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A Tale of Two Industries: Thoughts on Generation Xbox – How Video Games Invaded Hollywood

“[Videogames] are genuine narrative forms and we would have to be very stupid not to be immersed in and understand [them]… [...] The art direction, soundscapes, and immersive environments in video games are as good as, if not superior to, most movies.”

- Guillermo Del Toro, director of Hellboy and Pan’s Labyrinth.

It’s with this bold quote that Jamie Russell opens Generation Xbox – How Video Games Invaded Hollywood. Just from the title and this opening word salvo, you’d think Generation Xbox is about how video games are replacing movies – the nightmare of every film executive in the world, but, at the same time, an oft-prophecied shift that never quite seems to become reality.

Continue reading…

On the Portrayal of Russia and its People in Video Games

This piece was written to be my final analytical paper for SLL330: Russian Thought and Civilization at the University of Southern California. 

Every story needs a hero and a villain, and stories in video games are no different. For every good guy, there must be a bad guy; and for every evil-doer, there must be a do-gooder to save the day. This can be an issue for stories grounded in reality, as each character or faction must have a believable backstory, an important part of which is often nationality – while everyone loves a cool character of their nationality, problems pop up when writing in less favorable characters. A lot of it is unfortunately political – for example, although nobody has a problem with Nazis or zombies being depicted as the enemy in video games, depicting the Chinese, Cubans, North Koreans, or any Middle Easterners as the antagonists has proven to be a sensitive issue, with the respective nations crying foul about such portrayals or, in the case of Middle Eastern states, developers avoiding the issue altogether by omitting specific country references, á la 24. 

Russia seems less sensitive about the way it is portrayed in video games than most countries, with little to no real feedback to be seen about either the positive depictions or the less favorable ones; and this callousness is wonderful given the wide variety of ways Russians are portrayed in games. Although every game provides a different take on Russia and its people, upon analysis, it becomes clear that of all these depictions can ultimately be broken down into some combination of the following basic types: Continue reading…

Hands-on with Combiform

by Danny Kim



Video games are generally considered products of the digital realm. Sure, we as the players press buttons and fiddle with joysticks, but ultimately, all the action’s happening in the digital space. Even with motion-based control systems like the Kinect and the Wii, their physical motions are just means to achieving a desired result in the game – you swing your Wiimote to swing your tennis racket in the game, and you move your arms in front of your Kinect to interact with something on the screen. The digital-physical divide has a particularly noticeable effect in social gaming situations where you play together in the same space as other people, such as a split-screen match of Halo with your buddies. Although you might be trash-talking to each other, the emphasis is still clearly on the screen and the game within it, not the players themselves or their physical interactions.

With Combiform, that’s definitely not the case. Created by project lead Edmond Yee (MFA Interactive ’12) for his MFA thesis and developed by a team led by him and producer Josh Joiner (BA Interactive ’12), Combiform is unique compared to many projects in IMD in that it isn’t just a game; it’s a full-on platform on which developers can create their own experiences. The system consists of a set of four wireless controllers connected to a PC via a dongle. Each controller has a button, twisting knob, multi-color LED, and accelerometer, but the coolest thing about the Combiform controllers is that they are equipped with magnets that allow them to combine with each other. The ability to combine may seem gimmicky at first, but it works with the other capabilities of the controller to open up refreshing new gameplay experiences. To demonstrate this fact, the Combiform team is working on a host of games that really showcase the unique capabilities of the platform, and I had the chance to check some of them out.

The first game I played was called Blow it Up. It’s a 2v2 game where the players on each team combine their two controllers and use the combined device as an mock air pump, moving it up and down in the air to simulate a pumping motion. The faster you pump with the two controllers combined, the faster your balloon fills up; if the controllers become disconnected, you lose air fast. The surface-layer simplicity here is deceiving, because once you realize that the core of the gameplay – said pumping motion – takes place in the physical world, it opens up some unique strategies that you can use to win. Indeed, while messing with someone else’s controllers might be considered a gaming etiquette faux pas in most scenarios, with Combiform and Blow It Up, karate-chopping apart the other team’s two controllers to make them lose air is completely normal. Continue reading…

Hands-on with Blink

by Danny Kim

[vimeo w=600&h=450]

“Redefining the student game.”

In the same way that a lot of student films have the clear “student film vibe,” many student games created at USC have a clear “student game vibe.” It’s a completely excusable inevitability in given the fledgling talent and low budgets at this level, but that doesn’t get rid of the fact that the separation is clearly there. Whether it be because of lower quality art assets, sketchy animations, or general glitchiness, student games tend to be clearly distinguishable from their AAA cousins.

The Blink team aims to shatter this trend with their game. Led by game director Mihir Sheth (BS Computer Science – Games ’12) and producer Michael Chu (BA Interactive/BS Business Administration ’12), the team behind Blink is stocked full of some of the most talented and experienced developers from not only USC, but also the Art Institutes, Laguna College of Art and Design, and Gnomon School of Visual Effects. Continue reading…

Lucas and SCA Top Off Latest Building

by Danny Kim



This past Wednesday afternoon, the USC School of Cinematic Arts held a “topping off party” for its latest building. Among those present were George Lucas (Production ’67), the creator of Star Wars, and Dr. Elizabeth Daley, Steven J. Ross/Time Warner Professor and Dean of the School of Cinematic Arts.

The new building, which will be home to the Interactive Media Division and the Institute for Multimedia Literacy (IML), is just the latest step in the multi-phase rebirth of the School of Cinematic Arts. Funded by Lucas’s $175 million donation in 2006, the first phase was completed in 2009 with the opening of the primary SCA complex, and the second phase was completed with the opening of SCB – home to the John C. Hench Division of Animation and Digital Arts -, SCX, and the soundstages. Continue reading…

310 Screenings – The CelebritySC Takes

by Danny Kim

(As originally posted on CelebritySC)

Twice a semester, the CTPR 310 production students host a screening to showcase their work. On Sunday, March 18th, the first 310 screening of the semester took place at Norris Cinema Theatre, and CelebritySC was there to bring you the scoop. It was a real pleasure to see the hard work of all the 310 students on display, and their excitement and glee was truly infectious throughout the entire screening. Continue reading…

Latest USC Graphic Identity Weakens SCA’s Own Identity

by Danny Kim

New School of Cinematic Arts logo at top left, as seen on the SCA homepage.

I’ve always thought that the School of Cinematic Arts had a life of its own, separate from the image of USC at large. As far as I understand, the USC School of Cinematic Arts has always been known as one of the premier institutions – if not the premier institution – to study the art of cinema, and I imagine this was even the case throughout all the time in USC’s history when it was better known as one of the nation’s top party schools, the so-called “University of Spoiled Children.”

In that vein, I always liked how SCA maintained its own logo – it was meaningful, poetic in a way. This visual independence was symbolic of how SCA had made a name for itself and was already the (largely) indisputable number one in the film school scene, a level that the university as a whole was still gradually working toward in the national university rankings. Continue reading…

Q&A with the Father of Video Games – Ralph Baer

by Danny Kim

Ralph Baer

We take game consoles for granted these days. Everyone and their granny owns an Xbox, PS3, or Wii these days, with install base numbers exceeding 140 million in the US alone. However, for consoles to even exist, someone had to invent them; someone had to think, “Hmm, wouldn’t it be awesome if you could play games at home?” and run with it.

The man most often credited with this achievement is Ralph Baer. Now an independent engineering consultant, Baer is best known for being the creator of the Magnavox Odyssey, the world’s very first home video game console. The release of the Odyssey was just the beginning for video games, a medium that has grown from hobby and scene to culture and industry in the last 40 years. Without Baer’s work on the Odyssey, game consoles and video games might never have become as popular and widespread as they are today. Often referred to as the “father of video games,” Baer graciously took some time from his busy day to sit down and answer some of our questions. Continue reading…

Smithsonian Opens The Art of Video Games Exhibit – Games as Art?

by Danny Kim

Last Friday, the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C. opened up its latest and certainly discussion-worthy exhibit, The Art of Video Games. The exhibit explores the 40 year history of video games as an art form, with emphasis on visual effects, use of new technology, and the synergy of art, technology, and narrative. Continue reading…