I hope you enjoy this blog, which I've dedicated to everything I love, and occasionally updates about my own life. All original material is © John Francis Pannozzi. All other material is ™ & © Their respective owners. Blogger is ™ & © Google, Inc.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Understanding Video Games Post 4: My Choice

With this blog post for my Understanding Video Games class, I have been given the choice to talk about any topic that I want. Thus, I have decided to focus on a certain area of video game culture that has fascinated me over the past five years, yet has seldom been thoroughly analyzed-- the growing trend of comedic video reviewers of games on the internet.

The catalyst for this trend was James Rolfe, a big fan of movies and a budding filmmaker in his own right. Way back in 2004, Rolfe did two video game reviews, and decided to humorously subvert the more professional style of traditional video reviews of games by being overly negative and tossing in some profanity for good measure. Two years later in 2006, Rolfe's friend and collaborator Mike Matei encouraged him to post his game reviews on Youtube. Soon, Rolfe, in association with Matei and musician Kyle Justin, began producing more game reviews as part of the "Angry Video Game Nerd" series. The Nerd soon took Youtube and the internet in general by storm, and many were influenced by the Nerd's foul-mouthed and quick-witted reviewing style.

A seemingly countless amount of AVGN copycats soon flooded Youtube, though many of them were of dubious quality at best. But none of them have been as controversial as Chris Bores, a.k.a. the Irate Gamer. Many of the earlier Irate Gamer episodes not only covered games previously reviewed by the Angry Nerd (like the Back to the Future and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles games for the NES), but Bores also critiqued many of the same aspects of those games that Rolfe had. To add insult to injury, Bores has gone to great lengths to discredit or downplay Rolfe as an inspiration. These accusations of plagiarism, combined with many factual errors, extremely weak complaints, an abundance of flubs (in many scenes, Bores's systems are turned off or not set up properly, and he often mispronounces frustrating as "fustrating"), and an increasingly erratic release schedule have resulted in Bores appearing as a flat-out hack in the eyes of many. Despite these criticisms, Bores has had a fair amount of success as a Youtube partner, and has even been invited to the video game's premiere expo, E3.

On the other end of the popularity spectrum, as far as reviewers/internet personalities based on AVGN go, is Derek Alexander, whose web series, the Happy Video Game Nerd, is, as it title indicates, a blatant parody/homage to Rolfe's iconic character. While Rolfe's character focuses largely on tearing apart poorly-made and/or bizarre games, Alexander's Nerd sets his sights on informing viewers about the hidden gems of gaming history. Alexander's videos have become so popular, that even Rolfe has admitted to liking them.

Another notable video game reviewer is Noah Antwiler and his show the Spoony Experiment. Antwiler is one of the most popular internet comedians affiliated with Channel Awesome, the company behind the website That Guy With The Glasses, and it's video game-centric sister site Blistered Thumbs. Other notable Channel Awesome contributers include Doug Walker, whose beloved Nostalgia Critic once had a mock feud with Rolfe's AVGN, and Lewis "Linkara" Lovhaug, whose comic book review show Atop the Fourth Wall has made frequent crossovers with the Spoony Experiment. There are many other video game reviewers at Blistered Thumbs worth mentioning. Among them are the French-based Benjamin Daniel, whose character Benzaie is known for his comedically broken English; "Angry Joe" Vargas, whose reviews are meant to help video game producers improve their creations; Justin "JewWario" Carmical, who focuses on games only released in Japan; and Bennett "the Sage" White, who has reviewed everything from video games to comic books to even poorly-written fanfiction. One former member of Channel Awesome who deserves mention is Jason "LordKaT" Pullara, whose series Until We Win took viewers through some of the most challenging video games ever made.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Understanding Video Games Post 3: Player Culture

In this post, I will discuss where I find myself in the scheme of "Player Culture". To be honest, I mostly play games by myself. I do enjoy enjoy playing video games with my younger brother Michael and my friends, but nowadays Michael is away at college most of the year, and as of late, I usually don't get to see most of my friends on a regular basis. But I have played online co-op on a few Playstation 3 titles like the recent HD port of the nearly 20-year old X-Men arcade game, and Marvel vs. Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds.

I am also an active member of gaming's metaculture, as I have joined many message boards over the years

Friday, February 18, 2011

Understanding Video Games post 2: What is a game?

For my second blog post for the Understanding Video Games class, I have been asked the quesyion "what is a game?" Finding out the answer is very easy, yet also very difficult at the same time, if that makes any sense. It's easy to provide aliteral definition of a game (which is a pleasurable activity that involves some sorts of rules), but you also wonder if there can be a deeper, more psychological or even philosophical meaning to the word. Perhaps for some, a game represents a challenge or an obstacle to overcome, or simply something that, if achived, can result in great satisfaction. Perhaps that's why we hear of the "game of life". Like any good game, your life is filled with many conflicts and hurdles, but if you can manage to overcome them, you may feel exceptionally good about yourself and your abilities.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Understanding Video Games Post 1: Something Old, Something New

Note: This is the first in a series of blog posts I am doing for a class I am taking at RIC called Understanding Video Games. In this post, I will pretend to be writing a 1000 years from now.

Looking back at the video games from a entire millennium ago, it is fascinating to see how primitive yet still very ingenious interactive entertainment was back in the early twenty-first century. For instance, "Dragon Ball: Revenge of King Piccolo" a manga and anime-licensed action platformer for the Nintendo Wii, requires some quick reflexes in order to beat its tough bosses. The period of 2006-2011 was also notable for marking the start a surge in popularity for downloadable games sold through online services available directly on gaming consoles themselves (such as Xbox Live Arcade, the Playstation Network Store, and the Wii's Virtual Console). This would mark a major turning point for games, as it allowed for lower budgeted and priced but at times ambitious and experimental titles to see the light of day. One such game was Flower, on the Playstation 3. I have only ever played the demo version of this particular title, yet that was enough to realize what unique piece of art it is. The game allows to control the wind as flower petals flow by. This gentle, nature-themed gimmick is outfitted by soothing music, resulting in one of the most extraordinary experiences that the gaming world had ever since at the time. Looking back, it's funny that at the time, the debate over wether or not games could be considered caused a decent bit of controversy, as in my eyes, the mere existance of works like Flowers more solidified games as perhaps the most creative art-form of all.

Monday, January 31, 2011

My Article On Scott Pilgrim

Here's an article I wrote a few months ago for the Rhode Island College paper The Anchor. It compares the Scott Pilgrim graphic novels to its film adaptation.

Scott Pilgrim meets his strongest foe: Scott Pilgrim

By John Pannozzi

In the past few decades, many live-action films based off animated cartoons, comic books and video games have been released, and despite the occasional knock-out like "The Dark Knight," many of these adaptations have received dismal responses from both critics and the box-office, with the likes of "Howard the Duck" and "Double Dragon" often considered to be some of the biggest failures in Hollywood history. This past summer saw the release of cult favorite director Edgar Wright's "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World," based on the increasingly popular six-volume series of independent graphic novels from Canadian-born cartoonist Bryan Lee O'Malley. Though the film's box-office returns proved rather mediocre, it received mostly glowing reviews from critics and those who did see it mostly adored it regardless of whether or not they were familiar with the source material.
It's something of a rarity that such a wonderfully idiosyncratic and genre-defying comic book creation would receive a big-budget Hollywood film adaptation that not only preserves the delightfully weird tone of its source material, but also stands on its own as a wildly hilarious and a visually spectacular treat. Although there have been a good handful of well-received independent comic book-based films, including "Fritz the Cat", "Heavy Metal", the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie "The Crow," "Ghost World" and the "HellBoy" series. Scott Pilgrim's ambitious tone and fairly large budget more immediately calls to mind "Tank Girl", the cult-favorite underground British comic strip turned multimillion dollar box-office and critical dud. But history has shown that director Wright's works (which includes such fan favorites as "Shaun of the Dead" and "Hot Fuzz" as well as the short-lived but well-loved TV series "Spaced"), have a special quality about them that may not result in immediate financial success, but often gain a dedicated and loyal fan base over time, as DVD sales have proven. While the visual spectacle and rapid-fire comic timing earn the Scott Pilgrim film an important place in film history, when seen as an adaptation of O'Malley's work, the film in some ways comes off as rather lackluster. This article will serve as an examination of some the ways in which the film adaptation of Scott Pilgrim diverges significantly from the graphic novels.
It is worth noting that the screenplay to the Scott Pilgrim film was developed during the same time as the later volumes in the graphic novels. Indeed, watching the finished film, it‘s hard to shake the fact that the last two-thirds or so are largely based on rough outlines and concepts O'Malley had in mind for the last few books. O'Malley has said that he created outlines primarily to aid the filmmakers in conceiving a conclusion for the film well before he finalized his plans for the finale of the books. One wonders then if the differences between the film's last act and the last three volumes of the book series showcase how the ideas that O'Malley that initially conceived the end of the series were not good enough for his own work, but good enough for a Hollywood film.
In this reviewer's opinion, perhaps the most infuriating way in which the Scott Pilgrim film differs from its source material is that many of the secondary characters lack the depth and character development given over course of the six graphic novels. Kim Pine, the freckled and redheaded drummer of Sex Bob-omb and Scott's former high school fling is a wonderfully complex and thoroughly appealing character in books, but in the film she never receives any depth beyond a snarky and cynical comic relief role that almost seems like a parody of the way she was initially depicted in the earlier volumes. While in the movie, Scott apologizes to Kim for how he mistreated her in the past, we don't see exactly what happened between in the past (the promotional short "Scott Pilgrim vs. The Animation" shown on Adult Swim sheds some light on Scott and Kim's high school days, but the sixth and final book adds even more depth to their history that is not captured at all on screen), nor do we see Kim gradually show a sweeter side as we do in the later books in the series, particularly volumes four through six.
The lead characters, Scott Pilgrim and his rather literal "dream girl" Ramona Flowers, also suffer from a lack of development. In the books, Scott eventually has to move out of his roommate Wallace's apartment and get a job, which results in him gaining the adult responsibility he sorely lacked at the start of the series, and thus "levels up" in a big way. Also, the fight scenes with the seven evil exes eventually overwhelm the film, while in the comics Scott only fights one ex per book (with the exception of volume five, in which he takes on both of the Katayanagi twins). As a result, we are given much less breathing room and less time for the characters and their relationships to develop, including Scott and Ramona's rocky romance.
In the movie, Ramona leaves Scott because she goes back to Gideon (the last and most insidious of the Seven Evil Exes), due to having a chip implanted in her head that makes her unable to resist Gideon. And when Scott faces off against Gideon in the film's final fight, Ramona does little more than sit by the sidelines, essentially played the damsel in distress role as seen in many older video games like Super Mario Bros. This ultimately makes Ramona seem like a much weaker and more submissive person than she is in the books. In volume five, she does leave Scott due to Gideon manipulating her feelings via "Emotional Warfare" (which is a bit too complicated to explain in full detail here). But in the sixth and final volume, it is revealed that she did not return to Gideon (resulting in a wonderful subversion of video game tropes when Scott and Gideon first face each other and are both shocked to find that Ramona isn't with either of them at the time), but rather left to do some soul-searching and eventually return to say goodbye to Scott and break up on more formal and amicable terms. Following this, Ramona does retreat into her deepest darkest corner of her own personal SubSpace, in which she is basically submissive to Gideon (which Gideon claims to be her innermost desire). But this only for a brief moment, as Scott quite literally head butts this so-called "all-powerful" version of Gideon, allowing Ramona the chance to officially drop Gideon like the bad habit he is. And in the end, Scott and Ramona simultaneously deal the final blow to Gideon, which shows that in quite a few ways, Scott's quest to defeat Ramona's Seven Evil Exes was as much Ramona's fight as it was his own.
Another thing from the last book that adds a very important dimension to Scott's struggle against Gideon but is missing from the film is the way in which the two are not so different. Scott and Gideon both have a tendency to block out memories of being inconsiderate towards past girlfriends, and as a result, overlook their own character flaws. Scott's past mistakes eventually manifest themselves in the form of the NegaScott (who appears in the film with almost no setup or context). Scott tries to defeat NegaScott, but Kim tells him that if he forgets his past sins, he will only make the same mistakes all over again in the future, and after she yells at him to just accept the past, he merges with NegaScott and regains all his memories. Gideon, by contrast, has seemingly repressed his past failings and as a result mistakenly believes himself to be perfect.
Gideon also shows a more hilariously pathetic side in the last book when it is revealed that he formed the League of Ramona's Evil Exes by posting a drunken rant on Facebook after being dumped by Ramona (who left Gideon because he showed no real interest in her whatsoever when they were dating). We also get a taste of the more cruel and twisted side of Gideon when he reveals that he has already cryogenically frozen six of his ex-girlfriends in order to later unfreeze them and date them at his own leisure, and he intends to make Ramona his Seventh Ex.
Finally, one other theme prevalent in the Scott Pilgrim books that I didn't feel was carried as strongly in the film is the idea of moving on from your past. In the books, we get the feeling that Scott is only dating Knives because he wants to make up for his unsatisfying relationships with Kim in high school and Natalie "Envy" Adams in college. He claims that dating a high school student like Knives is "simple", which shows how he tries to shield himself from the painful heartbreak caused by his decidedly less than simple previous attempts at romance. And when he tries to get back with Knives and later Kim in the final book, things don't work out. Scott and Knives are quickly grossed out after briefly attempting to make out with each other again. Kim meanwhile refuses to embrace Scott, as even though Scott notes that Kim has been the one constant in his life, Kim reminds him that her high school days were anything but the typical sappy Hollywood "romance" (this leads to Scott having to face the NegaScott, as described above). Scott ultimately realizes that he needs to move forward in life by being with Ramona, who is more his equal in terms of age, maturity and romantic history than someone like Knives is. Though Knives clearly cares about Scott (this is clear in her last scene in volume six), her attraction to Scott's band Sex Bob-omb turns out to be fleeting (again, reference the sixth book), and she ends being quite needy (as evidenced by how crazy with jealously she is when she believes Ramona stole Scott). The film, by contrast, seemed to be setting up Scott and Knives as a couple (especially when one considers that the original scripted and even filmed ending to the film had Scott choosing Knives instead of Ramona in the end), and as a result, the ending with Scott pursuing Ramona seems tacked on. In the last book, one gets the feeling that regardless of how successful Scott and Ramona's renewed relationship will be, it will prove that the time they spent together and will spend together in the future will shape them and allow them to grow and change for the better. In the movie, however, it's much vaguer as to where Scott and Ramona's path will lead. Whereas the Scott Pilgrim books tell a very satisfying and complete story of a young slacker "leveling up" to become a more mature individual, the movie by comparison, though fun and flashy, ultimately feels somewhat rushed and half-hearted when it comes to the themes and characterization that O'Malley handled so well, yet Wright could not give full justice to on the silver screen.