supernatural synchronicity of passionate, creative people who were willing to break the rules every now and then and try something new with, at the time, a forty year-old medium and a sixty year-old character.
Although I court a lot of pushback as soon as I say it, I feel pretty lucky to have grown up reading comic books when I did, in the early 1990s. For those with vehement dissenting positions to this opinion, I offer a truce by completely agreeing with you when you say the content of this point in comics history was rather lacking as creators felt the need to push good taste to its limits in many different ways. However, these comics were connecting with kids––with me––and while I can’t say their influence was all beneficial, they certainly stirred the imagination. With that in mind, a lot of choices made both narratively and, especially, artistically at the time are nigh inexcusable when held up against modern criteria.
In light of the speculator market and the inflated sense of worth the industry had of itself at the time, for a fan the early ’90s were quite exciting in spite of all of that. It was this excitement for not only the characters, stories (what there were of those, at least), and creators that drove us back to the shops every week, but it was also the industry as a whole during this time, especially during the flashpoint formation of Image Comics. I remember the creation of Image Comics happening. I remember thinking it was really weird. I remember being really excited for it, as well. (A good documentary about the formation of Image Comics exists, called Image Revolution, that is well worth the viewing.)
As the ’90s faded away and the market crashed and Marvel went bankrupt and the industry and its fans actually had some time for critical self-reflection, Image Comics, as it had started out, became the pennant we could all point to and say, “That, right there, is what was wrong with comics in the ’90s.” In some ways, such assertions are very true. Fast-forward twenty years, though, and the “worst” in industry has become the outstanding front runner for thoughtful, challenging, and earnest comics above almost all other publishers. The about-face is astounding and couldn’t have been written better for fear of being too cliché and feel-good. But it all comes down to the principles that formed the bedrock (or badrock, harhar) of the company, as iterated by Jensen in his article:
Image had two rules: all comics were owned by their creators, and no Image creator would interfere with another’s business.
As it stands today, Image Comics is a beacon in the industry and is at the top of its game. I’m sure many people lament the 180-degree turn from its superheroic start––I experience light pangs as I think about it but shrug them off––but there’s no doubt that what Image is doing today aligns (at least in theory) with the concept that founded the company: complete independence. Because of that, Image books are bringing more attention to creators, more good to the industry, and better comics for readers, and I wouldn’t trade that for the gun-toting, veiny-muscled, blood-soaked comics of yore any day of the week.
Fans of classic Doctor Who already know about tonight’s US premier of the newly re-constituted (or, more appropriately, regenerated) story, “The Power of the Daleks,” first aired in November and December of 1966. Lost in the infamous archive purge that the BBC went through in the early 1970s, the story was targeted for an animated form after several other stories received animated supplements (e.g., “The Invasion,” “The Reign of Terror“). The big difference with this story is that (a) the entire story had to be animated due to the loss of any complete episodes; and (b) this was Patrick Troughton’s first story as the Doctor, taking over after William Hartnell’s departure. In that regard, this is a pivotal story in the history of Doctor Who because it presents the audience with “regeneration” (or, as described in the story, “renewal”) for the first time.
More recently, the BBC announced that this story will also be done with a separate color-animated version, to be included as a separate digital download or as an added feature to the DVD release. One can assume that they based the animation’s colors on production stills from the episode. It can even be seen in the color choice for the Daleks, who sport the classic 1960s white/gray and blue exterior.
This is unexpected, as all of the previous black-and-white Doctor Who stories had been released without any color added. It probably more represents a feature of the animation process and less a desire to colorize old episodes. Previously, a number of Third Doctor stories have been re-colorized by the Doctor Who Restoration Team; only black-and-white versions of color episodes had been retained, so the team used relatively sophisticated methods to restore color to the footage. But there had been no discussion (until now, at least) of adding color to the historically black-and-white episodes.
The question remains to be seen as to whether or not this will be attempted for other episodes. The Restoration Team has done “special editions” and re-cuts of some of the later episodes, including a substantively re-worked rendition of “Enlightenment” and a re-cut “movie version” of “The Curse of Fenric.” It may be simply that “The Power of the Daleks” was a big enough episode to warrant special treatment. Maybe “The Unearthly Child” or “The War Games” will warrant a special colorized version as well. Only time will tell.