[FILM REVIEW] Spider-Man: Homecoming (Jon Watts, 2017)

WARNING: The very premise of this film contains spoilers for the series thus far.

One year ago, a high school student named Peter Parker was approached by philanthropist Tony Stark with an interesting proposition. The Avengers were in the middle of a heated internal dispute in Berlin, Germany. Around this time, a new superhero calling himself Spider-Man had appeared in Queens, New York, becoming an internet sensation in the process. Through his resources, Stark deduced that Parker and Spider-Man are one in the same, and recruited the student to help resolve the conflict. In the end, the Avengers were torn asunder and Parker returned to his studies at the Midtown School of Science and Technology after Stark told him he was not ready to become a full-time Avenger. Returning to school, he faces a challenge that may give his fight with Steve Rogers a run for its money: asking his crush to the homecoming dance.

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[GAME REVIEW] King’s Quest VII: The Princeless Bride

Introduction

Despite not selling as many copies as its direct predecessor, King’s Quest VI was yet another success for Sierra’s flagship franchise upon its 1992 release. While King’s Quest V was a major step up from its own direct predecessor in terms of presentation and gameplay, King’s Quest VI ironed out a majority of its flaws. The untrained office employees were replaced by professional voice actors. Combined with more user-friendly design choices and sensible puzzle solutions, there was little question King’s Quest VI managed to be the pinnacle of the franchise as soon as it debuted. Even if making a sequel was the logical thing to do, series creator Roberta Williams had her work cut out for her.

During this time, Disney’s success after having fully recovered from a nearly fatal slump in the 1980s effected what is believed to be the studio’s renaissance. The film most commonly cited for starting this era was The Little Mermaid in 1989. This triumph was then followed up by Beauty and the Beast in 1991 and Aladdin in 1992. All three of these films are beloved classics by anyone versed in the medium – and even those who aren’t. Realizing just how much life these films breathed into the medium, the Sierra staff sought to capture that energy and transplant it into the next King’s Quest installment.

With the rising popularity of the CD-ROM format, Ms. Williams had begun drafting ideas for a game featuring heavy amounts of full-motion video footage. Its name was to be Phantasmagoria. As a result of her busy schedule, she helmed the development of King’s Quest VII alongside two other new directors: Lorelei Shannon and Andy Hoyos. Even so, Ms. Williams was enthusiastic about the project, often bouncing ideas off of Ms. Shannon. It was to the point where they were sad when the planning process came to an end, for Ms. Shannon believed they could have devised new ideas for the next two years.

In order to make as good of an impression as possible, Sierra’s co-founder, Ken Williams, had the idea to contact an up-and-coming animation studio known as Pixar. They had made a favorable impression on animation enthusiasts with their collection of short films, and were in the process of creating their theatrical debut: Toy Story. To Mr. Williams’s surprise, he received a call from Pixar founder Steve Jobs almost immediately after proposing a possible collaboration. Unfortunately for Sierra, the plan fell through when it became clear the Pixar team was far too busy to entertain making a short film for them. To bring their vision of an interactive cartoon into reality, Sierra contracted four animation houses: Animation Magic Inc., Dungeon Ink & Paint, LA West Film Production, and Animotion.

Despite the fact that most of these animators had limited experience in computer gaming, the development cycle proceeded fairly smoothly. The project eventually saw its completion in November of 1994 under the name King’s Quest VII: The Princeless Bride. Being the seventh installment of a long-running franchise, King’s Quest VII had no problems finding an audience, selling 3.8 million copies within the next eighteen months. However, while fans and critics alike were enthusiastic about the series’ previous entries, the seventh left them divided. Some disliked the Disney-inspired presentation while others had nothing but praise for it. Although many games to follow the franchise’s pinnacle gain a new lease on life with the power of hindsight, King’s Quest VII remains a divisive entry to this very day. Was it even possible for Sierra to successfully follow up a game as beloved as King’s Quest VI?

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[FILM REVIEW] 24 Hour Party People (Michael Winterbottom, 2002)

On June 4, 1976, a television presenter named Tony Wilson watched the Sex Pistols perform at the Manchester Lesser Free Trade Hall. The audience for the pioneering punk band was decidedly small; fewer than fifty people attended. Nonetheless, many of these people would go on to have promising music careers of their own. To harness the energy of this new wave of music sweeping Manchester, Wilson founds a record label he dubs Factory Records, signing a promising collected called Joy Division as their first band.

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[FILM REVIEW] Midsommar (Ari Aster, 2019)

Dani Ardor is a college student in a relationship with one Christian Hughes. He is an emotionally distant man – to the point where one of his friends, Mark, suggests they break up. However, one night, he receives a particularly disturbing call from Dani. Her bipolar sister has just committed a heinous murder-suicide, stealing the lives of their parents before taking her own. The next summer, Dani, while attending a party with Christian, learns that he and his three friends, Mark, Josh, and Pelle, have been invented to attend a midsummer celebration in Hälsingland, Sweden. Pelle hails from the country and the festivities take place once every ninety years at an ancestral commune known as the Hårga. Once Dani learns of their trip, Christian hesitantly invites her to join them.

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[GAME REVIEW] Kirby’s Dream Land

Introduction

The year 1980 marked the founding of a game developer known as HAL Laboratories. Headquartered in Chiyoda, Tokyo, one of the first things the company created was a peripheral that allowed computers to display graphics when they were otherwise incapable of doing so. From there, they developed what a part-time worker named Satoru Iwata admitted at the time was slew of rip-off of Namco’s famous arcade games such as Rally X and Galaxian. As copyright laws surrounding software was not clear in that era, they did not ask for Namco’s permission, though they did eventually obtain a license from them. In 1982, Mr. Iwata graduated from college and joined the company as a full-time employee. Following that, the company developed original games for the MSX and Commodore VIC-20 before focusing their attention to Nintendo’s Famicom console.

As the 1980s drew to a close, Nintendo had just launched their Game Boy console and a young man by the name of Masahiro Sakurai joined HAL Laboratories. Nintendo’s portable console proved to be such a hit, that demand often exceeded supply and Mr. Sakurai was in the processes of developing a game for it. Naturally, in order to design a game, he needed to create a character for it. At the age of nineteen, he drew a blob-like character as a placeholder sprite until he could come up with a different model. However, as time went on, he preferred it over any of the other proposed designs he came up with.

During the development of this game, Mr. Sakurai’s team called the character Popopo before ultimately deciding on Kirby. In later years, Mr. Sakurai himself remained unsure as to how they decided on that name. Given that Mr. Sakurai gave Kirby the ability to inhale and spit out objects at enemies, fans speculate he may have been named after the Kirby Company, which famously manufactured vacuum cleaners. Another theory is he was named after John Kirby, the attorney from Latham & Watkins LLP who defended Nintendo against Universal Studios’ infamous copyright infringement lawsuit they filed in 1981. Universal alleged that Nintendo’s popular arcade game Donkey Kong was an unauthorized allusion to the classic film King Kong. Shigeru Miyamoto, the creator of Donkey Kong, has gone on record saying this is the reason why Kirby made a list of potential names for the character, though he wasn’t named after the attorney.

Whatever the case may be, Kirby’s debut game was released in 1992 for the Game Boy. The game was originally titled Twinkle Popopo, but Mr. Sakurai’s team changed it to Kirby of the Stars to reflect the character’s new name. For its Western release a few months later, the game’s title was changed to Kirby’s Dream Land. The game proved fairly popular, selling a little over one-million copies. Critics were fairly receptive to the game, believing it provided a unique take on the platformer genre. With Kirby going on to become the mascot of HAL Laboratories, how does his first adventure hold up?

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[FILM REVIEW] Toy Story 4 (Josh Cooley, 2019)

Nine years ago, one toy belonging to a child named Andy Davis, R.C., had been caught in a fierce rainstorm. Andy’s favorite toy, Woody, led a rescue operation and managed to bring him back into the house. However, in the midst of the operation, Andy’s younger sister, Molly, entered the scene. As toys act insentient around humans, Woody could do nothing to prevent one of his friends, Bo Peep, from being donated along with her sheep. Woody tried to convince her to stay, but Bo reminded him that all toys must leave their owners one day. Realizing Andy still needed him, Woody stayed behind.

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The Blunders of Filip Miucin and Dean Takahashi: Why Critics Should Be Open to Criticism

In the summer of 2017, I learned of an independently produced video game known as Cuphead. Its art style immediately grabbed my attention. I thought it was fascinating how the creators drew inspiration from the pioneering American animated short films of the 1920s and 1930s, giving it a colorful, fresh coat of paint.  As it wasn’t released until September of that year, one would expect I learned of it through the publicity professional journalists were giving it on the eve of its release. Such an assertion would indeed be the case.

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June 2019 in Summary: Midyear Mayhem

2019 is halfway over if you can believe that. I can, given how long ago my first review of this month felt. So far, it’s been a slightly better year for films, with Us and Avengers: Endgame having debuted. Those two films are easily a match for the best ones I saw in 2018, and Rocketman is easily the superior effort to Bohemian Rhapsody. That said, the actual distribution of these remains highly fickle (seriously, A24, don’t be afraid to expand your audience). I have to admit I haven’t really played any games from this year, though I am keeping an eye on Fire Emblem: Three Houses

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[GAME REVIEW] King’s Quest VI: Heir Today, Gone Tomorrow

Introduction

Jane Jensen, the youngest of seven children, always had a fondness for computers. Attending Anderson University in Indiana, she received a BA in computer science, a quickly budding field at the time. Shortly thereafter, she found herself working for Hewlett-Packard as a systems programmer. She then felt inspired to enter the gaming industry after playing a classic adventure title called King’s Quest IV: The Perils of Rosella. As fate would have it, her passion for computers and creative writing, led to her finding a job at Sierra OnLine where she wrote the scenarios for Police Quest III: The Kindred and EcoQuest: The Search for Cetus. Both games were successes for the prolific company, but she was about to receive a task of even greater and personal importance.

In the year 1990, company co-founder Roberta Williams placed the finishing touches on King’s Quest V. This fifth installment in the company’s flagship series became the single greatest-selling game in the franchise. The following year, Ms. Williams, impressed with Ms. Jensen’s work, had an interesting proposal for the then-newcomer. She had already begun preliminary work on the newest King’s Quest game, having conceived a rough outline for the plot. The two of them then began working alongside each other, brainstorming new design ideas in the process. Their goal was to retain the familiar tone of the series had established in previous installments while giving the game an identity of its own. Furthermore, Ms. Williams wanted players to connect with the game on an emotional level, deciding to fulfill this objective by penning a central love story between two characters.

With King’s Quest V having been a significant technical leap from its predecessor, Ms. Williams sought to set her sights even higher for its sequel. Co-director Bill Skirvin along with the artists began work on storyboards and character designs. One artist in particular, John Shroades, had sketched the eighty backgrounds that would end up in the final product. Taking advantage of the recent advent of motion capture technology, the team ended up transcribing the movement of live-action actors for the potential player decisions and subsequent character animations – of which there were over 2,000. Similarly, the game would feature over 6,000 lines of written messages. Handling this task was Ms. Jensen, who scripted the game, defining for programmers how it should respond to a given action.

Development of this game was completed by September of 1992. In an interview for The New York Times, Ms. Williams estimated the game’s budget was around $700,000 USD. The crew, led by her, Mr. Skirvin, and Ms. Jensen, consisted of twenty people and the project took fourteen months to complete. Although it was scheduled for a release in September of 1992, Sierra delayed it until the thirteenth of October. Entitled King’s Quest IV: Heir Today, Gone Tomorrow, the fruit of their labor was originally released on nine floppy disks for DOS and Macintosh. It was rereleased upon an emerging format – the CD-ROM – in 1993 for DOS and Microsoft’s newest operating system, Windows. Taking advantage of this new format, the team added a voiceover for every single line of dialogue and included a ballad named “Girl in the Tower”, which was composed by Mark Seibert. Sierra sent a CD containing the song to local radio stations and included a pamphlet listing them along with every copy of the game. In the pamphlet, they suggested fans request the song to be played. The owners of said radio stations were not impressed; they legally threatened Sierra as a result of the myriad requests with which they were bombarded. This prompted a bemused Ken Williams to label the stations the real criminals for ignoring their customers – “something [he believed] no business should ever do”.

Although King’s Quest VI didn’t sell as many copies as the series’ fifth installment, it ended up being the single best-received game in the series. Every single one of its five predecessors was similarly well-received, yet King’s Quest VI seemed to possess something they lacked: staying power. When parsing the first five installments in the series from a modern perspective, one is likely to conclude they don’t hold up so well. They were all, to some extent, trailblazers, yet any contemporary review will invariably include phrases such as “fair for its time” or “aged horribly”. This isn’t true of King’s Quest VI – even now, you can find it on lists compiling the greatest PC games ever made. Is this the installment that allowed the series to finally escape the genre’s early trappings and deliver an experience worthy of being called an all-time classic?

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[FILM REVIEW] Toy Story 3 (Lee Unkrich, 2010)

With Andy Davis heading for college, his toys begin to worriedly reflect on their own future. They have not been played with in years, and a majority of them are gone. The army men, declaring their job done, parachute out the window. All hope isn’t lost, for Andy decides to take Woody with him to college and intends to place the rest of his toys in the attic. However, through a series of misunderstandings, Ms. Davis believes the bag containing the toys for a normal trash bag and places it on the curb. Saddened that Andy would throw them away, they climb into a donation box along with Molly’s old Barbie doll en route to Sunnyside Daycare. Knowing Andy has not abandoned them, Woody attempts to convince his fellow toys of the truth, though he will find the task more difficult than he ever could have imagined.

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