Aptly-Titled Shark Game

Maneater is a game in which you play a shark – strictly speaking, two sharks. First, you play a mommy shark (doo doo doo doo doo doo) as you play through the tutorial, then you get caught and killed by a shark hunter – but you were carrying live young, the surviving baby shark (doo doo doo doo doo doo) biting off the shark hunter’s hand and escaping into the sea after being cut out of the mummy shark (doo doo doo doo doo doo).

Over the process of this, the game’s rather fun conceit becomes apparent: it’s framed like it’s a basic cable reality show (called Maneater, natrually) about shark hunters operating in the waters off Port Clovis – a sort of mashup of Miami and New Orleans, in a state which is a sort of mashup of Florida and Louisiana. The shark hunter who killed your mommy shark (doo doo doo doo doo doo) and left you an orphan shark (boo hoo hoo hoo hoo hoo) is Scaly Pete, the show’s breakout start, his every Cajun quip treated as the producers as potential hashtag inspiration.

Over the course of the game, then, you guide your baby shark (doo doo doo doo doo doo) as she survives and grows, eventually becoming a mega shark (DOO DOO DOO DOO DOO DOO), and seek bloody revenge against Scaly Pete and all his fellow air-breathing assholes. Every so often, you get a cut scene checking in on what Pete’s doing, and your gameplay is narrated by the show-within-a-game’s narrator – Chris Parnell, AKA Cyril Figgis from Archer, whose wry commentary is probably the high point of the game.

Continue reading “Aptly-Titled Shark Game”

Four Sides of the 1980s

As my backlog clearance continues, I am resorting to this: giving you a clutch of reviews of movies from the 1980s held together by the tenuous common theme of “all these movies represent a particular type of person you would have met in the 1980s”. Here goes.

The 80s Cokehead: Scarface

The movie opens against the backdrop of the Mariel boatlift – Fidel Castro’s surprise decision to allow thousands of emigrants to leave Cuba – resulting in a refugee crisis in Florida. The movie plays on the fact that Castro took the opportunity to send numerous prisoners and mental hospital patients to Florida, divesting the Cuban government of the cost of handling them, by including among the emigrants Tony Montana (Al Pacino), along with a number of his buddies – who, by the evidence of their prison tattoos, are apparently hardened criminals.

Montana and company end up in a makeshift refugee detention centre underneath a motorway flyover. Through the fence, they receive an offer suited to their skills: Frank Lopez (Robert Loggia), a well-connected Cuban-American drug baron, will pull the right strings to allow them to get released and get their green cards in return for assassinating Emilia Rebenga (Roberto Contreras), who’d tortured Frank’s brother to death back in Cuba. This is accomplished in chilling fashion during a riot in the detention centre.

It’s not directly stated whether or not Tony engineered the riot, but it’d be entirely in keeping with his tendency for massive overescalation of violence, which we see plenty of as the movie progresses. As Tony moves his way up the ranks in Frank’s empire, eventually ousting him, a whirlwind of cocaine addiction, Tony’s infatuations with Frank’s ex-girlfriend Elvira Hancock (Michelle Pfeiffer) and his own sister Gina Montana (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio), and his entanglements with even more ruthless figures like cocaine manufacturer Alejandro Sosa (Paul Shenar) all contribute to his downfall, which is ultimately spurred by his machismo-driven refusal to compromise with anyone or to back down in any situation.

Continue reading “Four Sides of the 1980s”

Morris Keeping an Eye On Today

Once upon a time a group of British comedy writers and performers – including Four Lions director Chris Morris, Veep/Death of Stalin creator Armando Iannuci, and Steve “Alan Partridge” Coogan – got their big breaks on BBC radio in the form of On the Hour, a comedy program satirising both the news of the day and radio news as a format. Much like The Hitchhiker’s Guide To the Galaxy before them and The League of Gentlemen after them, the On the Hour team got the chance to take their concept and unleash it on television.

With Chris Morris himself in the “lead news anchor” role, using his own name in keeping with the series’ love of pranks based on blending reality and fantasy, the show was one of 1994’s critical successes and spawned a substantially more controversial followup on Channel 4 – 1997’s Brass Eye. Let’s take a look back and see how they’ve aged.

The Day Today

The Day Today makes an immediate visual impact, and is a masterpiece of visual presentation even before the actual underlying writing is considered. It makes extensive use of out-of-context clips from the actual news, a visual style for the in-studio segments parodying the worst excesses of TV news of the era (and which remains a solid stab at the style of TV news today), and faked reports and extracts from other shows rounding out the episodes; it’s effectively a sketch comedy show where the sketches are framed as news reports.

The production team show an uncanny knack for mimicing the styles of media of the era, as is evident right from the first episode, which includes an extract from a US news report from “CBN” on a convicted serial killer who elects to be executed in a manner inspired by the death of his hero, Elvis. (He’s sitting on a toilet that’s been converted to an electric chair, which will electrocute him once he’s eaten enough burgers.)

Continue reading “Morris Keeping an Eye On Today”

The Early Herzog

From latter-day hits like Grizzly Man to the occasional surprise acting role in The Mandalorian or Rick & Morty, it seems like Werner Herzog has never been more widely known. This is pretty astonishing considering the bizarre arthouse material which he first made his name with, but on the other hand is a welcome outcome of a long career in cinema in which Herzog was pushing the bounds of the medium from an early stage. With significant blu-ray boxed sets released in both Region A and Region B (and a handy Region-Free blu-ray player), I’ve been able to sample a cross-section of his earliest work.

The Unprecedented Defence of the Fortress Deutschkreuz

In this 1966 short film a group of young men undertake a bit of urban exploration, as a narrator muses on their adventures. We are told that the titular “fortress” has fallen into disrepair; before World War II it was a mental hospital, but after the Russians swept through and took everything valuable it was left deserted. The local authorities can find nothing useful to do with it, and are struggling to sell it.

Continue reading “The Early Herzog”

GOGathon: Sierra’s Muddled 1991

So far in our journey through the graphic adventure output of Sierra we’ve seen how the first King’s Quest trilogy bedded in the AGI engine before a range of new games explored a wider variety of genres and then the debut of the SCI engine brought about new technical improvements. Further experimentation followed, and 1990 saw the end of Sierra’s EGA graphics era and the dawn of the VGA era.

This included the unveiling of Sierra’s first fully point-and-click-based adventure game, King’s Quest V, which ditched the old text parser in favour of an icon-driven system. In 1991, four new games in very different genres would take this system out for a spin – but who would excel in this brand new world where the mouse ruled supreme, and who would reveal themselves to be stuck in the game design ethos of yesteryear? With LucasArts’ Secret of Monkey Island having released the previous year, this question is all the more important…

Space Quest IV: Roger Wilco and the Time Rippers

This picks up right where Space Quest III left off. Roger Wilco has saved the Two Guys From Andromeda and dropped them off safely at Sierra’s headquarters, and now he’s set a course back for his home planet of Xenon, which he hasn’t seen since the start of Space Quest II: Vohaul’s Revenge. Stopping off at a bar for a drink, he immediately runs afoul of the Sequel Police – a time-travelling paramilitary force under the command of Vohaul himself, who still lives after a fashion.

Continue reading “GOGathon: Sierra’s Muddled 1991”

GOGathon: Sierra’s 1980s Peak

1989 saw the fifth anniversary of King’s Quest, and with the old AGI game engine well and truly retired and the shiny new SCI engine firing on all cylinders, Sierra were not resting on their laurels. As well as pushing the technical boundaries of graphical point and click adventures, they had also developed the medium to a point where they could reasonably be said to be pushing at their creative boundaries too, and 1989 would prove to be a fantastic year on that front, with five games which each in their own way developed the genre in a different direction and based in a different genre.

Two of these would be sequels to big-name Sierra series, two would initiate series of their own – one much-beloved, one more remembered as a bold experiment that laid the groundwork for better things – and one of them was absolutely terrible. Which is the stinker? Let’s find out?

Continue reading “GOGathon: Sierra’s 1980s Peak”

GOGathon: The Dawn of Sierra’s SCI Era

The story so far: after pioneering the graphic adventure game genre with the first three King’s Quest games (with the third one also being the first good graphic adventure game), Sierra decided it was time to branch out a little – releasing adventure games in a range of different genres, including both obvious videogame fare like science fiction to less well-trod territory like police procedural dramas and bawdy sex comedies.

All this was accomplished using the AGI system, which – as I explained at the end of the last article – was developed for the original King’s Quest I and, whilst technically advanced for 1984, clearly wasn’t passing muster by the late 1980s; 1988 would see the debut of a triptych of new games produced using their exciting new SCI engine, and for much of the next decade – until they switched to 3D engines, effectively – Sierra’s adventures would be produced using various updates of SCI, which both allowed for superior graphics and sound card support and included scripting tools useful for adventure game design processes.

But did a superior toolkit yield superior games? Let’s see…

Continue reading “GOGathon: The Dawn of Sierra’s SCI Era”

GOGathon: Sierra Spreads Out

In my previous dive into the classic Sierra adventure games, I covered the first three King’s Quest games, over the course of which Sierra developed and refined their adventure design processes and principles. Come 1986, the time was ripe to apply these principles to genres beyond the fairy-tale fantasy of King’s Quest.

For this next exploration of the Sierra catalogue, I’m going to look at the first Space Quest game, which emerged in 1986 alongside King’s Quest III as Sierra’s first jaunt into another genre. I’m also going to cover their adventure game releases of 1987, a year in which they put out three games in extremely different genres – not one of them a King’s Quest release – and represented perhaps the apogee of what you could call their “AGI era” – the time period when they produced adventure games using the Adventure Game Interpreter system developed for the first King’s Quest.

Continue reading “GOGathon: Sierra Spreads Out”

For Whom the Goose Honks

Untitled Goose Game is a release on PC and Switch (the Nintendo Switch version is the one reviewed here) which generated a ton of buzz from early trailer footage, which combined an endearing animation style with a delightfully simple premise: “It’s a lovely morning in the village, and you are a horrible goose.”

As a goose your activities are limited to waddling about at various levels of speed and sneakiness, gracefully swimming on water, waving your wings about and going “honk”. With these limited capabilities, you are set loose in a charming English village divided into a number of zones – the allotments where a gardener toils away growing vegetables, the village market square, a pair of neighbouring back gardens, the local pub and the skillfully-executed model village – each of which has an associated task list. Complete more tasks, access more of the map, make more mischief; it’s that simple.

Continue reading “For Whom the Goose Honks”

Taking a Note, Taking a Dive

The general public has a short memory. Many are under the impression that a substantial number of professional wrestling fans still believe the artform to represent genuine competition, rather than being an entertainment medium consisting of matches with predetermined outcomes. This isn’t the case – aside from small children who might believe in Roman Reigns the way they believe in Father Christmas, fans generally accept that the matches are worked, and derive a whole secondary level of enjoyment from analysing and debating the storytelling decisions behind match outcomes and the backstage gossip that might have fed into them.

Even among wrestling fans, there’s something of a myth that kayfabe – the pretence that it’s a real contest – was rigorously maintained until the early 1990s, when Vince McMahon famously said that WWF was in the “sport entertainment” business and promotions like ECW or WCW ran angles based largely on breaking the fourth wall and acknowledging kayfabe (usually as an attempt to persuade the viewer that things had gone “off-script” and were therefore real). In fact, major breaches of kayfabe and exposes of the business go way back, with one of the most famous such examples being Marcus Griffin’s 1937 book Fall Guys: The Barnums of Bounce.

Continue reading “Taking a Note, Taking a Dive”