Friday, 23 March 2012

The Fuss About Ghostwatch

Ghostwatch, aired by the BBC on the evening of Halloween in 1992, is a masterpiece.

Shot and presented as if it were a factual show going out live on that evening, Ghostwatch was actually a cleverly constructed pre-recorded fictional 'drama' that followed the exploits of a TV crew investigating the strange activities in an alleged suburban haunted house.

What made the program infamous to this day however was the sheer number of complaints it received shortly after airing.

Complaints mostly fell into two categories: either that the audience thought it was real and got really shitted up (sample: ‘my 11 year old son was left shaking and physically sick after 10 minutes’); or that the audience felt ‘duped’ thinking the events were real when it was actually a hoax (ie: they got shitted up but didn't want to admit it).

The fear thing I can kind of understand.

Things that are presented as real definitely ARE scarier than those that you know are fictional from the off. Hence the power of telling a ghostly tale around a campfire being magnified simply by a variation on the words this is a true story or this actually happened to a friend of mine.

Case in point, before ‘found footage’ films became popular in the horror genre, The Blair Witch Project (1999) made a killing at the box office simply in the way in which the film was presented, entertaining the notion that the events depicted just might be true.

With Ghostwatch, it is easy to look back on it now with hindsight and think how can people not see it’s a hoax? But at the time it must have been a very different story. As well as having genuine numbers flash on the screen throughout the program for people to call in on (which they did), the use of household name presenters such as Sarah Green, Mike Smith, Craig Charles and Michael Parkinson, contribute heavily to the illusion. Each of them plays their part entirely straight and, for the most part, convincingly.

After all, they are presenters acting like they are presenting – not much of a stretch I know.

The other actors on the show are a mixed bag – some do a good job (the mother and the various experts are mostly convincing) others fairly transparent in their acting (the two girls). So sure, the majority of it is done well, but watching it now, just based on the performances of the actors in the show, it would be fairly improbable that anybody watching would be taken in by it.

Two reasons I think contribute heavily to this change in audience reaction.

Firstly, the rise of mockumentary (including found footage) and reality TV shows in today’s culture. So many programs now adopt the reality approach in today’s popular entertainment that audiences have become pretty savvy about whether or not something is real, fake, fake passing off as real, etc.

The same goes for the rise in popularity of ‘found footage’ horror movies within the last two decades (the double boon of being cheap to make and the implied ‘trueness’ of the footage adding to the scariness – for example the Paranormal Activity series).

These things didn't really exist in 1992, which could have greatly contributed to the fuss caused following the airing of Ghostwatch.

The second thing vastly different about today’s popular culture is the use of the internet. Back then they didn't have forums or message boards where people could discuss shows like this – picking apart its workings or pointing out telltale signs that it was a hoax; or even YouTube where the prevalence of hoax videos causes people to doubt and look for holes in something from the off.

You could say we now live in a cynical age where nothing can escape the eagle eyes and a thousand minds of the collective consciousness on the web. If there is even a tiny inkling of something being a fake or hoax, you can be pretty sure people will be on to it straight away.

Again, this network of people quickly sharing ideas simply didn't exist back in 1992. It was just you and your family, sitting at home on a Halloween night watching something on TV and being genuinely frightened by it and not knowing what to do - (compounded by the fact that the scary goings on depicted in Ghostwatch were happening in a normal suburban house… just like yours!)

So although I don't agree with the people who complained about this show at the time, I can kind of understand why they did – as something like this must have been genuinely scary at the time in context – much like the Orson Wells War of the Worlds radio drama back in 1938 that people mistook for a genuine alien invasion.

I personally remember watching this program as a child and being terrified by the simple notion of a brown stain mysteriously appearing on the floor, such was its execution.

So my point is that the reaction to the program was to do with when it was aired and not so much to do with the actual content. I’ll bet that if you showed this program on TV now (or one similar to this), say next Halloween, the reaction would be vastly different from how it was in 1992.
Message board discussions and YouTube videos would spring up overnight scrutinizing every detail with a wealth of opinions - and that's even if it gets that far. Most viewers would cry hoax immediately from the comfort of their sofas by scrutinizing the actor’s performances or by pointing out that since they seem to be watching an episode of Most Haunted but something scary is actually happening for a change, it must be a fake.

Sure, there are always people out there who would complain but the overall majority reaction would be totally different in today’s popular entertainment climate than it would have been back in the early 90s.

Still, watching the Ghostwatch today, it’s fascinating to see how effective the programme was in convincing people at the time (the buildup is fantastic) and if anything else the sheer stones it had in its execution. The show was way ahead of its time and is highly recommended for you to seek out and watch.

Similarly the complaints, some of which can be seen in programs such as Points of View and Bite Back, are also interesting to watch (and not just for the hilarious 90s fashion that some of the audience are sporting) to gauge the sheer outrage that some people felt at the show.

In that respect we can at least admire Ghostwatch for managing to shit up an entire nation - which can't be said for many programs aired on national TV.

23 Mar 2012

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Platinum Hunt - Batman Arkham Asylum

Main game on Hard mode – finished.

Stealth based ‘Predator’ challenges – all clocked.

Only one freeflow Combat challenge left to do - the infamous Shock and Awe Extreme.

Now at this point I was pretty slick with the fighting system – having to get good scores on all the other Combat challenges saw to that.

In order to get the maximum ‘three bat’ score in each challenge you had to get over a certain number of points, only really achievable by racking up high scoring combos – which means chaining attacks together, countering incoming blows and not getting hit by the enemy. Basically, don't get hit and don't drop your combos means generally you will get a good score.

But the Shock and Awe challenge had something else to contend with: a strict time limit, that once elapsed would electrify the whole arena floor killing everyone who was still standing. With plenty of henchmen to take down within the four timed rounds of this challenge there wasn't much room for error.

The Extreme version of this challenge was by far the hardest thing in the game. Here’s how it eventually went down.

Round 1

The arena is small –making enemies bunch together, increasing the risk of being hit by combo interrupting blows. Constantly being on the move and flipping over the goons to make more room for yourself is a must.

There are two knife guys thrown in there too – they cannot be attacked directly – either stun them with a swipe of your cape before attacking, or better yet build up your combo on the regular guys so that you can use an instant takedown on the knife wielders, using a grapple move to break a bone or two and take them out of the fight permanently.

This first round is not too hard but mess up too much and you may as well restart the challenge.

Round 2

Similar situation to Round 1, except this time the two knife wielders are replaced by electric baton dudes. You cant attack or counter these guys either – you have to flip over them and hit from behind if you want to preserve your combo. Once again, prioritise using the instant takedown moves on them first.

Another difference to this round: as you are occupied in the fight in the main arena, one of the goons attempts to sneak off to the raised area on the right to open the gun locker, sounding off the alarm as he does so. Rather than give chase though, I let him go, trusting that by the time he comes back with the gun to try and shoot me I will be ready to take him out. Problem is, he drops the gun after being defeated, meaning any regular goon can pick it up to use it in subsequent rounds.

Better keep an eye out for that.

Round 3

This is where the time limit gets really strict. With a combination of knife AND baton guys mixed in with the regular goons, strict crowd control and prioritising who to takedown first is a must.
Also watch out for that gun that's lying around somewhere.

Round 4

The final round – its just about beating the clock really and not worrying about your score. The only way you can take everyone out before the time limit is by continuously comboing them anyway so just by being able to finish within the time limit will probably net you the required points for the ‘three bats’ rating.

I start the round by throwing out the batclaw, hooking the three nearest goons causing them to tumble toward me. Letting them fall to the ground I flip over to the right to start hitting a regular henchman to get my combo up. As soon as its ready I use an instant takedown on one of the knifemen, being sure to flip out the way straight after to avoid the vicious mob closing in around me.

Once the combo is built up again, I flip over a guy to reach the edge of the arena. Unleashing a triple batarang followed by the batclaw again means that multiple enemies fall to the floor, thinning the crowd considerably. This makes it easy to jump from one goon to the next – attack then move – giving them less of a window to strike back.

Occasionally I’ll hear the ominous click-clack of someone picking up the gun and make sure I leap over to take him out before he starts shooting. As the timer ticks down I repeat the process, build up the combo then triple batarang and batclaw to get people on the ground.

Almost out of time! The countdown has just reached zero and the warning siren is going off. There are still a few more guys left standing as the floor starts to glow and hum loudly. In a last desperate attempt I batarang the goons to the floor and pounce on them with a ground pound.

As the last henchman is defeated just in the nick of time - the hum of the glowing floor dies down - mere moments away from frying me.

Round 4 finished. Score over thirty thousand means ‘three bats’.

The platinum trophy pops in the top right hand corner of the screen.

I’m Batman.

21 Mar 2012

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Assassin's Creed III Concept Art Leaked?

Earlier today a ‘leaked’ image showed up on the net depicting possible concept artwork for the much-anticipated Assassin’s Creed III.

It seems to be stating that the new time period of the game will be around the time of the American Revolution, as the image portrays the protagonist in front of an old style American flag.

Similarly, the fact that he will be of Native American decent is also hinted at by details in the picture, namely by his attire, the tomahawk and bow and arrow as the weaponry and a tooth necklace around his neck.

Click HERE to see the full image.

The time period of the third ‘proper’ installment of the hit series has always been a hot topic amongst fans – with many diverse views emerging. Some wanted it to be set in Asia – in feudal Japan or China, others wanted it to be set in the modern day to focus almost entirely on Desmond’s story.

I disagree about the likelihood of both of these ideas. Firstly, games set in the ancient orient have been done already – any game with ninjas (Tenchu series anyone?) have made this an all too familiar setting for many gamers.

In a similar way, on the flipside, having a modern setting (or even a futuristic one) would not work for the game either, as the Assassin’s Creed series is known for its rich depictions of periods in history – having no historical context would make it too similar to the myriad of openworld/sandbox games out there. To deprive the game from a rich historical setting would be, in my opinion, ridding itself of its USP – akin to shooting itself in the foot.

One further time period that has been hinted at from previous concept art has been the French Revolution (a popular idea for a while), but this new artwork – if it is indeed genuine, seems to have got most people believing it's the real thing.

My personal feelings are slightly ambivalent. To be honest, I don't know much about American history, although the same could be said about the first and second Assassin’s Creed games and how they successfully drew me into the periods of the Crusade-era Middle East and Renaissance Italy respectively – giving me an interesting insight into how people lived back then and to explore the beautiful architecture.

And that's where my main problem with the American Revolution lies – there is not much in the way of architecture. As a relatively new land (in historical terms), America of that time lacks the tall buildings and majestic skylines for the Assassin protagonist to scale (this being one of the core aspects of the game mechanic) – the vertical exploration as well as the horizontal. If the American Revolution does indeed end up being the chosen setting, it will be interesting to see how they will implement or indeed compensate for this.

Anyhow, the game itself is slated for an October release this year – and so an official announcement (and thus confirmation of this artwork’s validity) is probably not too far off and will finally put an end to all this speculation.

Personally, I still wish the game would be set in Victorian London. Although having appeared as a setting in some games, a fully exploreable open world version has yet to be realised. Think about it - climbing around the city and its architecture would be magnificent – meeting grubby chimney sweeps on the rooftops, watching carriages rumbling around on the cobbled streets below. Quacks on street corners peddling their medicine or prostitutes hanging around in dingy alleys. Scaling a smog shrouded Big Ben and Tower Bridge! I’m sure Jack the Ripper lore would feature in the game somewhere too. All this would all fit into an AC game perfectly!

Ah, one can only dream…

[Edit: at the time of posting, new official box art images have been revealed, confirming that yes, the setting will be The American Revolution. I thought I’ll still post this anyway.]

1 Mar 2012