Interactive Friction Season 4 & The Making Of A Trailer

After a longer break than I expected, but still appreciated, Interactive Friction has returned. This time however I’m going to work harder to keep on schedule, and I’ve already completed the first step by editing all the footage prior to this trailer going up. Additionally season 5’s raw footage is already mostly recorded, and the audio for our new project is primed for editing. The latter of these should be what to expect next from Brandon and I.

Now about the trailer. Since season 2 I’ve been making an effort to create “teaser” trailers for each upcoming season, though season 3 was the only one that was vague in any sense. Regardless I went with a style much more reminiscent of the Tomb Raider trailer, which is very movie-like in its structure. This time though I went another step further by using the cutscene audio wherein Faith sets up the universe, and that posed a novel challenge for me. For instance, when the helicopter blades come by, I had to find matching footage of a copter for that. Same with the footsteps as the music breaks in.

That aside, producing a trailer made me try and think more about how to engage someone and set up their expectations correctly. Since an average audience wants something interesting within the first few moments, I figured using quick cuts over Faith’s monologue would help keep things moving, with characters relevant to her lines appearing as a bit of foreshadowing for new viewers or a nod to previous players.

I also considered having the trailer start with Faith running down a relatively straight path with these moments cutting in when appropriate, because trying to match the flow and rhythm of the source material is another consideration.

Take for instance this Battlefield 4 fan-made trailer.

While it’s easy to dismiss this for it’s rather standard war movie framework, it’s also indicative of how a normal Battlefield match runs. It weighs heavy on the calm before the storm, and when the chaos begins, it never ends. Makes sense for a 64 player shooter.

For Mirror’s Edge it was difficult to think of a way to capture the essence of running without merely showing part of a level off, but its characters are definitely not its strong suit either. In the end I went with the aforementioned matching of Faith’s dialogue while also trying to find pieces of smooth movement. If I had more time to sort through all the footage I would have loved to capture the moments of distinctive animation when Faith slides down escalators, runs along walls, or seamlessly disarms an enemy without breaking her pace.

Mirror’s Edge is a game of motion, and its trailer should reflect that.

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Glitch Gallery #1

Early this month I discovered the joys of databending pictures in new ways. While I used to just use Photoshop to achieve a glitched out look, recently I found out about using Notepad++ for some basic color shifting and using Audacity to create some really messed up images.

For the sake or archiving, and to show off my work a little, I’ve compiled the first batch of images I’ve done here. Hope you enjoy!

The Killing Game: Three Seasons Of Interactive Friction

It’s a little hard for me to believe that not only did I complete a video series, but that I’ve done so three times now without giving out. Truth be told, it’s quite an incredible feeling to look back at a piece that you’ve worked on for so long finally be finished. While I can’t say the content is wholly my own as I don’t own any of these IPs or Brandon Carey, I still poured more hours of labor into this than I ever imagined I would.

I suppose it’s funny to remember then that Interactive Friction started as an incredibly low budget production. By the time it started up Brandon had already gotten me deeply interested in the world of game’s criticism and more recently so “Critical Let’s Plays”, a la Spoiler Warning. So one day, because Brandon’s not one to simply daydream about ideas all day, he got me to start a new game of Far Cry 3 with the idea of discussing the game’s narrative themes and gameplay mechanics with him. At the time I had only a Blue Snowball microphone, a pair of headphones, Skype, and a cursory knowledge of Sony Vegas and general video editing.

In retrospect the first season really doesn’t hold up all that well from a production standpoint, but at the time I considered it a major achievement. Of course, as Brandon and our audience found out eventually, “good enough” is never enough for me.

As this season concludes I’ve gotten a new motherboard and CPU with water cooling to keep the fan noise down, a new monitor with a much bigger screen and higher resolution to help with editing, and a monthly subscription to Adobe’s Creative Cloud suite for photoshopping Thumbnails, creating bumpers, and of course editing the audio and video of each recording.

Editing as much as I do wasn’t the original intention however. At the beginning it was supposed to be just raw footage so it would be easy to simply render out and upload immediately. No audio work, no bumpers. Nothing. That all changed with the advent of season 2. No real editing work took place until about halfway through, but as I would die repeatedly I told Brandon that I wanted to start cutting down what we had to keep it interesting.

This means every video went from simply “record it, upload it, never look at it again” to “test record for audio, record episode, fix audio with hard limiters, carefully scrub footage for dull moments to cut, add in corrections through title text, toss bumpers in, render, and upload”. It’s a lot more work that I ever thought I would do, but it also made me realize that I rather like editing and design, and have since started going to school for it.

The only bothersome point that the editing brings with it is the dramatic change in the flow of the episodes. Much as I don’t like showing my deaths over and over, they, and similarly traveling from one location to another, are part of the game. Even barring missing incidental dialogue from the game or us, it takes a takes away the aspects of a video game that make them wholly unique. If I were to edit the footage to show only the missions or firefights and not the travel in between them it would feel as though the open world structure need not exist. In an effort to keep our viewers interested by creating a more cinematic experience I feel as though there’s a tangible loss in the more “game-like” aspects of the design, and I’m not quite sure how to reconcile that.

As we move forward Brandon and I have already discussed a number of changes that will begin with the next season, big and small.

For right now though, we’re 62 videos in since starting this January, and I’m ready to take a break.

See you in Season 4!

The Texture Pop Podcast Is Over

I originally had a post written up just a few days after this episode aired, but in the following weeks I’ve been pretty well consumed by school and other, more pressing projects.

I suppose in the end that says everything about why the podcast finished in the first place.

Yakuza Movie Review

Part 1 can be read here.

The Yakuza games have mostly been known for their long “cinematic” cutscenes filled with loads of exposition interspersed with furious fights. This isn’t to say the gameplay is terrible (it’s decent), but it stands apart from the quality of the non-interactive pieces. Most of this is due to the great direction, but what really keep the games interesting is the long list of completely ridiculous characters and expertly timed cinematic moments, both funny and serious. While there were some problems with the first game’s plot, I still came away with a positive experience because of that. People like Majima Goro are just that unforgettable.

Two years after the release of the game it’s based of off, Takashi Miike (mostly known in America for his grossly disturbing and yet darkly humorous films) took at stab at directing a film based on the first game. It would be titled Yakuza.

The plot of Yakuza 1 (the game) follows Kazuma Kiryu after he takes the blame for shooting his boss instead of his friend Nishiki Akira. A decade later he’s out of jail and has a web of people and places to sift through to solve a few big problems. Find the missing ten billion yen that threatens to create war among the Yakuza families. Search for Kazuma’s old lover Yumi, and a little girl’s mother. And finally, kill Nishiki after he betrayed him and everyone else to claw his way to the top of the Yakuza underworld.

The movie starts with a couple of gang members holding up a bank on a hot day.

A seriously hot day.

The hottest day of the summer.

A day so hot the movie will never stop saying how hot it is no matter how little relevance it has on the plot or characters.

Over the course of a single night it only somewhat follows the exploits of Kazuma as he wanders around for most of the evening before suddenly finding himself face-to-face with Nishiki some 30 minutes before the end. With him are a mess of other individuals all facing their own issues big and small. A group of cops negotiate with a pair of bank robbers who get increasingly irritated and aggressive with the heat. A teenage couple goes on a completely unrelated string of robberies themselves to pay off a money laundering Yakuza. A nondescript South Korean assassin sets out to kill Jingu, which consequently means Kazuma and Yumi have nothing to do with him. And all the while Majima Goro goes out looking for Kazuma, fights him in the batting cage from the game, and all but disappears afterwards.

The plot of the game was difficult, sure, but at least it focused on Kazuma’s life and the people he connected to. He was the center point of the story through and through, and the 10+ hour main plot would have been more than enough to cram into an hour and a half of video-only entertainment.

Even so, the film decides to give just as much focus to these new characters as Kazuma himself, and this means nobody has enough screen-time to develop themselves in any meaningful way. The game already had a group of individuals with plenty of character and a few arcs of their own, and the film never touches on them.

In the game Makoto Date is a detective who once worked for the homicide unit in Kamurocho. When Kazuma was arrested Date was utterly convinced that Kazuma would never kill his own boss and set out to find out the truth.

Kazuma is released from jail a decade later and discovers a drunk detective blaming him for ruining his life. He couldn’t let go of the case even after he was told to give it up, and was soon moved to the “organized crime unit” where nothing gets solved. It’s a dead end job. His wife and daughter left him after he lost his motivation to keep going, and only after seeing Kazuma try to solve his own mystery does Date start to come back around. He risks life, limb, and his job to help out an ex-Yakuza.

Parts of Date’s story read like a cheesy noire story but his arc is beautiful in it’s subtlety. He doesn’t save the day, but he achieves his own personal glory by helping Kazuma however he can. As he brings himself back up he brings his daughter Saya along with him too, and they begin to repair the broken relationship they’ve long since had. It’s a touching story of personal redemption, and it makes it all the worse that in the film his only character trait boils down to “tough guy cop” the whole way through.

Even the main antagonist Nishiki never explains why he created his own Yakuza family or why he was willing to throw everyone else away just to surpass Kazuma and become Yumi’s true love. He simply shows up at the final battle with barely a word, and loses in a fight to Kazuma.

Those like Reina have it the worst however as they simply do not exist in the film at all. While Reina was not a pivotal character in the original story later on she was the jumping off point for Kazuma to start his investigation. Her bar was also the meeting place for multiple important dialogues between Kazuma and the other Kamurocho residents.

There was a neat idea somewhere within the Yakuza movie. The game gives off the impression that Kamurocho is a wild city with a million little things going on at once, and the movie really wanted to express that, but couldn’t make it as interesting as the established cast and plot. The sole novel concept was that almost all of the new cast members meet up with or indirectly interact with one another during the course of the evening, but it does little to help with the already scattered plotline.
The most obvious answer to a good Yakuza movie may simply be the most boring one. Make it a direct rip of the plot and characters, with maybe a few extra gags or references to future events in the series. Sadly, as it currently is, the movie is incomprehensible for people who aren’t fans, and isn’t that fun for those who understand the game’s story and like the neat characters.