Monthly Archives: December 2014

Because I am….[dramatic pause] an assassin!*

I don’t write much about playing videogames, but I really should because it’s an activity often criticized as the definition of frivolous. Current cultural hierarchy still dictates that playing a video game is a bigger waste of time than reading a book. Which is frankly, prejudicial and wrong.

Really, there are so many terrible, books out there that took less time, effort, and talent to create than many video games.

Anyway, for those of you unfamiliar with the “Assassin’s Creed” series, it is a gaming experience that satisfies the urge to live in another time, but as a much cooler person, and without all the unpleasant diseases and smells!

In this case, you’re an assassin in a secret society of assassins whose origins date back to the time of the Crusades. But you’re not REALLY that person; you’re someone who is allowed to re-live parts of that assassin’s life through the technology of a mysterious company called Abstergo.

Yeah. I don’t get it either.

In fact, the storylines are all makeshift, the acting is strictly “meh” to “meeeeeh”, and the characters suffer from the video game malady of dead, dead eyes. There is really no satisfying character development in any of the games.

Despite all this, they are hugely enjoyable! Throughout the series, you parkour your way through ancient Jerusalem, Renaissance Italy, colonial America, pirate towns, and revolutionary Paris. These venerable locations are transformed into gigantic jungle gyms, where you can climb, jump, and swing with reckless abandon.

As someone who loves both travel and has terrible real life coordination, it’s a crazy fun, vicarious living, experience. Ubisoft has done great work with their environments, and the settings are beautiful. They have paid special attention to accuracy around famous monuments, making it extra fun if you’ve been to any of these places in real life. While playing the game set in Rome, I was able to walk around and say “well, the Forum should be right about there…” because I gone to Rome a few months earlier. It was amazing, and felt like virtual time travel.

You can also indulge in your inner, bratty, eight year old, because your bad behavior is only minimally upsetting to the AI driven witnesses. Sure, once in awhile, a villager disapproves of your recklessness and a guard will protest more aggressively. But the AI settings of the characters are lower than the IQ of that paste eating kid you knew in kindergarten, so outwitting them only requires jumping into one of the many conveniently located haystacks and shallow wells that speckle the environment.

(Haystacks are the invisibility cloaks of the Assassin’s Creed universe; not effective if someone actually watches you when you start using it, but practically foolproof otherwise.)

While some might complain that the AI should be better that so everyone around you isn’t so stupid, I’ll argue that this is part of the appeal. Not only do you have superhero skills, but you are, by default, the smartest person in history! You and only you can skillfully navigate around a box or out of a corner, with 75-90% accuracy.

The stickiness of the controls means that for the remaining percentage, you will find yourself inadvertently running up a wall or jumping into the abyss. But this is a video game: fatality is just a temporary inconvenience for you and anyone else in the game that you might accidentally kill.

I’ve spent so many hours, over the last few years, playing these games, and I always look forward to the next one, despite all their noted shortcomings. I was really looking forward to the most recent one, “Assassin’s Creed: Unity” which takes place in Paris, one of my favorite cities in real life.

Unfortunately this iteration of the series was released with so many bugs, that it’s become its own “thing.” So it seems wise to hold off on buying it until those issues are addressed. However, I can’t wait to play it when they are, because the screenshots that aren’t all messed up, look gorgeous.

And who hasn’t dreamt of having their Quasimodo moment of scrambling up Notre Dame, and shouting “SANCTUARY!”

…just me? Ok.

*Something that is never said in the games, but seems like it should have been.



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Guys, guys, the new Hobbit movie, “The Battle of Five Armies” is pretty bad…

I’ll do my best to refrain from spoilers, even though you know, how can you really spoil a movie that’s about a book that is older than I am (and I’m no spring chicken-cluck! cluck!)?

First off, let me just say how much I loved, loved, loved, the first three LOTR movies. They are my “comfort food” of movies; I watch them when I’m sick- and they’re perfect. They are so long that by the time I finish watching all three of the extended versions, I’m well on my way to recovery. (I sleep for all the Treebeard sequences, and wake up to watch Aragorn and Legolas running beautifully through Middle Earth).

Count me among the skeptics when I doubted that the prequels would be able to deliver what the original trilogy did for sheer entertainment. And you know, skepticism rewarded! But at least the first two managed to hold together a semblance of something familiar and loved. I made allowances because frankly, I just wanted to see more of Middle Earth. Like going to a once favorite restaurant that has gone downhill. But hey, the breadsticks are still good!

Well, sad to say, the breadsticks are stale by this last, and one hopes, final glimpse of Middle Earth.

The good news; I thought the actors really did a great job. It’s easy to overlook this, because these types of movies are about spectacle. It’s even more amazing considering the frequent lack of physical sets or other actors to play against (more on the obviousness of this later).  However, it’s unfortunate that they were emoting such big emotions, because I had already completely forgotten what they were upset about. I wonder if it’s even possible for those of us who didn’t have the book engraved into long term memory to care. The only thing I remembered about the previous movie; The Desolation of Smaug, was that there was a big dragon. Arkenstone? What’s an Arkenstone? Who’s that? Why is she upset? Why is he crying? What’s going on?

The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies, turned me into my mom while watching it.

For those of you just looking for a VFX spectacle, well… Here’s the thing,  it would have been nice for some visual consistency. The original movies had a lot of actual sets and more real actors. While I understand the desire to green screen a lot of backgrounds (more flexibility, and a lot of extra details), when these shots are juxtaposed next to natural shots of the actors walking in the beautiful outdoors, it shows. The green screened shots are stylized in lighting and tone. The outdoor ones, are not. There’s an odd gloss to the former that made me think of “Sky Captains, World of Tomorrow”. It’s not terrible, but it’s a really different look. If they had all the VFX shots labled as “Bilbo Baggins’ Dream Sequence”, I might have been okay with it.

Overall, this movie just feels hectic. Look over there elves! Now dwarves! Now people! Now, really odd slapstick! Children in peril! Wait, I can’t keep track, who, what?

Towards the end, Peter Jackson had thrown so many showy moments at the audience, I felt like he was trolling us.


This will make perfect sense after you've watched the movie.

This will make perfect sense after you’ve watched the movie.

My recommendation is that if you really need a new LOTR fix, watch the really great publicity that was done for this movie’s release. Stephen Colbert interviewed Smaug, and also wrote a lovely article in Entertainment Weekly about the entire franchise.

And SNL did a great LOTR, “The Office” mashup, that’s been making the rounds.

But I know you’re still going to go see it. So for a management of expectations scale, it’s still not Transformers bad.

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