Saturday Summaries 2018-03-03: Glitzy Oscars Edition

Back when Screened was still around I created a little annual blog feature with the dubious name of "Oscar Noms to Video Game ROMs": a doomed attempt to hypothetically adapt the various movies nominated for the "Best Picture" Oscar that year into their own video games. It proved easier with some than others: a superhero or sci-fi movie begrudgingly given Best Picture consideration by the spoilsport, self-serious Academy Awards committee was a lot easier to translate than some smaller foreign Indie picture about grief, ennui or cultural alienation. I'm never one to shy from a game design challenge, however, and so I've kept this feature alive in various forms since Screened's collapse - my cobwebbed Tumblr account, for instance, or these Giant Bomb blogs for the 2014 and 2015 movies, respectively. It should make for a diverting Saturday Summaries intro at the very least.

In alphabetical order, the nine 2017 Oscar nominations - and an ideal game format that they could each be adapted into - are as follows (I probably should state somewhere that I haven't seen any of these films nor intend to):

I figured I'd get a freebie here, but Tom Cruise's The Mummy wasn't considered for an Oscar? I'm shocked.
I figured I'd get a freebie here, but Tom Cruise's The Mummy wasn't considered for an Oscar? I'm shocked.
  • Call Me by Your Name: A gay coming-of-age drama set in northern Italy. OK. I can do this. In fact, this isn't too dissimilar to some queer-focused visual novels/dating sims on Steam, as more LGBTQ creators take to the medium to tell their stories. To "video game" it up a bit, there'd need to be multiple handsome bi-curious grad students to choose from, all of whom have letters in their name concealed in hidden object scenes. Spend enough time with them and you'll get a shot at those puzzles, piecing together their real names and using that to seal the romantic deal with them. After all, isn't true love the ultimate hidden object? (If I were a little less decorous, I might suggest there's a certain scene in the movie that might be adapted into a slightly risqué version of Fruit Ninja.)
  • Darkest Hour: This WW2 drama sees Gary Oldman transformed into the famous wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill, as he struggles to hold the country together in the face of Nazi Germany's onslaught on Europe. War's an easy subject to build a video game around, whether you're in the thick of it as some hapless soldier or deploying troops as a commander, but I want to try a slightly different direction here: The Yawhg, a multiplayer game about hard decisions and accruing resources, has a team of characters work together over a period of days and weeks to prepare for an enormous threat. That sort of zero-sum game, where decisions usually cost you as much as they reward, could better reflect the sort of struggles Churchill had to endure to prepare for the evacuation at Dunkirk and the conflicts to follow. Or I dunno, maybe a rhythm game.
  • Dunkirk: So, since I made Darkest Hour not a generic WW2 shooter, this one can be the generic WW2 shooter instead. See that? That's what they call foresight.
  • Get Out: I probably should see Jordan Peele's comedy-horror movie at some point, but I don't generally get along with the horror genre. Of course, Get Out has a lot more to say than just "boo!", hence perhaps its inclusion here for Best Picture. I'm rooting for it, insomuch as I'm rooting for anything given I have zero dogs in this race. For a game, one could feasibly expand on the concept of the "sunken place" (see the movie for more detail? I don't want to spoil much) as a metaphysical realm that the protagonist Chris must escape, similar to Yume Nikki or Subcon from Super Mario Bros. 2. You know, your typical realms of psychological nightmares.
  • Lady Bird: Another coming-of-age thing, this time about a teen in Sacramento hoping to go to a prestigious Ivy League college but must contend with her family's finances and a strained relationship with her mother in particular. It sounds like thrill-a-minute stuff, but as we made apparent with "Call Me By Your Name" above, there's a market for low-key Indie slice-of-life material in both Hollywood and Steam alike. Instead of repeating myself with the dating sim angle, however, I'm going to take the old-school video games route of completely misunderstanding the source material and make it about a literal ladybird who has to fight off invading aphids in an insectoid horizontal shoot 'em up in the style of Apidya.
  • Phantom Thread: Aiming for his fourth Best Actor Oscar, Daniel-Day Lewis puts in a turn as an inconsiderate, haughty fashion designer with a dysfunctional but still mostly loving relationship with a waitress that grows literally toxic after she poisons his food so he'll be more pliable. I'm picturing a cross between Style Savvy and a really vindictive version of Cooking Mama.
  • The Post: A biopic about the Washington Post and its owners during a significant journalistic triumph in the 1960s, the Academy was practically wetting itself over a movie starring both Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks that was based on a journalistic coup not unlike the basis of 2015's eventual Best Picture winner Spotlight. There's been precious few video games about journalism, save for Paperboy I guess, though there's a few where an intrepid reporter is a major character if not the protagonist. Without knowing too much about the real-life versions of their characters, would it matter a great deal if Streep's Katherine Graham had green hair and lipstick and Hanks's Ben Bradlee was some kind of pig man? And instead of the Pentagon Papers, it was about creepy aliens?
  • The Shape of Water: Another romance movie, Guillermo Del Toro's The Shape of Water gives new meaning to the phrase "sleeping with the fishes". Del Toro's had a rocky past with video game adaptations, but seems to be enjoying his time working alongside Hideo Kojima on Death Stranding, born from the ashes of their collaborative Silent Hill project. With his growing ease with the video game medium, I wonder if he could be convinced to parlay the original movie into a series of elemental romance dramas in various media, perhaps exploring the awkwardness of visiting the genital burn ward in The Shape of Fire or some literal tree hugging in The Shape of Earth. I'm picturing something like the sadly incomplete SwordQuest series for the Atari 2600, just with a different kind of "sword".
  • Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri: A black comedy about the mother of a murdered teen badgering the local police force into making more of an effort to track down her killer. I was mulling over the idea of something like Ace Attorney or Danganronpa mixed with Pokémon Snap, where you can gather as much evidence as you want but can only choose three pieces to be displayed on the titular advertising spaces to make your case to the authorities, but then I thought: well, the movie title places special emphasis on the billboards themselves. They have to be important, right? Maybe even magically so? So why not make the game adaptation into a variant of Taito's QIX: the more of the image you fill in despite the obstacles (I'm picturing Sam Rockwell's bigoted deputy's giant head as the QIX villain that floats around the unfinished portion of the screen), the closer you get to finding the culprit. Of course, with only three levels, it probably won't take people long to beat it...

When I'm not ruminating about games that don't yet exist, I frequently talk about those that do. Such as the following:

  • The Indie Game of the Week this time was the first two episodes of Odysseus Kosmos & His Robot Quest, an episodic adventure game series I picked up from a surprisingly decent IndieGala bundle. It's your classic model of point-and-click adventure games: pixel graphics, contextual commands, sort of Simlish/Banjo-Kazooie voice acting, and lots of pretty tough environmental puzzles. While the series is taking their time to build a mystery, I've liked what I've seen so far. I just hope more care and attention is put towards typos and other text errors moving forward - I realize this isn't always easy for a team from a non-Anglophone country, but the prose matters a great deal in the adventure game genre.
  • We're back in HOPA land for Rainy Days and Mundis: Episode 4, which covers Grim Legends 2: Song of the Dark Swan. It's our first direct sequel in this series, which I figured would offer some major changes from its predecessor, but the formula for these games is evidently too strong to let that happen. Almost half the game is given over to the hidden object puzzles, but on the whole I found it just as agreeable as the others I've been playing. Can't help but feel lulled into a comfortably numb place by all these casual games, but I won't let that stop my investigation. A few more case files at least, I think.


Movie: The Raid 2: Berandal (2014)

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I watched a Dan Ryckert favorite a few weeks ago with MacGruber, so I might as well offer the Big Man On Campus himself Dave "Windjammers Is Extremely My Thing" Lang the same courtesy by finally getting in a viewing of his beloved The Raid 2: Berandal. As the sequel to one of the most gloriously intense and vicious martial arts movies to come about in a very long time, The Raid 2 had some big shoes to fill. Perhaps recognizing that it couldn't just replicate the conspicuously contained story of the original - which takes place entirely within one apartment building - it instead takes the John Wick 2 route (before John Wick 2 itself did, of course) by expanding on its world of prolific practitioners of the Indonesian martial art of Pencak Silat and absurd levels of violence to include various crime bosses jostling for control of the Indonesian capital of Jakarta. Rama, the heroic cop played by Iko Uwais in the original, is faced with the reality that his actions in the first movie have painted a big target over his head, and he reluctantly agrees to go undercover to root out the corrupt police leaders that will make his life hell by joining a criminal organization that operates alongside a Japanese yakuza family who employs Reza, a corrupt major police official. That leads to an unexpected three years in the joint befriending Uco, the hotheaded son of Bangun, the kingpin that Rama hopes to ingratiate himself with.

However, this isn't just Rama's story, and while the first movie stayed laser-focused on the survival of Rama and his doomed squad, screen time is spent across various characters in this movie: the ambitious Uco, the devious strategic mastermind Bejo, Bangun's personal assassin Prakoso, and a few comic book villains in Bejo's personal team of hitpeople, including a blind/mute girl who kills people with claw hammers in a grisly fashion and her baseball bat-wielding brother who got me to seriously reconsider my stance on the "bat vs knife" debate. At times the movie suffers from pacing issues and bloat, especially in the middle where starts to get difficult to follow, but the final hour with its many insane fights (that one in the restaurant kitchen... wowzers) and set-pieces like a phenomenal car chase/battle more than make up for it: if anything, the slower movie middle helps build up the suspense for what's to come. While I probably appreciate the purity of the first The Raid a little more, there's a noted uptick in confidence demonstrated by the sheer mayhem, brutality and the tactical, almost Shakespearean plotting of the sequel that makes it difficult to pick out a winner between the two.

Some fun stuff I learned researching the movie after it ended: It took me the whole movie to place Goto, the Japanese crime boss who threatens to descend Jakarta into all out gang war. He's a relatively famous actor named Kenichi Endo, who I've seen in a few Takeshi Miike movies before now (including a very self-deprecating turn in Visitor Q; a movie which I would perhaps classify as "Advanced Miike" if you're contemplating where to start with his filmography), but the face I kept trying to match him to was a character in Yakuza 4, who he both voiced and lent his likeness to. The purpose of this mostly ranting side-bar is that the movie somehow came full circle to the Yakuza games; the sort of place I'd normally expect to see the movie's extraordinarily cartoonish violence with everyday objects in a semi-realistic mobster story. Iko Uwais might as well be playing Kiryu, given the vast collatoral damage he regretfully wroughts in pursuit of his own justice. (Meanwhile, Uwais and the equally Silat-proficient Yayan Ruhian - who plays a much smaller role in The Raid 2 than in the first as Prakoso, the forlorn assassin with an estranged family - would later appear in Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, of all places. That's probably a better known fact, but they're sadly not given a whole lot of fighting to do.)

Game: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

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I finally concluded Breath of the Wild shortly after last week's Saturday Summaries, so I don't have a whole lot more left to say on the subject. I will state that's one of the few open-world games I'm still considering getting back into even after the story is complete, and unique in that I'm not doing so to complete a set of achievements or trophies, since Nintendo is still steadfastly refusing such a system. While I'm not sure I have it in me to find the rest of the Korok seeds, there might be call to hop back in to pursue a few of the side-quests I didn't manage to complete. I also never managed to upgrade Link's "Outfit of the Wild" - a prize for completing all Shrines - nor did I ever awaken the fifth Great Fairy and the upgrades she provides. The Hyrule Compendium is also sadly incomplete, though I've no idea where to find a lot of those missing weapons if I didn't already come across them as a shrine reward - fortunately, the game gives you a shortcut by simply paying for any missing photos, which I was forced to do with one of the dungeon bosses I neglected to capture. Some small part of me just wants to keep exploring, climbing, and fighting exotic monsters like Lynels, Taluses, Moldugas and Hinoxes simply for the enjoyable challenges each presents.

While I have other Wii U games left to play (I actually own the Wii U version of Breath of the Wild, which is completely fine for the record), Breath of the Wild might be a game I let sit in there between whatever games I have left on the backlog. I'm certainly not done with the system by a long shot: I have Yoshi's Woolly World and Tokyo Mirage Sessions ready to go, and still intend on checking out Paper Mario: Color Splash, The Wonderful 101, and Kirby and the Rainbow Curse despite their mixed reputations (and maybe that Wii U Smash Bros, unless the Switch version ends up being an upgraded version of the same game). However, it's reassuring to know that I'll probably never abandon the Wii U completely while I still have goals in Hyrule to pursue during my downtime between games.

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