Beyond Black Mesa

Beyond Black Mesa is a very impressive short film set in the world of the critically acclaimed Half-Life video game series. It took two years to make, and I’d say it looks way better than its $1,200 budget would indicate. Here’s a brief synopsis:

Inspired by the Half-Life Video Game series, this is an action packed short film centering around Adrian Shephard and a band of resistance fighters struggling to get out a warning about the impending invasion.

More info here.

BioWare officially announces “Mass Effect 3”

Ending months of speculation, BioWare announced that they were, indeed, going to release Mass Effect 3, thereby surprising noone. I say it’s a non-surprise because anyone who has followed the games knows that they’ve always been envisioned as a trilogy. Still, it’s a relief to know that it’s a certainty.

Mass Effect 3 doesn’t have a final release date yet, just “Holidays 2011”, so the game could come out anytime in November or December of next year. So consider this a really, really early warning: Opus will be effectively abandoned around this time next year when I attempt to defeat the Reapers yet again.

Related: “Mass Effect 3: What We Want”

The possibility of a “Myst” movie intrigues me

Myst

Several sites—e.g., Blastr, Deadline—are reporting that plans for a live action version of Myst, one of the most popular and influential video games of all time, have been set in motion.

In Myst, you play a nameless stranger who is brought to a mysterious island. As you explore the island, you discover books that allow you to travel to other worlds. While doing so, you uncover clues concerning the mysteries and origins of the island and its inhabitants, and become tasked with preventing the island and its wonders from falling into the wrong hands. With its involving storyline and stunning—for its time—graphics, Myst sold millions and is still lauded as a breakthrough game, and is frequently mentioned whenever the “video games as art” debate crops up.

The game’s movie rights have been optioned by producers Hunt Lowry and Mark Johnson, who were behind Donnie Darko and The Chronicles of Narnia films, respectively. From the Deadline article:

One focus of the film will be the influence of a human who entered Myst and inadvertently brought down the civilization. Johnson and Lowry are separately teamed on an adaptation of the John Grisham novel The Testament. With Vanderbosch and Testerman, they are on the hunt for a writer before they shop it to studios. “Our aim with this project is to stretch the genres it operated within, much like the source material did,” Vanderbosch said. “It is such an innovative property and by utilizing the novels as our primary resource, we have the opportunity to offer audiences the essence of MYST without being limited only to the famous island of the first game. Our focus has always been on creating an entirely new visual experience driven by engaging characters and an epic narrative.”

I could see a Myst movie being a great success, so long as the filmmakers stay true to the mysterious nature and tone of the original game. One of the reasons why Myst was so popular was that it relied more on ambience and atmosphere than action and dialog to draw in and involve the player—it was, and I think, remains still, a unique experience, especially when compared to the video games of today.

Hollywood’s involvement doesn’t necessarily engender a lot of confidence in that regard—Myst strikes me as less a Narnia-esque epic and more like a project better suited for a smaller, more independent-minded approach—but one can always hope, can’t they?

Enter the world of “Coma”

Coma

All too often, the only video games that get significant amounts of attention are the Halo and Call of Duty type games, and understandably so. They’re produced by major game studios with multi-million dollar marketing budgets dedicated to embedding them into the subconscious of every Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and/or PC owner out there. But every so often, along comes a game that is the complete antithesis of those games, a game that is unassuming and at first glance, rather plain—but that turns out to be engrossing and enchanting in a way that big budget mainstream games can never hope to be.

Coma is one such game. Developed in Flash by one Thomas Brush, Coma is the tale of a young boy named Pete who finds himself in a world that, as the title implies, might be his own subconsciousness. But Inception this is most definitely not. As he moves through the strange world, he receives clues about an imprisoned sister and a villainous father, and sees random hints about doorbells and the falseness of the world surrounding him. But the only way to make sense of it all is to keep exploring.

Coma is a very simple side-scrolling puzzler of a game: a moderately good gamer can probably finish it in 20 minutes or so. However, you may find yourself wanting to take longer than that in order to soak up the game’s simple yet evocative (and slightly ominous) atmosphere and settings: the creepy mansion in which the game begins, flowery pastoral fields, subterranean passages filled with giant worms, haunted forests, and so forth. They all seem rather straightforward when you begin, perhaps even too much so. But to Brush’s great credit, the simplicity and ambiguity slowly begins engaging the player’s imagination to fill in the blanks and wonder more about the world.

Coma‘s Flash animation is flawless, the puzzles are clever but not frustrating, and the sparse dialog is cryptic yet whimsical. The game is full of little details that generate equal amounts of whimsy and dread. For example, you are followed around by a tiny bird companion who is continually shedding feathers, a seemingly trivial touch that nevertheless enforces a certain sense of mortality and mono no aware. I would be sorely remiss if I didn’t also mention the game’s music, also by Brush, which blends acoustic guitars, electronic beats, field recordings, and wordless vocals in a way that adds an extra level of wonder and poignancy.

All told, Coma is a true delight to play. A puzzle game, an adventure game, a psychological thriller, and even a bit of a sandbox game, Coma pulls it all off gracefully and movingly. If a game’s success can be measured by the engrossing nature of the virtual world into which it places its players, then Coma is just as successful as its bigger budgeted cousins—perhaps even moreso given its humble origins and aspirations.

Related: PopMatters’ in-depth—though slightly spoiler-filled—review.

Fumihiko Sori to direct “Dragon Age” anime

Dragon Age

Anime News Network is reporting that Fumihiko Sori will be directing the previously announced Dragon Age anime. Honestly, I’m not sure how I feel about this. I liked Dragon Age: Origins quite a bit and am definitely looking forward to the sequel, and I think it would be an interesting world in which to set other stories, be they animated or otherwise. However, I’m torn on Sori directing.

I loved Ping Pong for its energy, emotional depth, and clever use of CGI, and it continues to grow on me with each new viewing. On the other hand, I found Vexille—Sori’s 2007 CG/anime film—to be rather underwhelming, especially once the explosions and action subsided and the film tried for quieter, more character-driven moments.

I’m sure that Sori will be able to pull off the spectacle aspect of Dragon Age—i.e., epic battle scenes—but if that’s all the anime really has to offer, I’ll be disappointed.