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Spoilers for Life is Strange, episode 5, and the end of the Witcher 3 expansion, Blood and Wine

Butch:

Well I played! So we can talk about the stuff we’re supposed to be talking about! All this stuff about kids and homework is making me feel too grown up.

Changed the past, got out of the dark room, just got to the gallery in San Francisco.

So.

The good: Having the picture you needed be the selfie that started the game was pretty damn cool. That scene was handled well. The fact you’ve already done it twice (cuz you do it twice in episode one) made it work. Now, maybe this was because I played that scene twice fairly recently (and you didn’t when you played), but I was like “Yeah, the daugerrotype process…yeah, Victoria glares, and Kate…and…” like I had just done it. Good line blurring. Good scene. Which is too bad because there was a lot of bad in this playing session.

Remember the other day when you said “I didn’t really have time to reflect that Jefferson was the bad guy?” Well, you didn’t have to, because he reflected for you and then some.

I mean, shit. In my many years of games and other forms of geek culture, I have seen more than my share of villain’s exposition. Indeed, on this very blog we have lamented the overuse of villain’s exposition in otherwise good games. But this…..this……

It came in waves. “You’re tied up on the floor….let me talk to you about everything I was doing…..” “Ok, now you’re tied up in a chair….let me talk EVEN MORE about the SAME STUFF!” It felt like torture.

“No….please….Mr. Jefferson….anything but more exposition….anything but that….”

Which really, really sucked on any number of levels. I mean, first, lazy writing. Also, dude, talk about some over acting there, Mark. But also, the timing couldn’t have been worse. I mean, we’re supposed to be cruising towards some sort of climax. Shit, even the load screen now has a storm raging over Arcadia Bay. The LOAD SCREEN is saying “Shit’s going DOWN, man!” And we start this huge, climactic build up with…..TWENTY MINUTES of scenery chewing. TWENTY MINUTES! I mean, it was a good set up. Come to in the chair….wonder for a second “Is it going? Can I move the camera? What do I do?” That’s good stuff and then……clunk.

This is NOT the way to start a climactic build up.

And it’s surprising because they handled the pick up of episode 4 so well. Three ended with the whole shocker of Chloe being hurt. Four COULD have started with twenty minutes of blabbing, but it didn’t. It was you and her and you engaging with her and learning stuff in a natural, organic way. It worked.

This did not.

Hope this gets back on track, and soon.

Feminina:

I played too! And it was so ridorkulously easy on Just the Story, I obviously hadn’t successfully turned it down before, and I quickly (finally) defeated that vampire. Grr. I hate you Dettlaff, more for that long, dragged out battle than for any of your terrible crimes.

Then there was some heroic conclusion stuff, and a character taunted me for “wanting a happy ending” (but I DOOOOOOOOO want a happy ending), and then I got a happy ending, and now I’m in the forest preparing to gather mandrake roots with my old friend so he can make liquor.

Which is either going to be the lead-in to some dramatic last-minute twist, or…I don’t even know. I don’t even know with this game. I thought it was almost over before and it wasn’t, and I would have sworn I just had the final triumphant scene with that bit where I got a medal, so now the fact that it’s still not over is making me nervous.

They’re going to rip my happy ending out of my cold witcher hands, I just know it!

Anyway, about YOUR game…hmm. That might have kind of worked out for me, then, with the game glitch, since I came in on Jefferson suddenly being the villain with no prior moment of revelation, so having him exposit on and on about it maybe seemed less distracting and more actually useful.

“Thanks, man! Tell me more about all this stuff I might have missed in the last episode!” (even though actually all I missed was the dramatic revelation).

I also think it might have been an intentional (though perhaps ineffective) break in the action. It sort of emphasized, for me, the fact that Max is TRAPPED right there. I mean, you know you’re stuck when you can’t do anything but listen to an annoying dude ramble on about his own awesomeness for WAY. TOO. LONG.

Right?

And they may have taken it too far and crossed the realism=boredom line again, but I do think that it may have been less lazy bad writing (“hey, let’s just have this guy explain everything in case someone missed it!”) and more possibly-ineffective mood-setting writing.

So I guess I cut them some slack for trying to do something with the scene, even if it didn’t work for you. It worked OK for me: I did get tired of having to listen to him repeat himself whenever I tried again with the pictures, but no more than I got tired of every conversation that repeated whenever I rewound time. The sense of being stuck there with someone who just goes on and on and on was kind of effectively creepy for me, rather than making me tired of the scene, and the way you sort of screech out of the “storm is bearing down” tension didn’t feel that out of place considering Max’s power–I felt that this was just sort of her putting things on hold, but the storm still loomed in the background.

In another example of the game not being very subtle, I also felt that this whole bit is literally a ‘calm before the storm’ period…which maybe felt oddly placed when you just came from a “storm is almost here” ending of the last episode, but which is maybe another instance where I had a greater supply of patience for it because I hadn’t played the game in several weeks and didn’t have the same sense of immediacy.

We’ve actually come up with a number of possible differences between playing it all at once and spacing it out the way it was released, which is interesting.

Butch:

See? Told you. It must have been defaulting up to harder things. Congrats.

Oh MAN the game knows you so well. Laughing at your need for happy. But then, as you have spend four billion hours with this game, it should know you well.

It’s either going to rip away your happy ending, or there’s still 82 hours to go. That wouldn’t surprise me, either.

The last fight is really a giant robot.

As for my game, Dude, he told me exactly NOTHING I didn’t already know. Except maybe killing Nathan. That was new. But other than that “Yeah…I killed Rachel…” and I was like “No shit, really? I just thought you were the OTHER psycho killer at her grave….” and “I was working with Nathan!” No kidding, for real? You don’t say.

I also thought him so expressly twirling his mustache at your choices was a bit forced. “You…blaming David to Principal Wells when it was REALLY ME! MWHAHA!” “Yeah, yeah, yeah, you got me. Bravo, dude. Can we move on?” I mean, yes, game, it was pretty crystal clear that I blamed the wrong guy WHEN THIS DUDE SHOT CHLOE. I didn’t need to you to remind me, ok?

And maybe it was intentional/realism, but it crossed the boredom line pretty quick for me. And perhaps it was because of something we rarely call out: bad acting. Jefferson isn’t…..well acted. Most of this game is pretty good on that front. I like the performances for Max and Chloe and even David. Jefferson always sounds like he’s doing exercises in acting class: “You’re a hipster!” “you’re suave!” “You’re a psycho! GO!” Maybe if he had the skills of Troy Baker or Nolan North, but this guy? Just had me rolling my eyes going “I GET it dude. You’re nuts. Good for you. Now, can I get back to this video game I’m playing, cuz Rise of the Tomb Raider comes out next week…..”

This may well be another example of why it’s different to play them far apart. But then, this might also be because you had a game breaking glitch in episode 4. When you miss the last hour of an episode, some degree of “So what happened?” is rather natural, and a nutcase explaining it is welcome. But I had the whole episode AND it was last week, so really, nutcase, let’s just get on with it.

Feminina:

Yeah, I can see that my lengthy break and glitch-related ignorance might have caused me to look more mercifully upon the scene than you did. As for the bad acting, yeah…he was not exactly subtle or nuanced in his line readings.

Again, maybe easier for me to forgive because I only had a little of him at a time until this final moment. Also, charitably speaking, we might consider that the character is, himself, always kind of acting a part in his own mind, and that the overly performative nature of his presentation is because he is actually pretending all the time to be “the cool professor” or “the tortured/insane artist” as he sees it in his head.

Remember the unsubtle Catcher themes: phoniness, pretense, grown-ups don’t really have it together any more than kids do. Jefferson is definitely a phony (in addition to his more obvious crimes), and the performance may be meant to underscore that. Again, possibly in a realism=boredom way that might not actually work in practice as well as it does in theory.

Butch:

While your points re Catcher are spot on, I think this is just bad acting. I mean, you play games enough, you’re going to get a dud performance from time to time. Frankly, I’m surprised we don’t see it more often. Indeed, I think the fact that we generally see good acting in games makes the bad acting stand out. Jefferson looks worse, here, because he’s doing scenes with GOOD actors. I felt the same way about poor Preston Garvey. I mean, maybe it wasn’t all that bad, but it sure wasn’t as good as everyone else, and that makes it stand out.

You’re being charitable, again. You are a kind soul.

But I’ll be less so. I mean, cutting a few casting corners for random cannon fodder Kevins who have nothing else to do but go “huh? Must’ve been nothing,” is one thing, but if you have a character driven drama, your bad guy, who has to hold down a critical TWENTY MINUTE scene by himself, get the casting right.

Feminina:

Ooh, that’s a serious burn on Mr. Jefferson. I won’t argue further–I honestly don’t remember the scene well enough at this point to comment (now I want to play the game again so bad! But I probably have another 15 hours of Blood and Wine, and Rise of the Tomb Raider is patiently waiting for us…)

It’s a good question, though: allowing that this was bad acting, why would they let bad acting stand? Unless it’s a celebrity casting choice (like that reporter in ME3, who I guess was…somebody that some people had heard of?), where you hope people get into it just because they recognize the voice, it doesn’t make much sense. (I mean, that’s still a bad decision for the game overall, but at least you can understand it.)

But if you’ve hired your standard non-celebrity actor who’s possibly fine in other things but not working for your part, why not hire someone else instead? I suppose it’s complicated…it might take a while for it to become clear that the acting isn’t really working, and once you’ve gotten to a certain point in development, it’s probably hard to convince everyone that you should toss a whole bunch of recorded dialogue and hire a whole new person to do it all over again. Maybe it sounded fine in a void, as it were, and only started to feel wrong when placed in the context of visuals, other actors, etc.

Or maybe somebody really loved this guy’s take on Jefferson the Phony. We shall never know.

Butch:

This game will be there later on. There may well be a gap between RotTR and ME/Horizon. You can play LiS and I can play Witcher expansions.

I’d say “ha” if that wasn’t actually really likely.

Hiring actors…I think it’s complicated. Hell, even in the amateur theater I’ve done, there’s always that one dude who you THOUGHT was so good in auditions and two weeks before curtain you’re saying “can I get a do over?” I mean, there are people in film, TV, and games who’s job title says “Casting director.” I mean, that’s all they do is try to make schedules, contracts, all that shit work out (schedules are hard. I mean, look at how hard it is to make our schedules line up so we can eat pie. Now imagine coordinating it so everyone can go do a month of voice tracks). By the time you’ve spent all that time getting actors in, I’m sure it’s more complex than just “Let’s get someone else. We’ll lose two weeks of voice tracks, but…” It’s gotta be more than just two weeks of voice tracks.

I even more inclined to be kind to mistakes like that than mistakes with the famous people. I mean, the famous people you know their voices. If it doesn’t fit, that’s on you.

Although…..damn.

I just looked at imbd at the cast imbd at the cast. I figured he was a nobody as he got eighth billing, and eighth billing usually means their blog has fewer followers than ours. But SHIT I know this actor! He was on Friday Night Lights! Like, for years! He ISN’T some dude with no resume!

Maybe somebody did love his approach. What him not being a nobody and all. Though it’s pretty fascinating he also did Samuel. I liked his take on Samuel better.

And Nathan and kind, helpful Daniel were the same actor? Damn. Didn’t see that, either.

Feminina:

Yeah, I’m sure it’s complicated. I did not catch that he’s also Samuel, either, or that Daniel and Nathan were played by the same actor.

I wonder if that was purely convenience, or if it’s some meta-commentary on how the people in Max’s life are different points on a single spectrum, or something. Probably convenience.

The game will be there later, but all this commentary won’t be fresh anymore! Oh well. It might actually be kind of entertaining (for us, at least) to revisit it a third time on the blog.

Butch:

Gotta be convenience. And price. I mean, this game does not scream high budget. Not that that’s bad, but still.

If you revisit, you know how to save Kate. Cheater.

Feminina:

I’ll probably forget. And kill her again.

Butch:

T SHIRT!!!!

I mean, fucked up t shirt but T SHIRT!!!!

Feminina:

I won’t do it on PURPOSE or anything, but these things happen.

Butch:

And…..

T SHIRT!!!!!

Our work here is done today.

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