World 1-1 Review

World 1-1 Review

World 1-1 is an amazing video game history documentary movie created by the team made up of Jeanette Garcia and Daryl Rodriguez, two awesome, young but thorough movie makers from Miami. Although World 1-1 automatically might make you think of the world start screen from Super Mario Bros., the film is actually about what I call the rise and fall of the original Atari (I would have probably called the film The Rise and Fall of Atari). The film covers the birth of video games from their origins in scientific labs, onto games being played on what at the time were time-shared supercomputers, to the creation of arcade video game machines, and onto the rise and fall of early video game consoles (video gaming at home).

world 1-1 movie poster

To say the film is thorough would be an understatement although the movie mainly focuses on arcade and console game development. Although I love this film a lot, I can criticize that it barely touches on what was going on in the home computer field, which although Nintendo saved the console gaming market (probably what World 1-2 will be about), home computers also saved video games and people’s interest in electronics and computers with great machines such as the Commodore 64, Atari computers, and later Commodore Amiga (much before IBM clones and DOS become popular).

Getting back to what makes World 1-1 so great, the film has many great interviews with not just most of the important people that worked in Atari and Activision but also many interviews by people who work in Microsoft (and other important companies) and many famous people in the video game world such as arcade specialists and many of what I consider to be experts in video game history. This movie is like entering a time machine and seeing what it was actually like to have worked at Atari. There are many great stories of crazy things that would happen or also recollections describing how many breakthroughs came about. Some of the interviews also talk about the important business decisions that took place both from the managerial perspective and how the engineers and the rest of the employees responded to such decisions. Just like everything in life all things must come to an end and the movie deals with the death of the original Atari corporation in a very classy and dignified manner.

I highly recommend you view the movie as part of what I call some of the best movies and shows in video game, internet, hacker, and computer history such as: Pirates of Silicon Valley, Micro Men, Middle Men, The King of Kong, The Social Network, TRON, Takedown, Silicon Valley, and Halt And Catch Fire. World 1-1 and those shows and movies are what I call to be essential to watch if you a true interest in video game history. Chances are that if you’re reading this you already have such an interest.

You can buy the movie directly from the creators’ website or you can even get it over at Steam.

If I have to give the movie a numerical score I would say it’s a 9.5 out of 10. Stop reading this and go watch it NOW! 🙂

Here is an interview we did with the creators from when they were trying to get the funding for the film:

Here is a further interview we did after it got funded. It talks more about the making of the film:

Top 5 Movies Based on Video Games

Top 5 Movies Based on Video Games

The film industry is always looking for the next big thing.  Film execs gain the rights to make movies based on novels, children’s stories, and comic books.  One source that on the surface seems to have incredible synergy with Hollywood is the video game industry.  Games have already benefited from using Hollywood-style production values, including professional actors and actresses for both voice and live parts.  You’d think that both being visual mediums would lead to incredible movies being made based upon video game properties.

But you’d be wrong.

Thus far the Hollywood video game movie selection has been mediocre at best, and laughingly dismal at worst.  Just for fun, let’s look at the best movies of the genre (all my personal opinion, of course).

Mortal Kombat movie poster

1.  Mortal Kombat. This incredibly popular fighting franchise made its way to the silver screen in 1995, bringing the Elder Gods’ martial arts tournament to life.   The film received “mixed reviews” which is a fancy way of saying some critics enjoyed the fight fest and others thought it gave a whole new definition to “suck.”  It managed to take in over $122 million worldwide, as well as spawning a sequel, so more than a few people thought it was a good movie.

Resident evil movie poster

2.  Resident Evil. A flawed but fun zombie movie based on Capcom’s horror games and starring the incredibly hot Milla Jovovich wiping out the infected workers from the top secret Hive installation controlled by the Red Queen.  Critics generally panned the film, but it grossed over $100 million worldwide and spawned two sequels (with one more to be released in September, 2010).

Silent Hill movie poster

3.  Silent Hill. This film was based on Konami’s horror game franchise, and incorporated elements from the first three games.  A few pretty decent scares and a couple of weird scenes gave this film a good vibe.  It did not receive great reviews from the critics, but scored where it counted with $97 million grossed worldwide.

Tomb Raider movie poster

4.  Tomb Raider. Angelina Jolie in tight spandex. How could this film possibly be bad?  That’s what I told myself before watching it, and afterward marveled at the film’s creators’ ability to do the impossible: make a live-action Lara Croft dud.  It still managed over $300 million worldwide, so a LOT of people must have gone into the theater with the same expectations I did.

TRON movie poster

5.  TRON.  The list is so meager that I decided to take a movie whose premise is about the video game industry and put it on this list.  And it’s a good excuse to includeTRON to the mix; it was a fun movie, and pulled in over $33 million worldwide, which wasn’t bad in 1982. End of line.

Every other video game movie was awful.  Putrid awful.  Perhaps it’s time that the industry stopped trying to translate the video game experience to the big screen, and keep going on as many comic book properties they can lay their greedy little hands on.  After all, given the choice, I’d rather watch Batman: Dark KnightSpider-Man or Iron Man than the very best the video game movie genre has to offer.

Video Game Movies: The ones that got it right

Video Game Industry the movie
Video Game Industry the movie

We already discussed the video games that got it wrong, but what about the movies that were at least good enough to not walk out of? Now, we are not saying these movies are perfect or even that they were completely true to the game, but that they were good enough to have a positive consensus across many gamers.

First we will start with my top pick and then look at a few others. Later we will ask our panel of industry insiders which video game movie was their favorite.

Silent Hill

Some people will disagree with me, but I felt they did the Silent Hill movie pretty well and this is coming from someone who beat all the original games and then watched his sister do the same. It is true there was a lot of tweaking not only to bring in new fans, but to mold the story to be more emotional. Many were upset that the movie mirrors Silent Hill 2 more than part 1 and making the main character a woman people though was just because having a woman in a horror film adds more than a male character would.

Believe me, I understand the critic’s objections, but this was a case where I believe the changes did not kill the Silent Hill story too much. The visuals and especially the music was excellently done. At first I was afraid the transition between worlds would not have been shown and only displayed by the entire screen going dark. I was presently surprised to see the entire transition shown and it looked awesome.

As said the music was taken out of the games with a few tracks added that fit in perfectly with the game and the movie. The story itself was modified and many felt the cult aspect of the story was not there the way it should be and I could understand that. You did understand how messed up the people were, but you weren’t drawn into their world until the very end.

The studio worked closely with Konami and that is the reason the visuals from the broken city to Pyramid head to the killer nurses were spot on. On the flip side audiences not familiar with the Silent Hill game or game story telling in general thought the long explanation of what was going on at the end of the movie seemed out of place and killed the pacing.

The ending can be a tossup. Many felt it left to many questions. Some did not understand it and more felt it was a bad way to try to lead into a follow-up movie. The movie itself did well considering and there was talk of a sequel. If/when Silent Hill 2 is made we will see what direction it goes in.

Resident Evil

You’ll have to forgive me on this one I enjoyed this movie. Sure, it was not very true to the game, but honestly having a loan character walk around for 80% of the film would not work. What I liked was they did try to incorporate the original mansion from the game with the Umbrella Corporation. The action sequences were well done and adding in the evil little girl Red Queen gave you at least another reason why the team sent in became trapped.

There was a lot they could have done with this film making it a better story, but honestly after watching the follow-up movies I am surprised this one came out as well as it did. What was really sad was the ending really made me want to see part 2 which turned out to be a horrible disappointment for me.

Intermission

There are a number of well-done video game movies, but let’s hear from our panel to see what were their choices.

Danielle Davis from Zombie Studios wrote:

Wing Commander

Give your brain the night off…

Most games are made with very iconographic heroes and villains. You don’t have to worry about plot or story as much, and can focus on the core gameplay. Nearly everything is black and white. The Heroes are universally good, and the Villains are the purest of evil.  As we get older, we learn life is really just shades of grey (or from “a certain point of view”).

Wing Commander can be viewed the same way.  As a whole, Wing Commander (Movie) can be cheesy and flashy, but in reality that is pretty much how it is in the game franchise. Wing Commander (Game) followed the general curriculum of building characters plot like any other Action\Army movie (just like Aliens or Predator). You’ve got your classic “Girl trying to compete with the big boys”, or “Leader struggling under the burden of leadership”, or “Overly Aggressive Hot Shot “, and of course “Cool as Ice and plays everything by the book”. Is it cliché? Yes. But do stereotypes help identify personality and move the plot forward quicker? Sadly yes.  Since it was established in the Games, so must the continuity be maintained for the Movie. The amount of Cheese and Awesomeness in the movie, is equal to the Cheese and Awesomeness in the game.

Back to the shades of grey. A two hour movie of continuous dog-fighting, would be pretty hard to accomplish (Memphis Belle is the only one I can think of). By introducing personal flaws, strategic mishaps, personal failures, and over-ambition, you can subtly add secondary antagonist. For example: Maniac. He’s reckless and going to get his teammates killed. Does that make Maniac a bad guy? Depending on your point of view, you could say Yes. So, you have your primary Villians (the Kilrathi), and you have the secondary villains (ambition, fear, self-doubt).

By now, you’re asking yourself “You’re INSANE! How do you enjoy such a crappy movie? I mean, seriously, are you high?”. And the answer is, well kinda “Yes”. You can’t enjoy a movie like this by comparing it to other movies that have freedom of script and design. You have to simply take your brain out, and give it a two hour break. Relive what it’s like to be 12 years old again, and just enjoy the Good Guys, Bad Guys, and big explosions. Enjoy the simplicity of “this guy’s a douche bag”, “wish this dude would chill out”, and “this chick is awesome” without thinking about the deeper context and military discipline (let alone plot). Enjoy two carriers slugging it out point blank range. Just relax and enjoy it. Why? Because that’s exactly what you did when you’re played it as a game. You gave your brain the night off…

David Warhol from Realtime Associates wrote:

Tomb Raider

The shower scene was HILARIOUS!  (And if you don’t remember or know what I’m talking about, watch or re-watch it…. it’s for real.)

J.A. As a bonus here is the funny shower scene.

J.A. As a super bonus here is Angelina Jolie in the shower.

Corey Dangel from Detonator Games wrote:

King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters

It is, without a doubt, my favorite video game related movie. The story follows Steve Wiebe on his quest to achieve the “official” high score for Donkey Kong. Along the way he must defeat several different adversaries, the least of which is the actual score needed to reach the top. It’s a classic underdog tale, only the heroes and villains are real and contemporary, and a great documentary…exploring themes like obsession, vanity, dedication, and legacy all wrapped in a cloak of classic coin-op arcade games. Besides, who doesn’t love Donkey Kong!?

Juan Gril from JoJu Games wrote:

Tron and Wargames!


 

Games Coming Out December 2010 For PC

TRON hot girl
TRON hot girl

Games Coming Out December 2010 For PC by Honorabili

I can’t believe December is such a weak month this year but then again not that many studios are going to be suicidal enough to go up against a WoW expansion…Read More

Games to Buy: Dec 7th 2010

game store
game store

So you survived Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Cyber Monday and somehow you still have a few bucks in your wallet, well good thing this week there are only about three games that make our worthy buy list.

First a little change in the Games to buy format. We will now intertwine both PC and Console games into one which means that when we have a week that has a ton of games for both it will be a harsher cut for the ones we think are worth buying. Remember this is an opinion piece and for the most part we leave sports games out of it because we know you sports fans are going to pick up the latest edition.

World of Warcraft: Cataclysm

There is tons of information on this game and honestly if you are a World of Warcraft player you are getting this game case closed. The overall story is an ancient evil dragon called Deathwing laid a path of destruction that reshaped the world. What this means for gamers is the old world has changes so the land that you leveled up playing has changed forever. There are a ton of changes to how the character classes work, two new playable races and a ton of new dungeons and loot. Blizzard also have made changes to make gameplay quicker for those of us with little time.

Buy Worthiness: $$$$$

Tron: Evolution

Disney has pulled out all the stops in the sequel to the cult classic Tron and the same has been done with the game. Although some critics have given it a less than likeable score the game does look well put together. You have a mix of the classic Tron including the light cycle races and the action adventure levels where you chase down viruses in the virtual world running and jumping through the visually stunning city. There is also a multiplayer aspect that allows you to compete against up to ten other players. You can play Tron Evolution online or offline.

Buy Worthiness: $$$

Bejeweled 3

Perhaps there isn’t much one can say about a new puzzle game, but the fact is Popcap had and still has a winner with this game. Bejeweled can be found on pretty much anything from the PC to your phone and everywhere in-between. Now you have a brand new game that keeps to the classic gameplay but added cool additions including a 40 mission quest mode that has 11 mini games. There have also been updates to the four game modes found in Bejeweled 2. Finally you get new backgrounds a tweak in the music department an even clearer visuals. All in all if you love puzzle games this is worth a buy at only $20.

Buy Worthiness: $$$

NewU Fitness First Mind Body

So you stumbled upon a Karma Sutra book and convinced your girlfriend to give some of the new positions a try. Unfortunately, both you and she are out of shape and could not even do the beginner positions. I guess it’s back to missionary for you, well maybe not.

Thanks to the Wii, brining you wastes of time since 2006, you can now Yoga your way to the backwards sun pretzel position in just a few short weeks. This hot new program will teach you how to get your mind and body in sync preparing you for long nights of passion. Keggle’s add-on pack not included.

Buy Worthiness:  X

The Interview: Steve Gray

Steve Gray
Steve Gray

Steve Gray

When you have a gaming resume with names like Electronic Arts, Squaresoft and THQ there is little doubt that you know gaming. Obsolete Gamer was given the opportunity to talk with Steve Gray about his gaming career that started with EA Canada his time at Squaresoft and his work on Parasite eve. From there he created his own studio (Heavy Iron) which he sold to THQ in 1999. From there he returned to EA where he worked on many games including The Two Towers, The Return of the King, The Third Age and Tactics. Currently Steve Gray is the executive in charge of production at Tencent who is China’s largest developer and publisher and operator of online games.

We wanted to get a behind the scenes look at his time in the gaming industry and his many accomplishments from his work in Video FX to building the first Motion Capture Lab at EA Canada.

EA Canada logo
EA Canada logo

Obsolete Gamer: When did you know you would want to work in the video game industry?

Steve Gray: I originally wanted to be a Rock Star (just like Tremmel) and I played the clubs a lot in LA and up and down the California coast.  At that time I also worked in the feature film special effects business.  Which I continued to do until the early 90’s when I was VP Technology at Digital Domain (that’s when we made True Lies, Interview with the Vampire, Apollo 13, …).  When the PS1 came out I decided I really wanted to get into video games instead.

Obsolete Gamer: What was your first exposure to games?

Steve Gray: Asteroids in the arcades.

Obsolete Gamer: What was the first video game that hooked you?

Steve Gray: Asteroids in the arcades!!

Obsolete Gamer: Now before beginning work in the gaming industry you had quite the career in Visual Effects and working in television and movies can you tell us about that time?

Steve Gray: I worked at Robert Abel & Associates when I first moved to LA (to be a Rock Star).  Entry Level Rock Star doesn’t pay very well, actually… not at all.  RA&A worked on Tron, Star Trek 1, and a ton of really cool CG TV commercials.  Also with Omnibus and Digital Pictures we were really the first big CG effects house.  It was a great place to work, everyone was really young and crazy… we worked super hard, partied super hard.  It was a good time… late 80’s in LA was a fun time and place.  Guns and Roses was playing the clubs, the Sunset Strip was rockin’.  Then I went on to work at Rhythm & Hues as head of the Software department.  We wrote all our own CG tools then, because there really weren’t any commercially available packages yet.  I mostly wrote partical systems and rendering code, along with managing the team.  After R&H I moved over to Digital Domain, which was a lot of crazy house.  But we worked on really great movies… and working with Stan Winston and Jim Cameron was pretty amazing.

Obsolete Gamer: So you began the video game part of your career at Electronic Arts Canada, how did that job come to be?

Steve Gray: Digital Domain wanted to get into the video games business… so me and Chris McKibbin (then CFO of DD – different Chris than Chris Tremmel) went around to all the big game companies in the US and Japan trying to get someone to do a project with us… no one really wanted to do that because they (rightly) said we had no idea what we were doing.  Don Mattrick offered me and McKibbin both jobs at EAC.  So we thought about that and both took his offer.

Obsolete Gamer: What was it like working at EA Canada?

Steve Gray: It was really interesting. I learned a lot there.  A lot of really talented guys.  But unfortunately I discovered that making sports games wasn’t really my thing.

Obsolete Gamer: What did you think of the changing in video game technology at the time with the PlayStation One and the use of full motion video in games?

Steve Gray: We all though FMVs in games were super cool.  And actually I eventually built a game at my own company Heavy Iron that used FMV backgrounds in a “Resident Evil” type of game… except our backgrounds were pre-rendered videos instead of pre-rendered stills.  But that was on PS2.  It was the first Evil Dead game that THQ released.  But fundamentally I now think that FMVs kind of suck.  Or at least over use of FMVs kind of suck.  I like what we did in “Lord of the Rings The Third Age” with the transitions from FMV to In-Game Cinematic to Game Play.  And I’m definitely more of a fan of in-game cinematics now, especially if the player can customize his or her avatar, and that customized avatar shows up in the In-Game Cinematic.  But in general, I’m not a huge fan of linear content in games anymore.  Of course, working at Square we made tons of FMVs… but Square’s console RPGs are almost more of a big movie with some game play bits squeezed in there.   Which I still like.

Obsolete Gamer: What were the day to day activities of running the software tools group at EA Canada?

Steve Gray: Not really that interesting.  Just managed the tools group, tried to make sure that we really built things that were useful for the projects right now… no “ivory tower research” allowed.

Obsolete Gamer: Can you tell us about building the first Motion Capture Lab at EAC?

Steve Gray: In the beginning the EAC guys didn’t believe in it so we had basically no budget and had to rent out the auto-repair stall to use as our capture studio.  The guys in the auto repair shops around us all through we must be shooting porno movies because we brought in all this high-end camera gear… they kept wanting to know when the girls were going to be there.  Unfortunately it was just a bunch of geeky game developers.  Later we got a bigger a much nicer warehouse to work in…

Squaresoft logo
Squaresoft logo

Obsolete Gamer: How did the transition from EAC to Squaresoft take place?

Steve Gray: I knew some Square guys from various places in the past, plus I’ve always been a fan of their games.  When Sakaguchi-san asked me to join the company I couldn’t say yes fast enough.   Some of the other guys at Square invited me to Tokyo to meet Sakaguchi and we were in a private booth overlooking the massive dance club called “Welfare”, he asked me to join square and put out his hand… I shook it and the other Japanese guys asked me “do you know you just signed the deal”, to which I answered “yes”!!

Obsolete Gamer: Do you have a story or memory you’d like to share about your time at EAC?

Steve Gray: I think the day we installed the flying-faders audio mixing board in the sound lab was the best day.  Back then those things were super crazy expensive, and as a musician I’d always wanted to have one to play with.

Obsolete Gamer: What was it like working at Squaresoft?

Steve Gray: Working at Square was the best of times and in some ways the worst of times.  Working with Sakaguchi-san was extremely challenging because his standards are insanely high.  Which is a good thing, but it can be tough.  Also the cultural and language differences between the Japanese and Western teams we not really understood or managed very well.  I’m sure we were one of the first projects to be developed by a “mixed” team.  Of course now this is happening more and more, and people have gotten much better at managing those situations, but we were really on the bleeding edge, so to speak.

Obsolete Gamer: What were some of the challenges in directing Parasite Eve?

Steve Gray: The biggest issues were really finding consensus and understanding between the Japanese crew, many of whom had been at Square for many years and were used to their style of working… which was actually very “agile” though they didn’t call it that.  The Western team was much more into what’s now referred to as Waterfall project management… which we didn’t call it that either.  We didn’t really think about this sort of thing, and didn’t understand the differences, and basically made a big mess.  But the game did quite well when it came out, so that’s great!

Obsolete Gamer: Now the game was a sequel to the book correct?

Steve Gray: The game wasn’t a sequel really, it was based on a Japanese novel.  There is also a Japanese movie based on the same book… with some cool VFX from Toyo Links (Japanese VFX company).

Obsolete Gamer: There are many fans who loved that game, but some felt it did not get the attention it deserved, do you feel that way as well?

Steve Gray: It sold over 2.5 million units world wide I think, and sold something like 1.6 million units in like a week in Japan or something crazy like that.  Not quite Final Fantasy numbers, but pretty good.  I’m happy with it.

Obsolete Gamer: What did you think of Parasite Eve 2?

Steve Gray: I think the graphics and FMVs are probably better… I haven’t really played it all the way through, so I don’t have a lot to say about the game.  I was a little bitter with the way things ended up at Square, so I cop’ed an attitude and only played it a bit.

Obsolete Gamer: There were rumors of making a Parasite Eve 3 but it did not happen would you want to see a part 3 made?

Steve Gray: Only if I make it!!!  I don’t know.  Don’t really care.  I don’t think the franchise really took off enough to warrent a whole long series of games.

Parasite Eve box
Parasite Eve box

Obsolete Gamer: You also contributed to Final Fantasy 7 while at Square, can you tell us about that?

Steve Gray: Mostly I just helped another team at Square LA work on some maps.   Square LA did a bunch of maps for FF VII.  I don’t remember how many or what percentage of the total maps were done there.

Obsolete Gamer: Do you have a story or memory you’d like to share about your time at Square?

Steve Gray: Ha.  The stories I have to share involve other Square employees, cute Japanese girls at various locations in Tokyo at night.  They are not fit for public consumption… so I’ll let you guys imagine some of the trouble we got into.

Obsolete Gamer: What made you want to open your own game development company?

Steve Gray: After we finished PE1 at Square, a core group of us thought we were super badass game developers and that publishing companies would fall over themselves to give us projects and money.  That was not entirely true.  We worked on a bunch of games that never saw the light of day, and then finally landed the gig with THQ building Evil Dead 1.

Obsolete Gamer: Can you tell us about Heavy Iron Studios?

Steve Gray: It was originally called Chemistry Entertainment.  For a while we partnered with the Canadian VFX Company called Rainmaker.  Heavy Iron didn’t really 100% work out as we hoped.  But a bunch of really great people worked there, many of whom have gone on to successful careers in the game industry… for example my partner Marcel Samek went on to be CTO at EALA for many years.  Shiraz Akmal ran the central outsourcing group at THQ… Matt Coohill continued to work at Heavy Iron for a long time, and is now up in Seattle at Microsoft working cool stuff there.  And many others…

Obsolete Gamer: How did it differ from running your own company than working at EAC and SS?

Steve Gray: We had no money.  I didn’t really like running my own company that much… I thought it would give me the freedom to work on the kinds of projects I really like.  But instead I got to be an administrator and was always managing cash flow and trying to make payroll.  Not cool.

Obsolete Gamer: When did you make the decision to sell to THQ?

Steve Gray: When we were starting on Evil Dead 1, it was going to be one of the biggest projects THQ had ever done… and they really wanted to have us be part of THQ so that they would be building equity in the team.  And honestly, Marcel and I were a bit tired of managing the company instead of making games, so we decided to join THQ.  Of course, we also got paid some money (stock).  When I left THQ, their stock was at an all-time high… this was a good thing.

Obsolete Gamer: Do you have a story or memory you’d like to share about your time with Heavy Iron Studios?

Steve Gray: When we were finalizing Evil Dead, I was basically living at the office.  We had a group of THQ QA guys in the first floor, and they would find bugs, we’d fix them… I’d burn new test disks… they bang away at them.  It was a crazy project.  But then many things I’ve worked on have been crazy and hard… but that’s what makes it fun.

Obsolete Gamer: Then it was a return to EA what was that like?

Steve Gray: I came back to EA to join my original Digital Domain friend, Chris McKibbin, to help run what was called the “Worlds Channel” in EA.com.  We were all the entertainment products, meaning all the MMOs.  I guess younger readers may not know about EA.com – EA.com was EA’s first big jump into online games, and think we were a bit ahead of the times… EA.com didn’t work out, and got closed down, and many of the people merged back into the other EA Studios.  That was pretty rough because many people were also laid off, and as one of the senior guys there it fell to me to do a lot of layoffs.  But it’s lame to feel bad for yourself in that situation because it’s 100x worse for the people getting laid off.

Obsolete Gamer: Can you tell us about the development process with creating the Lord of the Rings games?

Steve Gray: We kicked some serious ass on Lord of the Rings.  First out at Stormfront, then internally at EA Redwood Shores.  Those were great games, beautiful games, built on very tight schedules under difficult circumstances and they were really good.  I credit my time and Square and my experiences working with Sakaguchi for my ability to really focus on quality… and of course, Neil Young was a great EP on the first two, I learned a lot working with him as well.  I have very happy memories of that time… though I did get diss’ed pretty hard in the infamous “EA Wife” blog.  I think our FMV->game play transition stuff which I mentioned earlier was a first for the industry, and we really set the standard for quality in movie games… a standard that has rarely been met since, in my opinion.

Heavy Iron logo
Heavy Iron logo

Obsolete Gamer: How did your experience with EAC, Square and owning Heavy Iron Studios factor into your return to EA and working on those games?

Steve Gray: I really credit Sakaguchi-san for helping me understand how to build great games.  I have to say that at the time, when I was at Square, I didn’t really agree 100% with how he wanted to do things… but in the following years I came to really appreciate how his approach to game development is able to consistently create such high quality product.  Now I’ve rarely (never) had the freedom he has as a developer, but his ideas fit into development even if you have to pay more attention to the schedule.  Heavy Iron gave me a lot of respect for how hard it is to run a business… and at EA I learned a lot about why publishers work the way they do, and why publishers make what seem to the developers like evil and unwarranted decisions.  That changed my understanding of the game business a lot.

Obsolete Gamer: Can you tell us about your work on Neverwinter Nights 2?

Steve Gray: This is a mistake in some profiles on me… I never worked on Neverwinter Nights 2.

Obsolete Gamer: With all your time in the gaming industry which prior of your career did you enjoy the most?

Steve Gray: I really really enjoyed working on the Lord of the Rings games.  The team was so fantastic.  Everyone was great to work with and super talented.  We may have had our struggles and moments of anger with each other, but I wouldn’t trade that time with those people for anything.  I am also really enjoying working at Tencent…

Tencent logo
Tencent logo

Obsolete Gamer: Can you tell us about what you are working on currently?

Steve Gray: I am currently Executive in Charge of Prodution at Tencent in China.  Tencent is China’s largest developer, publisher and operator of on-line games, we have a huge IM client (over 1 billion accounts), we run China’s largest portals, etc…  I work with all of our Studios, of which we have 9… with about 3500 employees across all of them.  But there are some projects I’m particularly focused on.

Unfortunately I can’t really tell you about them, because most are unannounced.  However one I can mention is NBA 2K Online, which is a co-development project with 2K Sports in the US.  It’s a bit weird because I didn’t really like working on Sports games at EAC… but this is really more of a Sports RPG or something like that.  It’s really cool… it’s going to be a monster hit here in China.  Working with Visual Concepts (the 2K Games Studio that builds NBA2K) is really great, working with 2K China is great… our team in Shanghai is great.

It’s really fun.  It’s amazing how Tencent builds online games and how big we are (we have 4 games that have more than 1 million people playing simultaneously every day).  We get to work so closely with our customers… in a way you can never do on a console game.  Also the scale we operate at is just stunning… QQ IM (our IM client) routinely has over 100,000,000 people logged into it every day.  Yes – that’s the right number of zeros… 100,000,000.

Obsolete Gamer: With all that you do you must have little free time, but when you do if you play any games what are they?

Steve Gray: I rarely play any games other than the games I’m working on, or directly competing product… which I can’t say what they are, because that would be a dead giveaway of what we’re building.  I don’t really play games for “fun” in my free time… well, what free time, for one thing.  But I have a lot of fun playing the games I’m building or those few other games I play to understand what the competition is up to.

TRON Movie Review

TRON original poster
Tron original poster

TRON movie review

“Greetings program!”

What’s really going on?

The movie is about a company that’s being secretly run by an A.I. which eats other programs and keeps gaining functions and intelligence. Even the CEO of the company, Dillinger, is controlled by the A.I. called the Master Control Program (MCP). The MCP analyses the internal network of the company, Encom, as well as hacks into other companies’ networks, and government networks, even military networks for the US and the Russians. Think of the MCP as the grandfather of Skynet. The MCP keeps growing more each day. At times it reminded me of Colossus from the movie Colossus: The Forbin Project. The MCP can even talk, like Colossus can, in the later part of that movie.

One of the heroes of the movie is a hacker Flynn, who keeps sending programs he writes to try to infiltrate the company but they keep getting caught and deleted. Everything that we make happen in the real world through computers, has an analogical parallel in the world of computers. Alan, a programmer that still works at Encom is having problems at the company because the MCP confiscated his security clearance and he can no longer work on TRON, a security program that Alan created, which monitors internal and external network activities and transactions.

Flynn used to be one of the top hotshot programmers at Encom but Dillinger canned him after he screwed him over, stealing the copyright to arcade hits that Flynn authored, but Dillinger put his name on. Ever since then Flynn has been trying to hack into the Encom network to try to get the original source code for his games that show his signature on the code, as well as any other dirt on Dillinger.

After getting his access suspended Alan goes to see his girlfriend Lora, which happens to be Flynn’s exgf. Alan tells her how Dillinger (nobody knows the MCP is running Encom, except Dillinger) suspended his security access, crippling his work. Lora convinces Alan for them to go talk to Flynn because he would be able to do more damage from the inside of the corporate HQ as opposed to dialing in through a dial up modem to try to hack the network. Flynn, despite having written many arcade games which made Encom a megacorp, runs his own arcade. After Flynn explains how Dillinger screwed him, he gives Lora and Alan the idea for them to sneak him into the Encom building so that he can forge a new security ID and retrieve the data that would prove Flynn is the original author of those games, as well as would get Dillinger thrown out of the company.

Dillinger is enough of an asshole that you see him arguing with Walter, one of the original founders of the company. The argument ends with Walter saying that “sometimes I wish I were back in my garage”, where he was when the movie was a start-up. Dillinger replies “That can be arranged, Walter” and “Don’t worry about Encom anymore. It’s out of your hands now.”

Lora and Walter both work in a department for Encom that has been developing digitalization. Basically, digitalization entails using a special beam, a laser, which translates matter into data. This kind of technology would allow near instant global travel and shipping. Think about it. Even back then you could call places internationally. Imagine how this would allow global teleportation over the speed of the internet.

Lora sets Flynn up to do his hacking in her workplace, which happens to be in front of the digitizing laser. The MCP tries to dissuade Flynn from his hacking but Flynn just laughs at him. “Remember the time we used to spend playing chess together?” The MCP threatens Flynn that he’s going to put him on “the game grid” buy Flynn laughs again. That is when the MCP fires the digitizing laser and turn Flynn (a user, a god in the computer world) into data in the computer world. See, all the things that get digitized appear into the computer world that I mentioned is paralleled to actions by computers and electronics earlier. This is when the movie starts.

Concepts that will help you understand this movie better:

Users, in other words US, are gods to programs. Programs look like avatars of their authors or users, depending on the story of the movie or whoever uses them the most or has influence on them. The last part I believe the most as a theory, since the Users are their deities. It’s also illegal on the network of the MCP to worship Users.

Video games are all gladiatorial battles for survival. They can represent playing actual video games on this world and forcing programs and pixels to die for us, as well as program battles between different pieces of code trying to delete each other or hack each other across different computer systems. I believe that most programs killed in the video games get absorbed by the MCP.

There’s a religious war and a guerilla war happening inside the Encom network. Believers in the Users are all sent to die in the video game arenas. Non-MCP-approved programs that have been caught spying around are also sent to die in the arenas.

When program die (get deresed [deresolution]) they stop existing, either becoming part of the MCP if they were killed by it or they break apart, freeing up the resources that made them up, releasing energy in the computer world. In the real world, such a death would be freeing up storage capacity (whether floppies, tape drive, or hard drive space, considering that this movie takes place in the 80s) as well as RAM for local systems where they ran and processing power.

The music:

Of electronic music fame and even more so for the soundtrack of A Clockwork Orange, Wendy Carlos created an even more unique soundtrack for TRON.

Here is one of my favorite songs from the movie, Sea of Simulation:

The soundtrack is both tenseful and sounds very electronic, which goes along great with the unique atmosphere of the movie and the TRON universe. I loved the soundtrack enough that I bought the original CD for it.

The visuals:

Although TRON came out during the same year as Blade Runner, this movie was the most advanced movie to have pure computer generated visual effects. The feel of the movie is completely unique.

To explain the wonder of how they created this world, I would recommend reading the wikipedia entry.

How the world saw it and its effect:

Many critics did not understand this movie. The typical movie goer did not understand it either. There’s even a joke in an episode of the Simpsons where Homer shifts into a 3D world where stuff looks like TRON. They ask him what it’s like and he says “Has anybody seen TRON?” Nobody understood what he was talking about.

Many techs and science fiction fans did however get the movie back then and as the movie gets older, it’s easier for us to understand it even more because unlike most sci-fi movies, which usually age badly, TRON gets more realistic as time goes on. Sure, the technology might be primitive but most of the concepts of what’s going on in relation of the computer world to the real world make perfect sense today.

Although I didn’t see this movie until around 1988-1989, and I had already considerable interest in computers, this movie further cemented that passion. This has happened to many of my computer friends. This similar like of the film and its vision of the future/present was even shared by avid sci-fi fans that are not necessarily computer people.

The actors:

Flynn is played by Jeff Bridges. He does a great role, playing a much more smartass version of what would later be “The Dude” from The Big Lebowski but with a geeky, hotshot twist to his character.

TRON/Alan is Bruce Boxleitner. He does a great job, especially as TRON. He’s a dedicated warrior on a mission to take down the MCP on the orders from his User Alan. What’s interesting is that Bruce Boxleitner was later Captain Sheridan in Babylon 5, along with Peter Jurasik, which was Crom in TRON, one of the gladiators that Flynn has to duel against. Peter Jurasik is one of my favorite actors of all time, especially for his role in Babylon 5 for his role as Ambassador Londo Mollari. J. Michael Straczynski must have been a big fan of TRON.

David Warner plays the roles of Dillinger, Sark (the lieutenant of the MCP), and the voice of the MCP. He does such an amazing job, especially as Sark. Many scenes in the movie are pretty powerful, especially when things go wrong for Sark and he gets angry and violent. The look of rage in his eyes is really well captured. David Warner has been in a lot of movies and even does voices for cartoons (such as in Batman’s Raz Al Ghul).

Cindy Morgan plays the role of Lora/Yori. Cindy Morgan is just so yummy. Thinking of her as either the geeky Lora in those nerd glasses, coding away, designing lasershas been like my doom, as that would be my ideal girlfriend/soulmate. She even looks super cute with her hair covered as Yori, and a girl without some hair is usually a deal breaker for me. Just thinking of her makes me want to make nerd babies with a Lora/Yori/Cindy Morgan clone! Anyways…

Dan Shor plays a most memorable Ram. Ram is just a poor program which somehow wound up in the Encom network, probably kidnapped by the efforts of the MCP. Originally, he was an accounting program for an insurance company. He’s skinny, and weak, and a really nice guy. Dan Shor does such a good job portraying the best character in the movie.

Tron 2.0 and Tron Legacy:

Although the sequel to TRON, Tron Legacy is coming out near the holidays this 2010, in 2003 a really great FPS game came out on computer by the name of Tron 2.0. See, I was never expecting anything like Tron Legacy to happen, especially since I read years ago that some people in Disney were bitter about having paid to get TRON made. However, Tron 2.0 was made and that was even better than TRON!

I’m sure that the movie studios will just ignore the existence of Tron 2.0, although based on the latest teaser trailer, it does seem to take a bit from it.

I will try to find my original copy of Tron 2.0 and put out a review for you guys. The game is extremely hard to find these days. It’s been out of print for a while and even the pirated version is impossible to get. If you have it, consider its value. If you know somebody that has it, I urge you to play it!

The teaser trailer for Tron Legacy is the following:

The original trailer is better, I think. Click here, since the embedding is disabled, to see it.

Based on the trailers, the main character is probably Flynn’s kid, and Flynn which has been “dead for years” is now the new MCP. Who knows how time differentiates on the computer world vs the real world. Oh yeah, Wendy Carlos is out for this one, Daft Punk is in. Although I like the music of Wendy Carlos, the Daft Punk sound might fit in well, especially since they are probably fans of the original film.

Conclusion:

TRON is a milestone sci-fi computer movie. The franchise is coming back to life in the era of District 9 and Avatar. I always think that times of recession are great times for science fiction and horror. Sci-fi makes people think about problems other than their real lives. Horror has the violence that people crave in times of trouble. But enough of my theories… go watch the movie. And look below for some pictures from the movie!

Pictures from TRON:

The trio of programmers in the real world
Alan, Flynn, and Lora
Flynn the hotshot
Flynn the hotshot!
Tron – Evil Sark
Evil Sark!
Tron – Ram my buddy
Ram, my buddy!
Tron and Yori together
Tron and Yori together
Tron – Lora the prototype for a perfect girlfriend
Lora, the prototype for a perfect girlfriend!
Tron – Yori on the Light Sailer
Yori on the Light Sailer
Tron – Cindy Morgan is perfection
Cindy Morgan is perfection!