In early March, the USC School of Cinematic Arts will complete the third and final phase of construction on the School of Cinematic Arts Complex and open the gates to its newest building, located on the corner of 34th Street and McClintock Avenue. Previously covered in my post about its “topping off” celebration, the building will house the Institute for Multimedia Literacy, the Interdivisional Media Arts and Practice Ph.D program, and the #1 ranked Interactive Media Division, as well as additional programs and courses on “online multiplayer game design, interactive architecture, immersive, mobile and environmental media, crowd-sourced cinema, transmedia storytelling, alternate reality games, augmented reality and mixed reality experience design.” Perhaps in homage to its interactive and interdivisional resident departments, the new building’s building code will be SCi – and I really hope they lower-case the ‘i’ like that wherever possible, because it looks COOL!
Although SCi will open in just a few weeks, move-in will not take place until the summer, and classes will not be held in the building until the fall 2013 semester. A public opening date has not yet been set. The building is technically still under construction… but I was lucky enough to get a preview of the interior, and what I saw left me excited for the days to come. (more…)
“[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.
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. (more…)
by Danny Kim
[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/38716463 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. (more…)
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. (more…)
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. (more…)
by Danny Kim
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 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. (more…)
by Danny Kim
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. (more…)
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. (more…)
By Danny Kim
(as originally posted on CelebritySC)
Would you like a chance to play – not watch, but play - Ridley Scott’s Alien? Well, your wish has been granted.
Seriously, take Alien, throw the characters in a tosser, change around a few details about the setting, and bam – you have Dead Space. And before any snobs go, “Ho, ho, how derivative,” c’mon, what isn’t derivative these days?
In Dead Space, you play the the role of Isaac Clarke, the engineer in a rescue team sent to investigate a distress call from the starship Ishimura, a mining ship. Isaac, unlike the others on the team, has a personal stake in the mission as his wife was on the ship before it sent out the distress signal. As you can imagine, the mission goes awry very early on, and the rescue team’s ship crashes into the Ishimura, leaving Isaac and his teammates Hammond and Kendra stranded on the ship. The ship turns out to be infested with an alien parasite that mutates humans into grotesque creatures called Necromorphs, and you, as Isaac, must fight to clear the infestation off the ship and find your wife. It’s the familiar “Ship, meet Alien; Alien, meet Human” formula with an emotional twist. (more…)
by Danny Kim
(as originally posted on CelebritySC)
[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/31411046 w=560]
Games are all about reaction and control. You react to what a game gives you in the digital space by consciously doing something in the physical space – for example, an enemy pops up and you pull the trigger on your controller – ; and likewise, the game reacts digitally to your deliberate inputs from the physical world. But what if a game got more from you than just the buttons you were pressing? What if a game changed your experience based on a form of input that’s a core part of you yet, at the same time, not really under your control? It’s this very frontier that Erin Reynolds (MFA Interactive ’12) and her team have chosen to explore in Nevermind.
In Nevermind, you are a “neuroprobe” working for the fictitious Neurostalgia Institute, and your job is to go into patients’ minds to help them remember and overcome the traumatic memory their brains are repressing. Each mind is littered with various environments and puzzles, and solving the puzzles leads you to a Polaroid photos for you to collect. There are 10 Polaroids in each mind; once you collect them all, you need to reflect on everything you’ve seen in the spaces you’ve explored to piece together the right Polaroids (only 5 of the 10 actually pertain to the repressed memory) in the right order to unravel the repressed memory and deal with the traumatic event. (more…)
Think of any triple-A blockbuster title – say, Call of Duty: Black Ops, Halo: Reach, Starcraft II, for example – and chances are, music played a huge role in your perception of the game. From the bold opening fanfare in Starcraft II to the subtle, ominous, and nostalgic undertones of the Halo: Reach score, video game music has its way of being a significant part of our experience in major titles today. And this has really been the case with most major blockbuster titles in the past decade, from Michael Giacchino’s brass anthems in the Medal of Honor series and Garry Schyman’s Stravinsky-esque manipulation of strings in Bioshock to Martin O’Donnell’s iconic Gregorian chants in the Halo franchise and Harry Gregson-Williams’s bold mix of electronic and orchestral elements in Metal Gear Solid.
As Jack Wall, the composer for titles such as Myst III, Jade Empire, and Mass Effect and one of the co-founders of Video Games Live, says, “Music is an unseen character in video games… You don’t see it, but there is definitely an effect.” It sets a mood and feeling for the story to be told in a game, and “depending on the way the music for a game is written, what is felt by the audience can be dramatically different. They aren’t quite sure why they’re feeling what they’re feeling, but in actuality, it’s because of the music.” (Wall 2010) Music in video games can create anticipation and strike fear into a player; it can foretell upcoming events and recall past ones; it can create emotion where there would otherwise be none; and it can accentuate emotions portrayed onscreen or play against them and in general give a whole new dimension to what a player is experiencing at a given moment. (more…)
by Danny Kim
“This family of ours is a secret.”
Sometimes, the life of organized crime looks quite enticing, not gonna lie. Doing badass shit and wearing a badass suit with a badass gun in my hands sounds… well, badass. I mean, c’mon, a sharp suit and a submachine gun – classy and deadly in a single package.
Thankfully, there are games out there that let kids like me live out our fantasies of being a badass mobster in a suit mowing people down with a Tommy gun without actually doing the being-a-badass-mobster-in-a-suit-mowing-people-down part. Such games, like other genres, range from the poor and mediocre – such as EA’s licensed Godfather abominations – to the spectacular.
The original Mafia was thankfully one of the spectacular. It came out 2002 to critical and popular acclaim, and reviewers hailed it as a more serious counterpart to Grand Theft Auto while praising the expansive game world and darker tone. When its sequel was announced in 2007, the internet buzzed with excitement as everyone wondered if 2K would be able to capture the magic that made Mafia such a hit.
I’m happy to say that it definitely does. (more…)
by Danny Kim
One Tuesday in the fall of 2011, I was sitting in CTPR242 (Fundamentals of Cinematic Sound). The date was November 15th, merely four days after 11-11-11, a momentous day when many a gamer’s social lives went kaput with the release of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. I’d been playing quite a while over the weekend, and EVERYONE was talking about it – even CNN was raving about it! I saw ads for Skyrim quite often on TV and online as well. Suffice it to say it was a very well marketed game, and I assumed people would at least be familiar with it as a pop culture style, “Oh, I saw an ad about that on TV!” thing if nothing else when I brought it up, in the same way I’m familiar with the Geico Gecko even though I never actually use any of their services.
So that Tuesday in 242 when Preston began lecture like he did every time by asking us what we’d seen over the weekend, I asked, “Oh, can I talk about a video game I played?” and he was like, “Yeah, go for it!” So I mentioned that I’d been playing a ton of Skyrim and loved the atmosphere and music in it. But then when I looked around to see if anyone else knew what it was or had been doing the same, and all I saw were blank faces – the same kids who would be aghast if I told them I wasn’t familiar with Pulp Fiction or the Godfather series had never heard of Skyrim, let alone the Elder Scrolls franchise as a whole.
Right now, Interactive majors are required to take CTCS190 and CTPR241/290 like most SCA majors, and I presume the reason for this is to give all students in SCA a common fundamental curriculum in the cinematic arts to draw from. But then I have to ask, how is this fundamental curriculum complete in any way without an introduction to video games, the most recent development in cinematic arts? I believe that all SCA students be required to take an intro level CTIN course that teaches them the history, culture, and language of video games. But why? you might ask. Why should I care about video games? I’ll tell you why: (more…)
(Originally published on CelebritySC on 2/16/2012)
“My name is Alan Wake. I’m a writer.”
With its impending PC re-release and the closely following release of its downloadable followup, I figured now is as good a time as any to talk about one of my most favorite games of all time, one that I think is overlooked beyond belief: Alan Wake.
“A Psychological Action Thriller,” the caption on the front cover reads. Just from this text, it’s clear that Remedy is aiming for so much more than just a generic third person shooter with a barely functional narrative. No, Alan Wake is a game where the narrative elements play a huge role in making the overall package as great as it is. And would we expect any less from the developers behind Max Payne (for the less interactively educated, I promise you, the games are infinitely better than the piece of shit movie starring Mark Wahlberg), a series known for its strong story, atmosphere, and style?
And yes, the main character is a writer. Not some action hero or soldier. That plus the whole “Psychological Action Thriller” thing should make you think about Alan Wake a little bit differently to start with. (more…)
by Danny Kim
(Originally posted on CelebritySC on 2/10/12)
Destroying blocks and making words always feels good.
It’s a near-undeniable fact that millions of people who’ve played games like Tetris and Scrabble over decades of time can attest to. Developed by USC Interactive Media Division student Asher Vollmer (’12), Puzzlejuice aims to take what we love from some of our favorite word games and puzzle games and combine them into one package, into what I guess you could consider the video game pseudo-counterpart of a bacon-wrapped hot dog. Both puzzle games and word games are a dime a dozen iOS App Store, many of them garbage but some of them quite good; so does Puzzlejuice’s approach of combining elements from both help make it fun and stand out from the crowd? Let’s find out. (more…)
by Danny Kim
(Originally posted on CelebritySC on 2/8/2012)
It’s a concept that most survival-action and survival-horror games and films boil down to, “You don’t wanna die, so here, take this shotgun and shoot shit,” or, “Oh my god, you’re helpless, you better run.” (Amnesia, anyone?) No game has really chosen to explore the human side to survival, the wear it inflicts on a person over time and the stress it puts on those trying to stay alive. But it seems like that’s finally about to change. (more…)
by Danny Kim
(Originally posted on CelebritySC on 2/2/2012)
Bioshock was released in the summer of 2007 to much critical acclaim. Reviewers praised the narrative and the world that Irrational Games had created, with the striking art-deco visual style and the intricately designed narrative coming together with brilliant writing and design to form a believable underwater dystopia. Its 2010 sequel, Bioshock 2, while not as revolutionary as its predecessor, preserved and built upon what made the original Bioshock so great and also received accolades from critics.
On both occasions, the descent into the world of madness that is Rapture would not have been as memorable without the music of Garry Schyman (USC Thornton ’78). The first descent into Rapture as Andrew Ryan speaks over the radio and Schyman’s “Welcome to Rapture” plays in the background is a moment that will stick with gamers for a long time. In many ways, Schyman’s music is as iconic a part of the Bioshock identity as the Big Daddy or the Little Sister. In this interview, we sit down with him to discuss the trials and tribulations of being a video game composer. (more…)
by Danny Kim
(Originally posted on CelebritySC on 1/25/12)
With over 14 years of experience in the games industry, Chris Avellone is an industry veteran in every sense. Currently Creative Director and Chief Creative Officer at Obsidian Entertainment, he has played a role in shaping some of the most memorable experiences in gaming history, from the vast wastelands of Fallout 2 and Fallout: New Vegas to the countless lightsaber battles of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II. In this interview, we sat down with him to pick his brains on game design and the gaming industry.
Danny Kim: Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your specific title(s) and position(s) at Obsidian Entertainment.
Chris Avellone: I’m Creative Director/Chief Creative Officer at Obsidian Entertainment. I’m involved with brainstorming and reviewing existing design content at the company, playing the builds, critiquing design documents, and assisting with the designer hiring and testing.
How did you first start working in the games industry?
I ended up working in the game industry by writing pen-and-paper game adventures in my spare time, and I was persistent enough to get them published. Once published, my boss then recommended me for a position at a game company based on his work experience with me (a positive one). (more…)