Monday, October 28, 2013

Minecraft: simple yet satisfying

For those of you who don't know much about Minecraft here is a quick overview. Created in 2009 by Swedish programmer, Markus Persson, better known as "Notch," Minecraft is a game that centers around breaking and placing blocks.

A full release version of the game for PC came out in 2011 and in 2012 it was released for Xbox 360 and Xbox Live Arcade.

The graphics of Minecraft are very simple 3D blocks, which are set up in a grid formation. The player starts out in a virtually endless game world that continues to generate randomly as the person travels.

The terrain varies from forests to deserts to mountains and plains. It also features a day and night time cycle lasting 20 minutes in real time.

Minecraft has several different modes that players can choose to build in. The first is Survival mode and this is where the character has to collect supplies to maintain his or her health and hunger. Also at night monsters are spawned, making the building of shelter necessary.

In this mode it is also common for the player to use the natural resources to craft items such as armor, shovels, pickaxes, and swords. All these items help the character collect more blocks of various material such as wood, stone, or ore. When a person is killed in this mode all of their materials are dropped, but they can sometimes be recovered if the player reaches the location they were killed before the items despawn.

The second is Creative mode and this allows the player to access most of the resources and items found in the game from the inventory menu and place them anywhere. While in this mode the character is not affected by hunger or damage from the environment and can fly freely. The purpose of this mode is to allow the player to focus on building large projects without distractions.

Adventure mode is the newest addition to Minecraft. This mode allows players to explore custom maps and adventures. It is similar to Survival mode's gameplay, but there are certain player restrictions that cause the character to obtain the items needed and cause them to play through the map as its creator intended.

Multiplayer mode is self-explanatory. It is simply when player-hosted servers allow for multiple players to explore and interact on a single map.

The concept is simple, but the possibilities are endless. Minecraft is an example of a game where the graphics don't really matter because even as a kid we all loved to play with blocks.

Below is a link to a video of me talking some more and my friend Scot showing what his world in Minecraft looks like. Feel free to watch or ignore.

Click here to watch my vlog about Minecraft

Monday, October 21, 2013

The importance of book covers

When you are browsing your favorite book store, without a particular title in mind, you generally pick up books based off how interesting their covers are.

If a cover is very simple and has little to no artwork, more attention is brought to the title and therefore should be one that sounds intriguing enough to get the potential reader to pick the book up off the shelf and read the summary on the back or inside of the book.

Others choose to have a complex image on it and these tend to illustrate a specific scene within the book. Some covers have visuals that don't really tie in at all with the actual story and probably the reason they say you shouldn't judge a book by its cover.

Font and color are also things that will catch a shopper's eye and help them decide in picking it up or not. If the book title written in a flowery font and covered in pink, someone looking for a Gothic romance wouldn't give it a second glance.

The same can go for those who avoid the dark and grim tales. They aren't about to pick up a book when its cover is all black with a pair of blood-soaked fangs. Book covers help readers sort visually what type of story they are looking for.

Book covers can vary from those rare finds where the cover is like a siren's song and you are immediately drawn to it and snatch it up to see if the plot sounds as good as the cover seems to allude to, to the ones that are so vague and dull looking you halfheartedly flip through to see if perhaps it is an ugly duckling book who just doesn't look as good as the rest.

The purpose of book covers is to attract the buyer's attention long enough for them to find the book worth their money. If a book has a lackluster cover it is not necessarily going to do poorly, but if it does not have word of mouth helping it, people are less likely to pick it up.

Below is a video of me citing specific examples of book covers and why they caught my attention. Feel free to watch or ignore, it's up to you.

Click here for the video of me talking more about book covers

(P.S. Sorry about the sound, I was trying to be quiet in the morning. You can hear it better with headphones in.)

Monday, October 14, 2013

Two types of actors: diverse and stock character

There are many actors and actresses out there, but a simple dichotomy that I like to use is the diverse or stock character actors.

To define a "diverse" actor, it is someone who can play just about any part and do a fantastic job in any role they assume. The key is whether or not they are actually good at it because there are plenty of actors out there who try to partake in roles that aren't suited for them and the film suffers in result.

This leads to the other side of the coin, the "stock character" actors. These are the actors who are really good at playing a certain character type and always perform in that one niche. When they do try to depart from what they are naturally good at, it can sometimes seem awkward or forced.

Types of stock characters vary from the goofy sidekick, the bad guy you love to hate, the charming hero, the beautiful babe, and so on. There are many different categories that can be further broken down, but just think of the typical microcosm that you find in a movie (hero, bad guy, damsel, comic relief, etc) and draw from that.

Sometimes new actors or actresses who are trying to find their stock character role will try his or her hand at a variety of different parts to see which suits them best. For those who tend to be successful in each of their positions will typically continue on to remain a diverse actor or actress and never settle for one particular kind of character.

An example of an actor who is diverse is Johnny Depp. Depp has been a pirate, a gangster, a mad hatter, a greaser, a barber, a tourist, a chocolate maker, and lately the Native American, Tonto in "The Lone Ranger." These are only a few of the many roles he has immersed himself in, but every single part Depp is able to fully become that character and his versatility shows.

A few of the many faces of Johnny Depp

An actress who could be just trying to find her niche, but is doing a great job so far at being varied in the roles she chooses is Anne Hathaway. Starting out as a sweet and innocent nice girl in "The Princess Diaries," Hathaway has moved on to playing a personal assistant in "The Devil Wears Prada," a spy, a competing bride, the White Queen, Catwoman, and most recently Fantine from "Les Miserables." It is obvious that Hathaway is trying to prove a point that she can play gritter parts than just the pretty girl-next-door type.

Christoph Waltz, though only starting his fame in 2009, is a stock character actor. It was his part in "Inglorious Bastards" as the dreaded Jew Hunter that caused him to become well-known and be a perfect bad guy for several other movies. Waltz is able to repulse the audience when in character in such a way they will always despise him. He is the antagonist in several films such as "Water For Elephants," "The Green Hornet," and "The Three Musketeers."

Scarlett Johansson's stock character is the beautiful girl. She always plays an attractive woman who uses her looks for various reasons. In "Iron Man 2" and "The Avengers" Johansson is the seductive spy, Black Widow, who uses her looks to get her in the right places to snoop. In "The Prestige" she is the magician's assistant and helps double cross one for the other with her looks again. The point is that most characters that Johansson plays focus on their looks and that is what she is able to bring to the table.

Now keep in mind there is nothing wrong with either one of the types of actors. This is simply a way that I categorize them in my mind for simplicity's sake.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Why there will never be a perfect book-to-movie adaptation

It is a fever dream of every avid reader: to have their favorite book made into a movie and to have it done accurately. While the first part is often accomplished (movie producers can't overlook an already established fan base) the second half has yet to be seen.

Of course there are some adaptations that are done well, but there will always be the complainers, the ones who were mad that a minor scene or line was left out or how a character did not look like how they are described in the book.

The author could have stated plainly in the book that so-and-so looks exactly like Taylor Lautner, but you will always have some readers who picture them differently. This comes from varying interpretations of the descriptions or how the character acts. They could be depicted physically in one way but their personality causes the reader to think of them in another way.

Another thing that will forever bother readers is the time constraint. Taking a huge novel and condensing it into a two to two and half hour movie is a challenge that most viewers seem to forget. Certain scenes are regrettably cut, but when the producers have to choose between telling the story and making sure everything ever mentioned in the book is filmed. When it comes down to it, the answer is obvious.

Lately, movies have tried to correct this by making movies into parts such as "Breaking Dawn - Part 1" and "Part 2" and "The Hobbit - An Unexpected Journey" so they can cover more of the events in the book, while making more money on their part too since they can now take a single work and turn it into a trilogy if they want to.

One problem that can also be encountered is production. Depending on the technology available, some adaptations suffer for poor visual effects that try to convey the fantastical setting of the book. While it is not a book to movie adaptation, James Cameron's "Avatar" movie is a good example of waiting for the technology to catch up with the concept. He originally came up with the story in 1994, but it wasn't until 2009 that the movie was released.

The number one reason why there will never be a perfect adaption is the fact that everyone pictures it differently. While some movies, like the "Harry Potter" series, do a good overall job at capturing the feel and magic of Hogwarts, every reader constructs their own version of the world they all love.

An example is a map of Panem, from "The Hunger Games" series. If you were to look for a map of Panem you would encounter several different interpretations. Some are similar, but none are exactly alike.

These are just a few of the examples of readers different opinions of what Panem looks like

The point is that people will never be satisfied with the movie version, if they have read the book, because in the translation of words to visuals the intangible pleasure of creating your own images is lost.