Tuesday, April 28, 2009

AdVantage Point: Catwoman (2004)

Give an idiot a scanner and a comic book, and let him to pick out all the advertisements for video games.
This is AdVantage Point -- a chance to document the winding timeline of comics/gaming history as it was canonized by the adverts. Musings, rantings, observations, advertisements.

From games crossing over in to comics [ie; Mirror's Edge], we move to the other side of the corporate licensing relationship - the tie-in game. The upcoming Wolverine release (in conjunction with X-Men Origins: Wolverine) has prompted a whole lot of huffing and puffing about games licensed from film releases.

For one reason or another, industries with large groups of fans seem to be particularly good at spreading ill conceived rumours. In the case of license derivative games vs series native to the medium, there's certainly a compelling argument to say the former doesn't produce as exciting results as the latter. Does that result make a rule of thumb? Of course not.

Catwoman kinda represents the bottom of the conceptual barrel.
Consider it irony that I'm using this particular advert in a discussion that's intended to be confrontingly positive. In fact, I might even admit that it requires some level of naivety to rebuke popular theories such as this one. The evidence for cross-promotional franchise games resulting in anything but a steaming ball of infamy, is pretty overwhelming. Particularly if one stretches oneself to consider the endless glut of games not readily available in a favourable lexicon. Games dwelling deep within the bowels of retail, residing at the bottoms of bargain store bins, and post offices.

"Catwoman", as a film first, represents the extreme negatives of borrowed source materials.
Brand association ultimately undermines much of the project as it deviates wildly from a character who, at the time, sustained one of the most acclaimed on-going superhero series on shelves.
This was a character who should have represented great strength and intrigue, but instead, devolved into silliness as nauseating camera whips gave way to a macrocosmic expansion of an utterly underwhelming tale of insincere empowerment through corporate neo-fascist perfume hazed crud. Far from anything Darwyn Cooke, Ed Brubaker, or Cameron Stewart energized.

Such deviations should hold importance to the gaming industry, which, through it's large fanbase, has in many ways forgotten it's value as a story-driven medium. The attraction for a gamer like me will always be the same sorts of things that attract me to comics and films. The three mediums all share much in common, despite any resistances expressed by the uninspired masses who will at times proclaim one product transcends the prospects of adaptation in other fields [a fact thankfully and publicly refuted by the  Watchmen film, despite it's problems].

A great strength film or comics properties should immediately bring with them is a rich tapestry of characters, locations, and plot points. They are the ultimate antithesis of the generic grey gloom that hangs over gaming's popular genres today, possessing decades of experience and characterization, which should ooze from every polygonal pixelated orifice.

With such a thorough conceptual foundation, superheroes in particular lend themselves to a video game setting. From the earliest traditions of hero-based gaming, there has been a brotherly love between the mediums of gaming and superhero comics. Be it the ability to jump, punch, or fly through strange environments, it's all always been superheroes. That relationship was very literally solidified in the very early days of this young medium called "video games."

While AdVantage Point hasn't deviated so far back, commercial advertising of games in comics began a long time ago, in issues far far away. The 1980s saw ideas sent both ways, advertising in comics, and games like early Spider-man adventures, on home computers.

Unfortunately, it's this maturity and experience that appears to be lacking in Wolverine.
Unlike Catwoman, this conversion of character doesn't appear to suffer from the same wild deviations. Instead, much like the recent  Chun-Li film, the issue here is of under representation, rather than "mis-."

Instead of taking full control of the vast forty-year history surrounding the X-Men universe, and the thirty years of Wolverine; this game dwells on more contemporary conventional concerns. Game mechanics lending themselves to the bloodthirsty nature of the character have overwhelmed a property that should have done exactly that, with the motivation of vivid visuals and a sense of informed knowing.

As the gaming industry matures as a business, we see the increasing dominance of sequels and serialized series. As this seeming inevitability continues, the wisdom of a seventy-year old medium like comics becomes increasingly relevant. While gaming dwells on the distractions of improving technologies, the obselence of this obsession draws ever nearer, evident not only in the peaking technologies of consoles like Xbox and Playstation, but also the redundancy delivered by the public's resounding approval of Nintendo's Wii, which is graphically far inferior.

Looking to a lasting model of gaming, the power of the sequential adventure, and the serialized experience gamers can have alongside powerful characters, becomes the obvious way forward for companies intent on controlling their properties. Even in the futuristic event of an industry-wide adoption of MMO strategies, the user-generated experience has the potential to lull into the grinding formula that detaches many mainstream gamers (such as myself) from games like World of Warcraft. Instead, it's the serialized contributions, such as events contrived in Matrix Online, that propose a far more intriguing benefit. A benefit that boils gaming back down to it's traditional elements of the possibility to interact with fantastical scenarios, characters, and universes.

I'm dismayed by the current trend, particularly amongst younger gamers, to desire the omission of plot.
Even if that desire is a slight misconception.

As X-Men Origins: Wolverine passes us by, we now look forward on the comics tie-in calendar, toward Batman: Arkham Asylum, which promises a script by popular comics/TV writer, Paul Dini.
Sharing it's name with the acclaimed Grant Morrison "graphic novel," and starring a character whose greatest exploits have easily rivalled the much-praised Watchmen, this should be not only the ultimate outing for the Dark Knight Detective in games, but also a bold step forward in representing not only strong foundations in gameplay, but also conceptual adaptation and storytelling.

To the Catwoman ad featured -- it's actually not bad.
Far exceeding anything in the film, the commercial suffers the same obscenities of that costume and Halle Berry's most ferret-faced moment, but -- the black on white poses a graphic statement I myself am quite fond of. Not only that, but the game also offers something resembling in-game screenshots - always appreciated.

From this dark public moment in licensing history, we've derived a generally positive statement.
Sure, it's easy to sit and make snide remarks about the atrocities of film, comics, and gaming, but I've tried to avoid that today in an effort to refute the canonized theory that these games must be bad. Any game, comic, or film is just as capable of being a masterpiece as any other. There may be tools available to each that set the mediums apart, but anything one can do, the other can do just as well.

I'd like to think one day, when this is popularized, we won't have to deal with the underwhelming prospects of adaptations and licensed products that fail to invest in what made them viable properties to begin with. Unfortunately, both sides of the corporate system will need changes of minds to make that happen.

Fingers crossed for the future!

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