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Video Games and Books

Imagine an alternate world identical to ours except for one big change: video games came first. Pretend they were invented and popularized before books. In this parallel universe, kids have been playing games for centuries – and then these book objects  came along and suddenly they’re all the rage. What would teachers, parents, and the authorities have to say about this frenzy of reading? I  did a search and found many different discussions similar to this topic. I will show you some interesting thoughts that other people have that are written in my own words. They think like this:

“Reading books chronically under-stimulates the senses. Unlike the long-standing tradition of gameplaying – which engages the child in vivid, three-dimensional worlds filled with moving images and musical soundscapes, navigated and controlled with complex muscular movements – books are simply a barren string of words on a page. Only a small portion of the brain devoted to processing written language is activated during reading, while games engage the full range of sensory and motor cortices.

“Books are also tragically isolating. Whereas games have for many years engaged the young in complex social relationships and their peers, building and exploring worlds together, books force force the child to sequester him or herself in a quiet space, shut off from interaction with others children. These new “libraries” that  have arisen in recent years to facilitate reading activities are a frightening sight: dozens of young children (normally so vivacious and socially interactive) now sitting in cubicles, reading silently, oblivious to their peers. 

“Many children enjoy reading books, of course, and no doubt some of the flights of fancy conveyed by reading have their escapist merits. But for a sizable percentage of the population, books are downright discriminatory. The reading craze of recent years cruelly taunts the 10 million Americans who suffer from dyslexia – a condition that didn’t even exist until printed text came along to stigmatize its sufferers.

“But perhaps the most dangerous property of these books is the fact that you follow a fixed linear path. You can’t control their narratives in any fashion – you simply sit back and have the story dictated to you. For those of us raised on interactive narratives, this property may seem astonishing. Why would anyone embark on an adventure utterly choreographed by another person? But today’s generation embarks on such adventures millions of times a day. This risks instilling a general passivity in our children, making them feel as though they’re powerless to change the circumstances. Reading is not an active, participatory process; it’s a submissive one. The book readers of the younger generation are learning to “follow the plot” instead of “learning to lead.”

Do you think that this sounds absurd? Do you think this sounds silly? So do the criticisms about video games!

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Best Disney Games

1. Kingdom Hearts

An unprecedented collision of cultural importance! We don’t know what planets had to align to make this crossover happen, but sometimes we have to go back and check to make sure it actually did. And if you think America’s response to a game featuring the characters from Final Fantasy and Disney was overwhelming, try and imagine the mass pants wetting that ensued in Japan as two of their most beloved icons met for the first time.

There’s a quality to it that can’t be explained. The worlds can only be described as magical, the characters are timeless and the story, although just typical Japanese craziness, is beautiful to behold. Its a package that is much more than the sum of its parts and it gives me a feeling of wonder and serenity that nothing has given me before, let alone a video game.

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A game series so good in both story and game play, you have to play it for yourself. The best thing about the game is the story, combined with the huge ensemble of characters, and worlds you explore. The multiple climaxes of the game series are so eerie and exciting, its hard to say it isn’t near-perfect. The games only gets better and better, and more mature themes are present later in the games.

Everything in the games have payoff, whether it be starting out with a wooden sword, to later calling fire and thunder to wipe out a group of enemies, or seeing the characters change and mature throughout the series.

An inspiring emotional work of art and perhaps the best selling, most popular game of all time. Square Enix continues to prove that you can take even the most played out source material in the world (Disney’s various franchises) and make something wonderful.

Kingdom Hearts is the most detailed, intelligent, and artistic game series I have ever seen. Almost all of the characters have a complex personality, the works of Kingdom Hearts obviously had a lot of thought and creativity. The fighting styles are creative, unique, visually a fantastic masterpiece, and it has humor! I see really no reason as to why not to play this game. It teaches morals as well, which is important, yet they don’t nag about it, which makes it great. Even though a majority of the game contains extreme violence, it’s at a respectful tone, and people are only occasionally hurt. Yes, extremely violent deaths do occur. At one point a girls wrist is slit and blood is shown pouring out. For sexual references, there is a few kissing scenes, and several characters in the games imply a romantic relationship. These games even shows how even the most ‘evil’ of characters, can turn out to be only misguided. And there are several second chances in the game, as well as mercy and forgiveness. These games have very dark storylines and nearly EVERY game in the series ends with the “good guys” living in their own personal hell’s.

You’ll be hard pressed to find another game that even comes close to matching the quality found in Kingdom Hearts. Games just don’t come as beautiful and well thought out as this, it’s a virtual masterpiece that excels in every way possible.

2. Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas: Oogie’s Revenge

Although experienced players might find the action simple, this video game sequel to the movie provides a satisfying adventure in a delightfully macabre world. Most impressively, the game captures the sweetly morbid mood of the movie.

The graphics are perfect for representing the cartoonish, almost toy-like nature of the characters and settings. Jack is fighting his way through legions of skeletons, ghosts, and trolls. The games art direction and all the action sequences are beautiful to behold. This is a powerfully and mysteriously attractive gem of a game that is often overlooked by critics but fans adore it.

3. Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse

The story has not changed from the original Genesis game. Mickey and Minnie Mouse are having a wonderful picnic when the evil witch Mizrabel appears and kidnaps Minnie. Mizrabel’s plan is to curse Minnie Mouse and steal her beauty so that she would be young again. Mickey springs into action, chasing Mizrabel right to the Castle of Illusion. Here, Mickey meets a wise old mouse who tells him the only way to save Minnie is to collect the 7 Rainbow Gems that are hidden away inside the castles rooms. Once Mickey finds all the gems he can take on Mizrabel and free Minnie. Once Mickey enters the castle, he enters the first room, only to find the rooms lead to different worlds. The worlds he explores are filled with danger and traps that he must get through in order to reach one of Mizrabel’s guardians, and you have to jump on enemies, and even use throwing weapons like apples and baseballs. Mickey starts with only 3 hits, but you can collect up to 5 hits with the stars scattered around each world. You will need all that you can find, since there is always something up ahead trying to hurt you.

Reaching the world’s guardians and beating them is the only way Mickey can collect all 7 Gems and rescue Minnie before it’s too late. While the original game is a straightforward action platformer, the remake puts you into a 3D castle with the rooms to the different worlds locked by magic. Collecting silver diamonds scattered around the castle will open the first door and collecting more diamond as you make your way through the levels will help open more doors later on. Unlike the original, you can revisit any world once you beat it, but we will come back to that a bit later. Each world consists of 3 acts, leading to a showdown with a gem guardian. Players of the original will feel disoriented as the game changes from a 2D perspective to 3D in some areas, (particularly in the guardian battles) while some areas you remember from the original are now used as bonus areas inside each act. There isn’t a penalty for failing to get through them, as you will simply be returned to the main path. A good example of this is the forest stage, where in the original, you had to cross an area high up in the trees, avoiding spiders and riding floating leaves. Losing here meant you lost a life, but in the remake this area is simply one of the aforementioned bonus areas, where you can find new hidden collectibles.

The visuals here are absolutely awesome. From the outstanding animation in the characters, to the amazingly detailed worlds Mickey visits, everything looks like a classic hand drawn Disney film. Each area you explore is a delight to play through, and even a little distracting as you will find yourself missing a jump or an enemy while staring at the amazing visuals. The whole experience gets even better with the fantastic music and sound effects that accompany every second of gameplay. Music tracks are remixed songs from the original game and sound absolutely amazing, while every sound effect fits in perfectly with each world. Something completely new, that was not possible with the Sega Genesis hardware, is the inclusion of a Disney style narrator that guides the player through each part of the story, with Mickey himself even getting a one liners here and there. All of the voices fit in great and never get annoying like some other remakes out there. The entire presentation is a joy to the senses.

Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse is a perfect example of a remake done right. Everything that you loved from the original game is present, with added extras that will make you come back for more. As mentioned before, The difficulty found in the original game is changed to fit a wider range of players, so veterans may want to play on a higher difficulty to get a challenge. No matter what level you play on, the continues are unlimited and checkpoints are more plentiful, so all the controller smashing deaths you experienced with the Genesis game are less painful here. My favorite thing about the game is that it is a scarier, more mature adventure that Mickey takes us on this time around.

This game has a scary monster tree, fueled by greed…

…a shocking jack-in-the-box Clown, alone, forsaken, and would KILL for a friend……

….scary underwater monster babies, isolated, unloved, alone, abandoned, outcast and vicious…

…..and a mysterious, fantastic new villain!

4. DuckTales Remastered

DuckTales Remastered is an HD upgrade done right. No shortcuts have been taken – every level has been given new backgrounds and animations, from the jungles of the Amazon to spaceships on the moon, with Scrooge McDuck vibrantly popping off the screen, Everything looks and sounds slick, with new story sequences bulking up the action – they occasionally feel forced, but mostly contribute to drawing you further into the DuckTales world.

All of this makes a classic action-platformer spring to life in a new age. Playing as Scrooge McDuck, you’re motivated by money, treasure and saving your nephews. It’s a simple game – you jump on enemy heads with your pogo stick or whack them with your cane, and occasionally you may need to hit an object into another object, or move an object so it acts as a platform, but that’s as complicated as it ever gets. Mostly, it’s about using these simple elements to discover and explore each of the five stages placed in front of you.

There are hidden walls, secret areas, and special items littered throughout the levels. You’ve got to collect these in order to progress, while also finding as many gems as you can to help boost Scrooge’s personal wealth. The levels may not be the most complex, sprawling affairs, but there’s enough going on to keep things interesting across multiple playthroughs – and, due to the high difficulty of the game and the low amount of lives you’re gifted, you’ll be looking at the same scenery and obstacles over and over again.

Ducktales Remastered was a great game and you could call it a more forgiving version of Mega Man!

5. Disney Infinity

This is a game where you get to create your own world and then interact with it. A creative concept by Disney and very fun for kids.

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Marvel vs DC

Round 1                                                                                                                                                                             Live -Action Movies/TV Shows:

Winner: Marvel

1. The characters are easier to relate to:

The majority of Marvel’s superheroes are human – think Iron Man, Spiderman, Wolverine – they are all human. There are some (like the X-Men) who, despite accidents which turn them into mutants, are still inherently human. When we look at Superman, the Flash and Aquaman, they’re not really thought of as ‘people’. They live their lives completely differently from us, and it’s really their job to be superheroes (I know Clark Kent is a journalist but that is just a clever rouse).

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2. The Avengers (Live-Action) is a better team than the Justice League (Live-Action):

This really stems from the first point; in the Avengers, the only ‘non-human’ (I say this because he is technically a God) is Thor, whereas in the Justice League, you have a lot of supernatural influence. The Avengers bounce off each other, and their team dynamic allows them to combat evil fairly spontaneously. The Justice League requires organization and planning – which is fine if you’re planning a tea party, but not to save the world. Also, the Justice League are all hypocrites.

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3. DC characters are killed off too easily:

Both Marvel and DC have pretty poor records for killing off their characters, but when DC insist on having invincible Gods and aliens as superheroes, who are eventually killed off, it really defeats the point of them being superheroes.

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4. We will never be able to take the DC Live-Action Movie characters seriously: 

Let me ask you guys a question…… In a world where EVERYTHING is dark……. what is dark?                        In a world where EVERYTHING is violent, sad, brutal and gritty……… what does it really mean?         The answer is nothing.

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5. It’s the heroes who make Marvel, not the villains:

When someone says Marvel, whom do you think of? Iron Man, Thor, Silver Surfer, Captain Marvel, the Hulk, Captain America, Wolverine, Professor X, Cyclops, Nicky Fury…the list goes on and on. When someone says DC, whom do you think of? The Joker, Bane, Lex Luthor, General Zod, V, there’s even an Anti-Justice League. These are all great characters, I do not doubt that, but the Marvel list is of superheroes, earth’s saviours. DC’s list is a group of rather exceptional but incredibly evil characters.

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Round 2                                                                                                                                                                              Animated Movies/TV Shows:

Winner: DC

1. The Flashpoint Paradox is better than any and every Marvel animation combined

Perhaps the most fascinating of the bunch, “Flashpoint” is adapted from a comic written by Geoff Johns. Someone has traveled back in time drastically altering history, and Flash is the only one who knows the truth. In the new timeline, Batman is … different, Wonder Woman and Aquaman are at war with each other, and Superman is nowhere to be found.

The alternate-reality premise makes this one of the richest and most engaging DC storylines. This film can’t be recommended enough if you’re looking to explore a bit deeper into the DC comic universe.

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2. Wonder Woman is better than any and every Marvel animation combined

A precise and engaging telling of not just Wonder Woman’s origins, but the events before and after her becoming the warrior princess, Wonder Woman definitely makes the list for its masterful telling of what can be an enigmatic origin. This massively scoped epic incorporates nearly all of Wonder Woman’s greatest supporting characters, like Ares, Artemis, Hippolyta, and of course, love interest Steve Trevor. The villainous Cheetah even makes a cameo at one point.

As we follow Princess Diana’s journey to becoming Wonder Woman and venturing into the world of man, we see her develop from a skilled but naive woman into the layered and wise hero Wonder Woman. The film’s jam-packed but thoughtful storyline never lags for a second, hitting all the important beats with top-notch pacing.

For a hero as immensely popular as Wonder Woman, this animated film gives a faithful and exciting origin that does her character justice. We can only hope the live-action version is half as good as this.

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3. Green Lantern: First Flight is better than any and every Marvel animation combined

Nearly everything that the 2011 live-action Green Lantern movie tried to be — a superhero origin story crossed with a Star Wars-style space-opera — was handled much better two years earlier by the animated Green Lantern: First Flight. While telling the story of how test pilot Hal Jordan was given an all-powerful ring and initiated into an intergalactic police corps, First Flight also tracks the corruption of Sinestro, a veteran Green Lantern who’s sick of following the rules. The film works as an action-packed sci-fi adventure and as a study of the kind of policeman who’d rather protect his power than the public.

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4. The Dark Knight Returns is better than any and every Marvel animation combined

Based on the now legendary Frank Miller series of the same name, “Dark Knight Returns” depicts a retired, crotchety Bruce Wayne deciding to become Batman once again, against the wishes of … well, everyone.

The political and social commentary is present just as it was in the comic, as is the conflicted relationship between Batman and Superman. Given that this takes place years into the future, the layers of history add a texture and depth to the characters that is lacking in “Batman v Superman.”

In summation, I don’t think it’s even remotely unreasonable for the major studios making these live-action DC films to look to the DC animated universe for inspiration and storytelling guidance.

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5. Batman: Mask of The Phantasm is better than any and every Marvel animation combined

Batman: Mask of the Phantasm was DC’s first attempt at a full-length, animated feature film, and it was an absolute home-run. Considered by many to be DC’s greatest animated venture, Mask of the Phantasm tells an amazing Batman story, unlike any before and after it. A film centered around a case of mistaken identity, romance, and classic Batman action, this film is a blast from start to finish. While as action-packed as they come,Phantasm focuses more on the storytelling than spectacle, keeping in line with the widely successful and award-winning Batman: The Animated Series.

Thanks to the potent combo of Bruce Timm’s direction and Paul Dini’s incredible writing,Mask of the Phantasm stands a cut above the other magnificent animated films from DC. If you haven’t seen this film, or if it’s been a few years, don’t worry — it holds up. Do yourself a favor and watch it immediately

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6. Batman Beyond: Return of The Joker is better than any and every Marvel animation combined

There are actually two versions of this film, a rated and unrated version. Both are great in their own regard, but the unrated version takes the film to a whole new level, with added violence and more intense dialogue. Without a doubt one of the most emotional stories told by DC, including their live-action ventures, Return of the Joker continues the large overarching story of Batman: The Animated Series and Batman Beyond. It shows the everlasting struggle between the Bat-Family and the Joker, by showing not just flashbacks but finding an interesting way to bring the Joker back into the fold, long after his supposed death.

The way in which the Joker is brought back is intense, horrifying, and deeply personal for all involved, making for a film too good not to mention on this list. Also, keeping in line with the established story arc from the animated series, legends Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill came back to finish the story as both Batman and the Joker, providing some of their finest voice work to date.

This is a brutal, dark, scary movie…

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7. Teen Titans: Trouble in Tokyo is better than any and every Marvel animation combined

The Teen Titans are a teenage group of superheroes  with masterpiece-level storytelling in terms of comedy, action, drama, subtle foreshadowing, and allusion. This is a movie based on what is possibly DC’s best, most popular TV Show!

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8. Batman: Under the Red Hood is better than any and every Marvel animation combined

Batman: Under the Red Hood tells the most compelling and heart-wrenching Batman story, making it DC’s most enjoyable animated film from start to finish.

Adapting the Death in the Family and Under the Hood storylines from the comics, this movie takes us on a Batman journey like no other, as he’s forced to confront his greatest mistake as a crime fighter: the death of the second Robin, Jason Todd. Not only do we follow Batman through the grief of dealing with his partner’s death, but we are right alongside the Caped Crusader as he must fight the menace known as the Red Hood, who’s later revealed to be Todd in disguise.

Watching as Batman struggles to try and rehabilitate his ex-partner and deal with the guilt associated with letting Robin descend into madness makes for some of the best storytelling you’ll see on film, animated or not. THIS IS TOTALLY AWESOME AND AN ABSOLUTE MUST WATCH!

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Also, DC’s Animated films are light years ahead of Marvels Live-Action films, so we’ll say that DC beats MARVEL in terms of overall movies

DC’s Animated Film’s are Universally praised as Masterpieces whereas Marvels Live-Action Movies, although good, sometimes great, can never top the master itself!

Round 3                                                                                                                                                                                Comics:

Winner: DC

There is really nothing to say here. DC’s comics are consistent works of art whereas Marvel comics are generally mediocre. DC has genre-defining masterpieces such as the Killing Joke, Superman Doomsday, Batman:Hush, The long Halloween, Knightfall, etc… The winner is DC with no competition. 

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Round 4 Final Round                                                                                                                                                        Video Games:

Winner: DC

Marvel Has a few awesome stuff such as:

Marvel Ultimate Alliance

 Marvel Ultimate Alliance
MUA applied the simple, addictive formula of Gauntlet and Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance to Marvel’s heroes. Focused on action and teamwork with light RPG elements. Featured dozens of playable heroes and villains.
Spider-Man 2
 Spider-Man 2
An open world Spidey game that many consider to be the pinnacle of the franchise. Loosely follows the events of the film, but most gamer’s ignore the story line in favor of swinging through Manhattan.

However DC just Obliterated the competition by giving gaming revolutionary genre-defining masterpieces that changed the scope of all games that came after it such as:

The Wolf Among Us: An award-winning noir, detective game in a fairy tale world with Fables like The Big Bad Wolf, Snow White and many others

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Injustice: Gods Among Us                                                                                                                               One of the best fighting games of all time

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Most importantly, DC crafted what is arguably the best video game trilogy of all time and easily the most revolutionary. A Trilogy that changed all games that came after it……..

THE BATMAN ARKHAM TRILOGY

Batman Arkham Asylum

Batman Arkham City

Batman Arkham Knight

It began in 2009 inside the claustrophobic corridors of a madhouse and ended in 2015 on a rainy night in Gotham City, and in the six years in between, Rocksteady changed the face of gaming with the Batman: Arkham trilogy.

Spread across three titles and two console generations, the studio had the unenviable task of taking one of the biggest icons in pop culture and translating 75 years worth of history onto the console. The studio not only exceeded expectations, it also forever changed the way fans and developers view video games.

Arkham Knight may still be less than a week old, but the legacy of the entire trilogy is already beginning to coalesce in the minds of fans as we start to look back at how the series has impacted the industry.

From revolutionary gameplay mechanics to the rebirth of the licensed game, let’s see how Rocksteady’s Batman saga reshaped, rethought and reinvented the medium.

Love Of The License

It was hard to get too excited about Arkham Asylum when it came out in 2009. The buzz was subdued, and there were only brief—yet hopeful—glimpses of the game in trailers and screenshots in the months before its August release.

For many, it seemed like yet another superhero game coming out to piggyback off the success of a movie. After all, how could a no-name studio possibly match in a video game what Christopher Nolan put on the screen the year before in The Dark Knight?

Then fans finally sat down to play the game—and expectations weren’t just exceeded, they were obliterated.

By staying true to what makes Batman who he is, Rocksteady brought authenticity to a license that had languished in video game anonymity for decades. Arkham Asylum made players feel like Batman, as opposed to so many licensed games before that stuck to a generic action formula with a superhero skin slapped on top of it.

Everything, including the mood, the music, the voice acting, the easter eggs and the combat/stealth mechanics screamed Dark Knight. This was a game that stuck true to the license with almost a religious fervor. This wasn’t just a job; you could feel the love Rocksteady had for Batman’s world, which was rare for licensed games at the time.

For comparison’s sake, just look at Marvel’s offerings from the previous year:The horrible iron Man Game from SEGA and Incredible Hulk titles — these games had blockbuster licenses sitting there for the taking, and instead fans got low quality, terribly written games that barely resembled the superheroes on the box art.

By distilling Batman down to his pointy-eared essence, Arkham Asylum turned a night in a madhouse into the first shots in the licensed gaming revolution.

Absolutely Awesome Gamplay

As a character, Batman has always been just as cerebral as he is forceful. For every brawl, there’s a puzzle to solve; for every car chase, there’s some detective work to be done. Rocksteady took note and crafted a game that combined all of these abilities into a cohesive package.

The fighting system in the Arkham series, in particular, is what its biggest in-game legacy might be. Taking a few pages from Assassin’s Creed, the game relies heavily on counter-based combat, which allows Batman to easily fight off several foes at once.

It’s incredibly simple, yet so effectively done here that it’s amazing no studio had perfected it sooner. Now games like Shadow of Mordor, The Amazing Spider-Man andSleeping Dogs have taken notes from Rocksteady. Even the Assassin’s Creed games—which actually influenced Arkham in the first place—now follow Rocksteady. Why else do you think Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate relies so heavily on fisticuffs and a grappling hook?

It remains to be seen how long the Arkham influence will last—the engine was imagined for Batman specifically, after all—but it’s impossible to deny that both fans and developers recognize just how smooth these games play.

A Story Worth Telling

Most game developers try to tout their stories as a “must-see,” but how many of them really live up to it? Admit it, you’re skipping through more cutscenes than you care to admit, but there’s something different about the Arkham games. Whether you’re hallucinating to some fear toxin, coming face-to-face with Ra’s al Ghul or reliving the night Bruce Wayne’s parents were murdered, the stories have always been just as important as the boss battles and gameplay.

Rocksteady has managed to captivate audiences with an incredibly dense story stretched across three games, multiple comic book series and an animated movie.

Batman: Arkham’s legacy might not even be the video games themselves, but everything that went along with them. DC/Warner Bros. doesn’t see Arkham as a game series, they see it as a spin-off franchise of the Batman brand itself, complete with its own separate mythology and fan following.

Rocksteady didn’t just change gaming with this series; it fundamentally changed the Batman brand forever by adding this new splinter universe that is just as recognized—more so—than the Nolan movies and the comic books.

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A Video Game Landscape Changed

Look at the three points above: devotion to a license, incredible gameplay mechanics and memorable,emotional,perfectly paced storytelling. It seems so simple, but how many other game franchises have achieved Rocksteady’s feat?

Whatever you think of the Arkham series—and I’m sure there are some haters out there—you can’t deny that it pushed the boundaries of what a superhero/licensed game should be. Hell, it pushed the boundary of what any game should be. And when you set out to do that, you’ll have a legacy worth bragging about.

OVERALL WINNER: DC

DC WINS BECAUSE ALTHOUGH MARVEL HAS DONE BETTER THAN DC AT LIVE-ACTION MOVIES, DC BEATS MARVEL WITH EVERYTHING ELSE!

Now don’t get me wrong, DC and Marvel are BOTH fantastic and I am a HUGE fan of both of them.            However, I prefer DC more.

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Things That AMC’s THE WALKING DEAD Could Learn From TELLTALE’s THE WALKING DEAD

I have a love/hate relationship with AMC’s The Walking Dead. The network recently announced plans for a spinoff series from their gory horror comic book adaptation, and if the original series’ ratings are any indication… it will be a hit.

I remember the day when the series was first announced. My excitement was CRAZY, and I immediately marked the occasion on my calendar (conveniently on Halloween night). I had never read the comics before, but I knew they were good. I  also loved all things “Zombie”.

The pilot was gripping, and fully satisfied my need for an emotional apocalyptic story. If you had asked, I would have said that this show was going to be the next big thing; six seasons and a movie! I never would have guessed that I’d be right… and that I’d completely lose interest at the same time.

After two seasons of droll characters, minimal levels of zombie-fueled intensity, and a story that seemed to lack direction… I gave up on my favorite TV show. It was about a full year before I returned to Kirkman’s universe in  the most unlikely of mediums: Telltale’s The Walking Dead, a videogame.

For those unfamiliar, Telltale Games is an independent digital publisher that specializes in interactive stories. Calling these products “video games”, however, is a bit misleading. Each of Telltale’s franchises sell their chapters as “Seasons” which are each divided into five “Episodes” released a few weeks apart. I usually describe a Telltale game as an “interactive television series” instead of a game. The finale episode of Telltale’s second season of TWD, titled: “No Going Back”, was released only a few weeks ago, and it made me weep like a preteen (GIRL) at a Justin Bieber concert… only in a sad way. A sadder way. I was sad. It’s sad.

Although the ratings for every iteration and deviation of Kirkman’s universe are high, Telltale’s take on The Walking Dead seems to receive the highest praise. After several recommendations, I purchased the game, and fell in love with it. It’s a flawless narrative experience that I recommend to anyone and everyone.

Having spent two seasons in the television series, and two in the Telltale series, I feel that I’m qualified to compare the two.  So here are three things AMC would have to learn from Telltale in order to convince me to rejoin the horde.

1. KEEP IT THEMED

Both adaptations deal with several themes: humanity, religion, relationships, choice, survival, family, hope, innocence, etc. Unfortunately for AMC, Telltale’s story is much more streamlined, yielding stronger results.

Telltale’s first season features protagonist Lee Everett, a convicted murderer, with a 9-year-old girl named Clementine in his charge. The game is designed in such a way as to create an attachment between the player, as Lee, and Clementine. Even though we are controlling a fictional character, the illusion of interaction with Clementine feels very genuine, and her survival becomes just as important to our avatar, Lee, as it does to the audience (or the player). It helps that the voice acting is very strong, deepening the illusion of a relationship.

Clementine becomes Lee’s “spine”. In storytelling, a character’s “spine” is their “superobjective”, or their strongest desire that compels them through the narrative. Lee’s spine is to protect Clementine, and this spine guides Lee’s actions throughout the series. How Lee attempts to protect Clementine is up to the player, as the gameplay is structured around player choice, essentially a “choose your own adventure” structure. Regardless of the path any player chooses, the goal remains the same.

This superobjective is manifested in several ways; we keep Clem out of harms way… even if it means placing ourselves into it, we teach her how to use a gun, we cut her hair short to prevent Zombie’s from grabbing it, we can even choose to instill the ethics of survival or to teach her to value universal morality. Clementine grows up quickly, and it’s directly because of the player’s choices through our protagonist. While Lee is leading Clementine, Clementine is also affecting Lee. The more attached they become to each other, the more open they are with their pasts, their fears, and their hopes.

Lee is a massively underqualified father figure. He’s made huge mistakes, which, in our world, would immediately disqualify him from parenthood. This is the theme of Season 1: Paternity. Up until the very end, the entire story is about Lee and his relationship with Clementine.

Let’s compare Lee Everett to Sheriff Rick Grimes.

Rick opens AMC’s first season with an excellent spine: find his family. He is in the middle of a world he doesn’t understand, having been unconscious in a hospital for an unspecified amount of time. He returns home only to find the house abandoned… but he discovers clues, clues that indicate they fled the zombie horde. In short, there’s hope that they’re still alive. And thus our hero embarks on his quest!!!

…not three episodes later he finds his family.

This is halfway through the first season.

AMC’s first season was expensive to produce, so the network only purchased six episodes. With such a short season it shouldn’t have been too difficult to extend Rick’s spine to the final episode. This would have provided us with a first season that feels more “packaged”. When our character’s spine is resolved too early, it removes much of the emotional weight that would accompany it. What’s worse is that once Rick finds his family, he seems to lose any semblance of a spine. What is his goal? What do they do next? It’s difficult to pinpoint it beyond anything as simple as “survive”, but for a zombie story that’s not very creative… is it? Anyone and everyone want’s to survive, so why are we following this story?

The result is a season that lacks a theme. There is no real label we can attach to AMC’s first season. The subsequent season seemed to come a little closer, but there are too many themes this time, and they are split amongst too many characters. There’s sexuality (Glenn and Maggie), mortality (Hershel), familial bonds (Carol and Daryl), paternity (Rick and Carl), Marriage (Rick, Lori, Shane), etc.; and it can be a bit difficult to keep track of them all. It’s almost as if by having it all take place on one location, Hershel’s farm, AMC assumed that the multitude of subplots would be easier to follow. This is mistaking a constructed story for a crafted story. Every part of Telltale’s first seasonal narrative eventually comes back to Lee and Clementine; AMC’s narrative is all over the place.

2. MAKE EVERYTHING IMPORTANT

A close friend of mine once told me that a truly great film uses everything twice. If something weighty happens, but it’s never brought up again… it’s only filler. If something happens more than twice, it’s repetitive.

Both of Telltale’s seasons implement this storytelling tactic to great effect. At the end of the first season’s first episode, Lee Everett has to decide whether or not to permit a woman to commit suicide after a zombie bite. At the season’s finale, Lee has to choose whether or not to ask for the same treatment from his adopted daughter.

It doesn’t always have to be so literal though, and the second season uses foreshadowing with a more subtle approach. During the second season’s first episode, Clementine is alone. She stumbles upon a friendly dog who accompanies her as she scavenges for food. Although Clem and the Dog form a report, their relationship is cut short when the Dog attacks Clementine in order to steal food. In self-defense Clementine kicks the dog away, impaling it on some tent-poles. Clementine then must decide whether or not to put him out of his misery, or leave him to suffer. During the season finale, Clementine must decide whether or not to put a beloved companion, Kenny, out of his misery whilst he is in a fit of rage. Kenny is a danger to everyone around him, and he has a knife at the throat of another group member. Kenny is a mad dog, but he was a loyal dog to you. The player must then decide whether or not put Kenny down, just as they had to decide what to do with the mad dog.

By contrast, AMC’s the Walking Dead seems to be full of moments that just don’t matter to the story in any way. Rather, it’s a series of highlights, which are broken up by some droll soap-drama that slow the action as opposed to intensifying it.

Let’s dissect AMC’s second season. In the premiere, a child goes missing in the group. They spend half a season looking for her in the shelter of a nearby farm, only to discover that she was in the farm’s barn the entire time… already dead. There is some bickering over supplies and sexual drama until the finale. During the finale an enormous horde overwhelms the camp as the survivors flee in search of a new refuge.

We know that Rick and Shane are eventually going to have to talk through their differences, and we know that eventually we’ll be heartbroken to learn of the child’s fate… but it’s less satisfying when things just seem to happen at random from a result of circumstance.

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Telltale’s series is wrapped up into a beautiful gift, whereas AMC’s series feels like it’s been improvised. Several of the AMC episodes are filled with incredibly superfluous horror sequences which, removed from the show, wouldn’t change any dynamics of the series.

The most odd of which is during the second season, when a heavy-set walker finds itself trapped in a well. The team agrees that they need to tie a rope around the zombies neck in order to remove it from the well, since killing the zombie would only pollute the water supply. For one thing, this has no thematic or narrative connection to any of our characters’ superobjectives… and secondly, it simply doesn’t make sense. A dead body in a well… has already polluted the well. Removing it without killing it won’t matter. Just ditch the well. It’s a silly scene, and completely insignificant to the story’s grander arc.

3. CREATE LIKEABLE CHARACTERS

This is, far and away, AMC’s The Walking Dead most common complaint. I had stopped watching the show by the time Lori died in Season 3, but I certainly knew it happened when my facebook feed was cluttered with “hallelujahs.” I felt the same way when Shane died, and I was praying for the death of Andrea and Carl through several episodes. There are a few diamonds in the rough, such as Dale, Glenn, Maggie, and Daryl… but the rest are either useless or boring… and that unfortunately includes our droll “goody-two-shoes” protagonist Rick Grimes.

Compare Rick, once again, to Lee Everett… a man convicted of murder whose now fathering a 9 year old orphan. He has a history, and most of it’s unknown to us. But he’s compassionate, kind, and endearing… unless you threaten those close to him. There’s an argument that takes place during the first episode of the first season regarding whether or not to kill a child who had potentially been bitten. If you choose to stand up for the child… Lee’s reaction is pretty scary. He’s certainly not a softie.

Let’s also compare AMC’s Carl, to Telltale’s Clementine. They are very similar in that they’re both children who’re in the progress of losing their innocence to a world gone crazy. The difference between the two is that Carl is a constant source of conflict without personality, whereas Clementine is a receptor of conflict who boasts a strong personality. She’s soft-hearted and weak, but she’s strong hearted and has the capacity for feats of bravery (especially in the second season). She even adds some significant humor to the story. Clementine is a character, and Carl is simply a plot device.

It’s very important to make sure that all your characters have more redeeming (or interesting!) qualities than negative ones, and give them a background that justifies those qualities. Creating a well-rounded and compelling character is  difficult, but it’s especially important for villains. Shane was the group’s leader before Rick returned, but this doesn’t justify Shane’s power-hungry attitude throughout 16 episodes… even if it did, Shane has no positive qualities that encourage us to root for him, and no qualities which add intrigue to his character! None of his actions really come as a surprise, and his super objective is unclear, which prevents compelling drama from exisitng.

There’s a incredibly compelling villain in Telltale’s second season named Carver, voiced by the wonderful Michael Madsen (Reservoir Dogs). Carver has no redeeming qualities, but his character carries a strong presence into every situation. There’s no questions about it, Carver is ruthless, but his actions make sense. We understand his decision making process, and we fear the authority he commands in his totalitarian seat of power. In short, it’s difficult to predict Carver’s actions, but it’s certain that they will usually be horrifying, and are always justified by circumstance. Shane’s character seems to act at random, on occasion making logical decisions, and on occasion making strange ones… without a clear reason why. Carver wants to survive the apocalypse in a seat of authority. Shane wants to… sleep with Lori, I think?

Lily, the group’s acting leader in Telltale’s first season, often makes brash decisions based on her emotions. She is very similar to Shane in a lot of ways. Lily is also an emotionally, physically, and spiritually exhausted person. She watches her father’s face get smashed in, is responsible for divvying out an extremely meager supply of food rations every day (which she occasionally refuses for herself), and struggles to sleep at night. Lilly deals with a lot of personal and emotional garbage which transitions into her ability to effectively to lead the group. Lily also sacrifices her personal comfort for those around her. She’s selfless. This selflessness eventually causes her to “snap”, and murder a member of your group, for the good of the group. Even amidst this heated moment, it’s distressing to watch as Lily falls… completely betrayed by her own fear and exhaustion. She’s real. She’s authentic. Everyone in Telltale’s universe is.

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AMC gave us Shane, Andrea, and Carl.

In conclusion… it ultimately comes down to creating a well-rounded experience. Telltale’s experience sets out with an objective… to make you feel the weight of parenthood during an apocalypse (Season 1), or how to deal with being a child whose lost their innocence (Season 2). Both seasons are an emotional rollercoaster. I can only describe AMC’s TWD as a soap opera occasionally interrupted by zombie action sequences. It’s certainly doing something right, as it’s one of AMC’s highest rated shows, but I think the new spinoff series ought to aim a little higher.

I believe that Telltale proved that the viewers want a story about zombies, but they need a story with heart.

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GTA V: What Rockstar could learn from Batman Arkham Knight

GTA V could learn a thing or two from Batman: Arkham Knight. While the talented team at Rockstar Games sparked the open world phenomenon that defined the last generation of consoles, refinements made by other development studios provide GTA’s creators with the opportunity to perfect open-world gaming.

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Substance over Size

A common criticism of open-world games is that large map sizes create a sparse playground for gamers. When scope overshadows focus, open-world games suffer. Even GTA IV, which scored a 97/100 from critics, was not immune to this problem. Batman Arkham Knight had scored a 100/100. Liberty City was beautifully rendered and filled with content for the player to experience, yet the majority of the game’s buildings were off limits. In short, the environment lacked character and density.

Red Dead Redemption, the studio’s latest release, largely skirted this issue due to its setting. The game’s fictitious take on the Wild West hosted a large map punctuated by small, colorful towns. If you stick to the main roads, you will often pass by fellow travelers going about their daily business. By the virtue of its era, Rockstar did not need to figure out how to enliven a metropolis filled with endless skyscrapers.

Developer Rocksteady’s Arkham Knight introduced an open-world that managed to infuse character and meaning into the players surroundings. As Batman glides around Gotham, graffiti tags can be spied on the sides of buildings, villains’ territories can be understood through the costumes their henchmen wear, and AI consistently spouts dialogue that acknowledges the players’ input. Although a number of buildings are not open to the player, the illusion that people inhabit them keeps the navigation from feeling repetitive. The team behind Batman: Arkham Knight crafted an environment that speaks to its players, a lesson that GTA could benefit from.bbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbb

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The Wolf Among Us: It’s Like The Walking Dead, Except You Haven’t Played It

Earlier this month, Telltale Games released the first episode of their adventure game The Wolf Among Us. I get the feeling most of you haven’t played it. That’s a shame because, Wolf is just as good as Telltale’s The Walking Dead game.

The Wolf Among Us is based on Bill Willingham’s comic book series Fables. In this series, fairy tale characters like Snow White and Mr. Toad were forced to flee their homelands because of a mysterious enemy. These Fables resettled in a section of New York City and now try to eke out a quiet living. The Fables with more exotic appearances wear magical disguises called glamours to appear human. Bigby Wolf, formerly known as the Big Bad Wolf, is charged with maintaining order in Fabletown and ensuring that the Fables maintain their masquerade.

When the premise was first described to me, I expected a more slapstick story. You know, with scenes of the Three Little Pigs walking around Manhattan underneath a single trenchcoat so they can buy falafel or something. However, the premise is treated with complete seriousness by the game. The Fables, as magical and fantastic as they are, still exhibit very human emotions. They haven’t adjusted well to their exile and lose themselves in alcohol, sex and other vices to pass the time.

Though he’s the sheriff of the bunch, Bigby’s no boy scout. He seems like the cliche, poor-as-shit private eye who hates shaving but that’s just his glamour. Beneath his magical disguise, he’s still a monstrous wolf. He’s supposed to keep the Fables in line but they keenly remember all the years he spent terrorizing him back in the old country. Part of him would love to just stop playing nice guy and start blowing down pigs’ houses again. The game follows him as he tries to do his job in spite of others’ expectations and his animal instincts.

Like Walking Dead, Wolf Among Us is sort of a point-and-click adventure but not really. You explore the environment and find objects but there are no real puzzles to speak of. Most of your choices will come through the branching dialogue. While chatting with other Fables, you can be a calm officer of the law or act like the fierce wolf everyone knows you are. You’re also confronted with moral dilemmas, small and large. How you behave in each of these interactions will affect the storyline later in the episode and potentially later in the season.

If I had a complaint about the decision-driven gameplay of Wolf, it’s that Telltale goes a bit overboard in trying to convey how important your choices are. If you tell the flying monkey that you had a bad day, you’re told in subtitles that “he’s going to remember that.” During the two crucial decisions in Episode One, the action stops so you understand the utter gravity of the situation. We get it, guys. Choices matter.

Wolf has virtually the same QTE-driven combat as The Walking Dead, which is…fine. This isn’t an action game; you’re playing it for a good story rather than a good fight. Still, to Wolf’s credit, it required slightly faster reflexes and precision than TWD. The action’s more exciting, too, because you’re not just fighting shambling zombies anymore. Bigby has to face down all types of magical beings in his investigation so there’s no such thing as a normal brawl.

Some fans of Walking Dead probably won’t pick up The Wolf Among Us because it doesn’t have Walking Dead in its name. If you enjoyed Lee Everett’s tale, though, you really should check out Wolf. Bigby’s adventure is just as exciting!

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Best Adventure Games

1. Telltale’s The Walking Dead

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2. Telltale’s The Wolf Among Us

3. Sam & Max: The Devil’s Playhouse

4. Tales from The Borderlands

5. Day of The Tentacle

6. Grim Fandango

7. Life is Strange

8. Tales From Monkey Island

9. Minecraft

10. To The Moon