Story – One Thing You Should Never Skimp On

For this week I decided to take all of my interests and try and condense it into a topic that covers everything, Story. A good story obviously has a lot of elements to engage the consumer and maintain their interest no matter the cost. I’m going to look at examples of my favourite entertainment mediums and highlight when stories have worked and when they’ve flopped. There are obviously exceptions to every rule but as a general stance, story is something you should never ever compromise. I’m going to highlight one failure and one major success for each category, let’s dive in…

GAMING

Oh gaming… I could write a full post about games that were supposed to be great and dropped the ball *cough* Anthem *cough*, but I’m going to focus on two games that I’ve played extensively, Witcher 3 and Destiny. First let’s look at the one that botched the story, Destiny.

DESTINY

The inaugural piece and focal point of Bungie’s deal with Activision/Blizzard (a deal that has since fallen through), really shit the bed on the whole story telling front. While you would play missions through the game, unless you were paying attention to the barely audible dialogue of your ghost (your companion), you missed everything. I know some players who played over 40 hours in the game and still can’t tell you what the main focus of the story was. It appeared that you were fighting the Fallen (aliens), only to switch and fight the Cabal (more aliens), then switch to the Hive (even more aliens) and finally end up killing a Vex God (another race of aliens). What made it worse was that the majority of the story and the background lore was only accessible through Grimoire Cards. You earned these cards by playing the game but had to go to the Destiny website to actually read them. Ya, you had to do homework to understand the story of the game… Not only did they botch the story, but the best part of it, the fact your Ghost was voiced by Peter Dinklage (of Game of Thrones fame), was removed in their first update! They took out Dinklage, due to scheduling conflicts with Game of Thrones, and brought in Nolan North! I mean, respect to Nolan North, he does some great work, but you don’t replace Dinklage with him. They also replaced Nathan Fillion with him as well! Fillion voiced Cayde-6 (one of the Vanguard Guardians, and my favourite character) and provided most of the humour for the game. In Destiny 2 he was replaced by North and then they just straight up killed him! I am not a happy camper about that…

Ghost from Destiny

WITCHER

It’s no big secret that I love the Witcher games. They’re expansive, lore filled, and actually follow a comprehensible story. From the first game that was released on the PC way back in 2007 to the Wild Hunt which was released in 2015 (now holding the most awards for any single game at 251) the story has continued to captivate audiences since its release. The main protagonist is Geralt of Rivia, a Witcher (Monster Hunter) and focuses on his various adventures detailing his exploits and his training and protection of Ciri, the daughter of the Emperor. Each game delivers a new and exciting story to the Witcher mythos and entices consumers to expand their knowledge on the subject by buying the graphic novels and original works by Andrzej Sapkowski. I remember seeing the trailer for Witcher II: Assassins of Kings, in a Gamestop with couple of friends during a trip to Kingston. As the TVs show a rotation of current and upcoming trailers, the trailer for Assassins of Kings came on and everyone stopped to watch. I do mean everyone. Myself and my friends, the employees, and the other patrons all stood stock still watching this trailer. I have never seen anything like that until the explosion of the MCU and their genius marketing campaigns. Here’s the trailer for your enjoyment:

FILM

Films are actually notorious for skimping on story for some big blockbuster action sequences. Films like the Michael Bay Transformers franchise beat this practice to death… Not all film franchises do this, but there are quite a few that fall into this practice.

JUSTICE LEAGUE

Justice League… oh what could’ve been if not for studio interference… I know I have praised this film before on this blog, but the nostalgia glasses were pulled off my eyes long ago and I have seen the light of truth… it’s a bad movie. Do I still like it? Yes, because liking something and it being considered “good” are not mutually exclusive. I LOVE the Marvel Ghost Rider films, are they bad? Obviously! But because of my love for the character I can look past it, the same thing can be said in the most part for Justice League. Here’s the problem with Justice League, the story makes no sense! Literally none. When WB got wind of Zack Snyder’s plan and his vision they got scared because of the lackluster performance of Batman V. Superman, and frankly, can you blame them? Zack was eventually removed from the project, whether by his own volition or the studio and him parting ways and Joss Whedon was brought in to revitalize the movie. People give Whedon a lot of flack for the film, and some of it is rightly placed, but he didn’t really alter the story at all. He added pretty much ALL the humour in the movie and added some more character interactions to make the League appear as more than just wooden and emotionless demi-gods. I have long said that WB and DC comics make movies for comic fans whereas Marvel makes comic movies for everyone. The main issue with not only Justice league, but Suicide Squad and Batman V. Superman is that DC assumed everybody knew the characters. Which a lot of people didn’t. The core characters obviously, but not the secondary and background ones that influence the plot. They assumed you knew the motivations and back story of all the characters and only chose to highlight the ones they deemed important. These large assumptions meant that the story was gutted and replaced with more action which is one of the MANY reasons the movie failed.

THE LORD OF THE RINGS

This is Peter Jackson’s crown jewel. The theatrical cut makes perfect sense and the extended cuts for the purists deliver all the extra content in spades. This is the ONE book to movie adaptation that nobody has any complaints about.

Perfection.

Enough said.

COMICS

CIVIL WAR II

Civil War II Issue #1 cover

I’ve already done an entire post on this run so I’m not going to dive to far into it. To be frank, it was really ridiculous and unnecessary. Marvel Comics and DC Comics seem to have this idea that there needs to be some sort of “event” or “crisis” every year to keep readers interested. I understand their thinking, but when you have so many events that you have to start putting “II” after it because you ran out of original ideas, it’s time to just take a bit of a break. The story line involves an Inhuman named Ulysses that can see the future. Nobody is sure how reliable his visions are but Captain Marvel and her side think that Ulysses’ visions are enough to warrant arrests and pre-emptive attacks; whereas Iron Man and his team want to test the reliability of the visions first and think the crime needs to be committed before the punishment can be dealt out. Captain America said it best in Captain America: Winter Soldier “I thought the punishment came after the crime?”Not only was it ridiculous, but the story line seemed to be there just to remove certain characters from continuity to make room for a more diverse line up. The original Civil War was probably Marvel’s best event and its ramifications can still be felt in the comics. This second one though, it was just a cheap sequel to try and cash in on the success of the first massive hit.

BATMAN: THE LONG HALLOWEEN

This masterpiece by comic legend, Jeph Leob, was released in 1996-1997 and still remains as one of the best Batman stories ever written. It starts on Halloween night and continues through all the major holidays as Batman races to solve the mystery before more people die. It introduces us to great characters like Calendar Man, and long time favourites like Catwoman, Joker, Harvey Dent and Jim Gordon. The iconic art style really helps to complete the story as told by Leob and immerse the reader in the tale. The story is not predictable and throws you for twists and turns as the victim pool grows. We are shown some iconic images from the Batman mythos and the descent of certain characters into madness. All in all it’s a gripping story that grabs your attention right away and refuses to let go. I found myself unable to put it down. I read the entire thing, all 13 issues, in a matter of hours and was floored by the ending. First and foremost, this is a mob story. The main characters are those of the Gotham crime families with Batman, the GCPD and other masked individuals scrambling to either pick up the pieces or get out of the way of the inevitable gang war. Leob weaves an intricate tale of deception and double crossing to deliver one of the most commercially and critically successful Batman stories of all time.

Batman: The Long Halloween massive print Paperback

Story is THE most integral part of any type of media. Movies, games, comics, even music; all tell a story and when you sacrifice that for some more flashy elements, your creation suffers. I wish some companies would realize this and stop putting out garbage products which serve no purpose other than to try and make them money. They can’t be proud of what they produce and as a fan I can probably say, the fans really aren’t either.

Until next week!

Independent Developers And The Opportunity They Have

This week, I will be explaining how small independent Developers are beginning to rise in the industry as the massive Triple-A Publishers start to decline. This will be a companion post to my piece from last week titled The Decline of Triple-A Publishers,which you can find on my site.

I would like to thank my friend Alex for suggesting I do this as a follow up piece. He runs his own site and YouTube Channel where he vlogs about his life in British Columbia. His latest video can be found here:

As Triple-A Publishers begin to decline and the gaming market begins to crash, this could and most likely will allow for smaller independent Developers to expand and take over the market. There are plenty of examples of indie Developers making it on their own but first, I’m going to talk about an independent Developer that is a favourite of mine, CD Projekt Red.

CD PROJEKT RED

CD Projekt Red is a Polish video game Developer and Publisher best known for the Witcher series of video games. It was founded in 1994 in Warsaw, Poland by Marcin Iwiñski and Michał Kiciñski who both worked as video game retailers before founding CD Projekt Red. Their first project was to translate major western video games, the Baldur’s Gate games, into Polish. When the project ultimately fell through they used the coding from it to begin their own original project, Witcher, based on the novels by Andrzej Sapkowski. Their first stab at the Witcher, universe didn’t prove as fruitful as they hoped it would and the company was nearly forced to declare bankruptcy; the 2007/2008 Financial crisis also had a lot to do with the threat of bankruptcy. Through their own perseverance they produced the second game in the series Witcher II: Assassin of Kings and the small studio began to increase their success. When the third installment was released, Witcher III: Wild Hunt the company received global praise for what they had done. They were named developer of the year with their game being named game of the year. They released several free DLC packs for the game along with two free full expansions, Hearts of Stone and Blood and Wine, the latter being widely considered one of the best DLC expansions ever made.

The company expanded opening a second office in Wrocław Poland in March of 2018, to assist in the development of their new IP, Cyberpunk 2077.

WHAT MAKES THEM DIFFERENT?

CD Projekt Red has long said that the players are their priority. The support and praise from the fan base helps to drive them forward and to encourage them to constantly develop new and expansive content. They also consider themselves to be “rebels” in the sense that they do not partner with any of the Triple-A Publishing companies. Instead they deal with all aspects of game development, publishing and distribution themselves. The studio follows the work philosophy which was made famous by Rockstar Games, rather than having a lot of small projects splitting your workforce, the entire studio focuses on one project to deliver the best possible content. They focus on quality over quantity and believe that by delivering a quality product the revenue will return due to the appreciation of the fans. Open communication is a large aspect of the company’s core values, this means that all financial details on project creation (development, marketing, distribution) are public knowledge.

” The moment we start becoming conservative [and] stop taking creative risks and business risks, and stop being true to what we’re doing, that’s when we should worry. And I am not worried. Our values and our care for what we are doing and – hopefully what gamers would agree with – care for gamers is what drives this company forward. It’s my personal horror to become a faceless behemoth of game development or publishing or whatnot. As long as I am here I will be fighting for this not to happen.

— CD Projekt Red founder Marcin Iwiński

EPIC GAMES

Epic Games was founded by Tim Sweeney in 1991. It was originally called Potomac Computer Systems but changed its name to Epic MegaGames in 1992. They focused primarily on computer games from their founding up until 2006. In 2006, the game industry was suffering due to copyright infringement cases from various parties and the bloom of video game piracy. The company decided to branch into console games and in 2006, the delivered Gears of War. The Gears series would go on to become one of Xbox’s biggest properties and earn the company dozens of awards and accolades for it’s content and style. Prior to their fame with Gears, Epic was known for the manufacturing of the Unreal Game Engine, and the Unreal game series. Mostly though, people know Epic Games for one singular property which has been plaguing the gaming community for almost 2 years now, that would be Fortnite Battle Royale.

Epic Games focuses on third person shooter games, which is prevalent given their library of releases. Recently, as in December 4, 2018, Epic launched their own digital game store in contention with Valve’s Steam which has been operating for many years already. Steam has long held the title of PC gaming store front, and is now having to compete with the new Epic Games store. Compete may be a strong word, tolerate is more accurate. For the most part Epic has tried to stay away from large Triple-A publishing companies instead choosing to focus on smaller more independent companies for publishing purposes. While they have partnered with the likes of Atari, Microsoft, and EA in the past, their two most successful properties have been developed and published in house.

WHAT MAKES THEM DIFFERENT?

The main thing that make Epic Games different from other Developers and Publishers, is their new Epic Game store. The store itself is nothing spectacular, like at all. If anything, it’s a far cry from the Steam store which has fine tuned the necessities of an online digital game store. The main thing that the Epic games store has over the Steam store, is their profit sharing. If a Developer wishes to release a new product they’ve been working on for years on the Steam store, they must allow Steam to take a 30% cut of the sale profits of that product in order to sell it on their site/app/program. To most Developers, 30% is nothing. Some companies spend more than that just on advertising alone, but to smaller indie Developers, that can make or break their release. Epic has realized the gap and in order to provide a competitive market and a space for indie Developers to deliver their content to a large fan base, their store only takes a 12% cut on sale proceeds. This cut means a much larger return to the Developers to ensure they continue to produce quality output. This smaller cut has allowed them to obtain exclusive contracts with 4A Games and Ubisoft. The former putting their new release Metro: Exodus on the new store and the latter putting Division 2. While these games may eventually make their way to the Steam store, they won’t be permitted to arrive there until at least this time in 2020.

There are a lot of people who are not happy with the move by 4A to the Epic Games store. So much so, that there was a large portion of the player base willing to boycott the game simply because of the exclusivity deal with Epic Games. It wasn’t solely about the exclusivity, it was about the deal coming to light mere weeks before the game’s release date. Not to mention one employee tweeting about the “whiny gamers” and going further to say “If this is the kind of reaction we get from PC gamers then we just won’t make PC games anymore”.

THE OPPORTUNITY

I know I’ve been rambling a bit about these two companies but I swear it will tie together…

Okay, so as I said this post is a companion piece to the one from last week about the decline in Triple-A Publishers, which is becoming more and more prevalent as the months tick by. Activision Blizzard is facing a huge dip in their stock prices and only have two major properties due out this year, which means they’re going to double down on their predatory monetization schemes. Already, they’ve introduced gambling style pay to win loot crates in Black Ops 4. This is all coming after they laid off hundreds of employees, signing a new CFO as well as coming months after the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) has launched an investigation into loot boxes in games. Here is an article by Kotaku regarding the subject:

https://kotaku.com/the-ftc-says-it-will-investigate-loot-boxes-1830714932

Black Ops 4 Loot Crate with Pay to Win mechanic

So, with these large companies now under a microscope and bleeding money on crumbling practices that gamers are no longer accepting, the opportunity comes for smaller independent companies to make an impact. Some of the greatest games in the last 20 years came from small independent companies that partnered with large Publishers to expand their product, Halo is a prime example. Bungie was a relatively unknown company before it partnered with Microsoft to make the first Halo game and it spawned one of the largest franchises in gaming history. But the likes of CD Projekt Red and Epic Games show that while things may be easier with having a massive Publisher to help push your game, it’s not necessary and you can make quality products with a commitment to the work and fans rather than the almighty dollar. Companies like Paradox Interactive, Mojang, Rovio, Paladin, HALFBRICK, MDHR and SpaceChem prove that you can make quality products that fans love, without the interference of large Publishing companies. If more studios follow the examples set out by CD Projekt Red and Epic Games we could be seeing a large influx of quality independently developed games in the coming years. This influx could gift us with some great new franchises that might last for years to come and help to show Triple-A companies that they need to stop using the gaming community like an ATM machine with no limit.

Any questions or comments leave them down below! See you next week!

The Witcher – Netflix’s Next Big Endeavour

I decided to include not only Halo, but all video games in the opening post for each month. While I focused on Halo for the past three installments, this time, I decided to focus on a game that has a series coming to Netflix, The Witcher. The Witcher is an epic fantasy saga that was based off the books written by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski. The first book of the series titled Sword of Destiny was written in 1992 and gained a cult following. Since the release of Sword of Destiny, there have been 7 more novels added to the series with the latest one coming in 2013. The novels were originally written in Polish and have since been translated into over 15 different languages, including English. The main character of the series is named Geralt of Rivia, a Witcher. In the novels, a Witcher is a monster hunter that along with some mutagen body modifications, has been trained from a young age to combat monsters. Geralt is a member of the School of Wolves but several other Witcher Schools exist in the universe.

SETTING

The saga of the Witcher takes place on the continent, the name of the continent is never given but the various kingdoms and cities all have been named. Several thousand years before the series starts, the Elves sailed across the sea and settled the continent. With the continent already being home to the dwarves and gnomes, a racial war broke out between the dwarves and elves; with both sides eventually calling a truce and settling in different regions. The elves settled in the plains and forests, the dwarves settled in the hills and mountains and gnomes took the spaces that were left, mainly coastal areas. Roughly 500 years before the first book, humans sailed across the sea and decided to settle on the continent. When humanity arrived, as per usual, they started a war against the indigenous populations and emerged victorious. With the elves, dwarves and gnomes now classified as second class citizens, they live in small ghettos in the shadows on the great cities that the humans built. While the cities are relatively safe for habitation most of the wilderness still remains unclaimed with various beasts and factions residing there.  After a magical event known as the “Conjunction of the Spheres” various supernatural beasts (werewolves, vampires, etc) arrived on the continent and began cutting a bloody path through the wilderness.

Gwent_art_Charge_of_the_Nauzicaa

While the humans defeated the other races to become the dominant species, they were unable to stay united in their beliefs. In the centuries leading up to the start of the series, the southern regions of the continent have come under the control of the Nilfgaard Empire, while the Northern regions have united as the Northern Kingdoms. They went to war in a brutal and bloody conflict that cost millions of lives and accomplished nothing, which is where the first book picks up, immediately following the end of the first war.

CHARACTERS

GERALT – The Main Character for the saga is Geralt of Rivia. Geralt is a human male that was taken when he was born by the “Law of Surprise” which dictates that if someone cannot pay for the witcher’s services, that witcher may take something the debtor does not know they have. This law was what allowed for the witcher who performed the service for the parents of Geralt, to claim their first born child as his payment, making Geralt a witcher candidate. Forcing his parents to take him, as a new born baby, to Kaer Morhen to be trained as a witcher. As he grew up at Kaer Morhen (the witcher school for the Order of the Wolf) Geralt exhibited skills beyond his age which allowed him to take the trial of grasses early. The trial of grasses is a procedure during which the recruits are exposed to mutagens and procedures to enhance their senses to allow them to become full witchers. This trial is not without its risks, as roughly 25 – 40% of recruits can perish from these mutations. Geralt took to the mutations so well, that additional mutagens were used giving him near superhuman abilities. As a result of his mutations, his skin pigment was destroyed as was the pigment in his hair which caused his skin to become very pale and his hair to go white, earning him the nickname “The White Wolf”.

Geralt

YENNEFER OF VENGERBERG – A powerful Sorceress and the “true love” of Geralt’s life. She was born in the kingdom of Aedirn, which was one of the most heavily human colonized areas of the continent. Due to her aptitude in magical arts, she was the youngest member of the Brotherhood of Sorcerers  and was eventually courted for membership by the Lodge of Sorceresses as well. She was the magical advisor to king Demavand III and the surrogate mother to Ciri. She was known for wearing black and white garments and using Lavender as her signature fragrance. Like all sorceresses and magic users, she was born sterile, and thus was never able to have children of her own, hence why she took such a liking to Ciri and helped raise her as her surrogate mother.  She participated in several major battles and helped to bring Geralt’s memory back to him after he lost it following his apparent death.

CIRILLA FIONA ELEN RIANNON (CIRI) – Is a powerful Witcheress and the surrogate daughter of Geralt and Yennefer. Having been given to Geralt by the Law of Surprise, Ciri never really knew her parents as they were killed at sea by a storm. She was raised by her grandmother and uncle on Skellige and in Cintra for the first few years of her life. Ciri is of Elder Blood descent which allows her for some impressive abilities of travelling through time and across different planes of existence at will. Having been raised at Kaer Morhen by Geralt and Yennefer as their surrogate daughter, she developed a strong bond with the Witcher and the Sorceress. She is constantly pursued by nefarious enemies for both her Elder Blood abilities and her inheritance to the throne of Cintra. Ciri is one of the main characters in the Witcher III : The Wild Hunt game as well as in the book series.

TRISS MERIGOLD – A Powerful Sorceress and constant ally of Geralt and Yennefer throughout the games and the novels. She was born in the land of Temeria and became an extremely powerful sorceress before meeting Geralt and Yennefer. She lived at Kaer Morhen with Geralt, Yennefer and Ciri acting as an older sister to Ciri through her formative years. Along with being a gifted Sorceress she was also a talented healer and carried quite a few healing potions on her person to help others in need. She was the one responsible for stopping several of the hormonal mutagens used on the Witchers from being applied to Ciri, thus saving some of her secondary gender traits. Triss was in love with Geralt even though he never reciprocated the feeling, him being in love with Yennefer and all.

DANDELION – Also known by his birth name of Julian Alfred Pankratz, was a bard, poet, minstrel and close friend of Geralt. Not much is known of Dandelion’s past, except that he was of noble birth and that he started into poetry at age 19 thanks to his infatuation with Countess de Stael. He was educated at Oxenfurt University where he eventually became a professor. He taught for just over a year before deciding to put some miles on his soul by travelling and playing for the people. Within several months he was known as one of the best minstrels in the Northern Kingdoms with his most famous ballad, The Lion Cub of Cintra, being requested frequently.  He met Geralt in the small town of Upper Posada where Geralt was dealing with a particularly mischievous Sylvan (Goat man).  Since their first encounter Geralt and Dandelion have become close friends and allies.

THE SHOW

In early of 2017, it was announced that Netflix had picked up the rights to make a Witcher show based on the original works of Andrzej Sapkowski. Lauren Schmidt Hissrich was named showrunner for her previous work on Daredevil and The Defenders Netflix series. The show will take place over 13 episodes, each an hour and length and tell the tale of Geralt the monster Hunter as he makes a name for himself on the continent amidst a war.

Netflix

I started playing the Witcher game series with the second installment, Assassin of Kings, and as someone who has never played a game of that scope before, I was blown away. CD Projekt Red really delivered something wholly unique with that installment, at least to me. I was never a fan of the Final Fantasy games so having a game that took place over 4 different discs was a pretty daunting task for me. I thoroughly enjoyed the game even if i wasn’t that good at it. I found myself waiting expectantly for the next game which turned out to be Witcher III: Wild Hunt. I pre-ordered Wild Hunt and the day it downloaded on to my Xbox I sunk probably 8 hours into the story. Coming off a gap of several years without playing a Witcher game, I was a little rusty at first and died numerous times before I finally got the hang of the combat system. The story for the show is said to be wholly original but take heavy influences from both the original novels and the games themselves.

While originally Sapkowski was attached to act as creative consultant for the project, in early of 2018 he denied any involvement whatsoever with the series. The Witcher saga has been made into a film and mini series in Poland already, taking on the title of The Hexer. While Sapkowski was not a fan of with adaptation, it was met with some commercial success in the home country. This will mark the first time that a Witcher series has been attempted by someone outside of Poland and will also serve as a beginning to an ongoing series for Netflix.

Netflix has had some very recent hits and misses when it comes to their original content. Some of it is very spot on, Daredevil, Stranger Things and Orange is the New Black being prime examples; while some is a hard miss with Iron Fist (which I still enjoyed), Disjointed and Friends From College sitting firmly in that category. While not every show can be a perfect adaptation, there are several examples of shows taking some liberties with the source material while still remaining faithful to the fan base, Castlevania, Lost in Space and Daredevil are perfect examples of this. I’m hoping that the Witcher is going to the the latter and open as a great show a la Game of Thrones, while still retaining the magic that separates it from other high fantasy stories. Warring kings and mythical beasts is nothing new for a show or even movie, but doing it well is something that several studios have struggled with. HBO has made sure to lock in a spot in history with Game of Thrones but other shows like Camelot, Merlin and Vikings, while still good, don’t have the same effect.

I’m hoping the Witcher series will provide us with a much needed surrogate to the ever successful Game of Thrones (which ends next year), while remaining as its own entity that will hold it’s own spot as one of the great shows to come from the streaming service.

The Last Wish