The Entire World Is Waiting For The Power Of Steam – Steamboy

16 11 2016

Steamboy (Sunrise - 2004)

In 2013, animation Director and co-founder of Studio Ghibli; Hayao Miyazaki created a film which he announced was going to be the last before he retired. The film was called The Wind Rises, and it was a film that followed a young man who dreamt of designing the ultimate aircraft, and so the story took us on a history of his young life, career, romantic relation, and a retrospective history of his country, eventually leading the young man to his pivotal moment designing the aircraft of his dreams. There is one slight issue however with the company he works for, being the ones to foot the bills; the only option is to design it to the benefit of a company contract, and at that time in Japan’s history the only contract work for airplane manufacturers (or at least those shown in the film) is to build them for the sake of war. So while the young man does get to design his dream plane, he has to come to the eventual realization of what the plane’s purpose is to be. It is a very interesting idea for a story, looking at great inventors, the things they do; but also what they have to do in order for them to be allowed to build such things!

The Wind Rises (Studio Ghibli - 2013)

Released in 2004 by Toho, produced by Sunrise and Directed by Katsuhiro Otomo; Steamboy is a Steampunk animated action film set in the UK and follows the adventure of a young inventor who has to come to terms with the realities of the world of inventions and of course save the day from threats very close to home. Touted at the time of release as being the most expensive Japanese animated film of all time, Steamboy took 10 years to produce, and is only the second major animated release for Otomo following his milestone film Akira in 1988.

Akira (Toho 1988)

In 1863 in Russian Alaska, inventor Lloyd Steam (Patrick Stewart) and his son Eddie (Alfred Molina) have discovered a pure mineral water, which they believe they can turn into a powerful steam based energy source. During an experiment however, everything goes wrong with Eddie being engulfed in freezing gases, but leaves a strange spherical object being created. Three years later, in Manchester England, great-grandson of Lloyd: Ray Steam (Anna Paquin), a young inventing prodigy receives a strange parcel containing the spherical object plus some designs relating to it. Two men then show up called Alfred (Mark Bramhall) and Jason (David S. Lee) claiming to be from something called the Foundation and who want the ball. Ray refuses to give it to them, and is surprised to see the arrival of his grandfather. Ray makes a run for it, and is eventually chased by a strange steam automotive vehicle, making his escape on his own Monocycle. The chase leads them onto the railway tracks, with the automotive being pushed into a river, and Ray being rescued by Robert Stephenson (Oliver Cotton) and his assistant David (Robin Atkin Downes). Things don’t last long however, as while the train is en route to London, Ray is kidnapped by the Foundation thanks to their Zeppelin.

Ray finds himself in a dining hall, and being introduced to members of the O’Hara Foundation which includes Scarlett O’Hara (Kari Wahlgren), the spoiled granddaughter of the foundation’s chairman, and Archibald Simon (Rick Zieff), a company executive. Ray then meets his father Eddie whose head has been greatly altered by the accident, now with only a few strands of hair and a helmet covering one half of his head, as well as other metal components all along his body. Ray and Scarlett are taken on a tour of the facility dubbed The Steam Castle by Eddie who says he wants to use it to enlighten mankind’s vision of science. Ray is recruited by his father to help finish it off, but when asked to help in assisting to turn off a valve, Ray finds his Grandfather trying to sabotage the whole thing. He tells Ray that the purpose of the castle and the O’Hara’s foundation is to sell weapons to Britain’s enemies at the Great Exhibition the following day and shows Ray evidence of this. The two eventually reach the core of the castle, and pry away a steam ball, one of three used to power the castle, but they are then surrounded. Ray makes an escape but Lloyd is recaptured. Ray manages to run into Robert Stephenson telling him about his father and the steam castle, and hands him the Ball thinking Stephenson can be trusted, but discovers that Stephenson’s motives are near the same; to build an army for the purpose of keeping Britain Great.

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At the Great Exhibition, the O’Hara foundation shows off their weapons to generals from around the world, exhibiting their steam-powered soldiers, miniature aircraft and submersible men. At this moment, Stephenson launches an attack on the foundation using his steam battle tanks. With the exhibition now a war zone, Ray steals the ball back from David, and rigs it up to use it as a sort of jet pack. In the foundation’s control room, Eddie, straps himself into the machine and while under powered orders for the castle to launch. The building sheds its skin to show a great behemoth like structure, a big black floating castle, which then engulfs the city of London in a big freeze. The royal navy in vain try to shoot it down, while Stephenson attempts to pull it down with his trains. Ray manages to get on board the castle reuniting with his father and Scarlett, but is too late to stop Lloyd from shooting Eddie. With Eddie having disappeared into the machine, Ray and Scarlett assist Lloyd in getting the castle back over the Thames as the machine is too unstable and likely to explode. At the last-minute, Eddie having deflected the bullet with his metal body decides to lend a hand, revealing Lloyd’s original intention for the Steam Castle: to be used as a giant theme park. Ordered by his family to save Scarlett and leave, Ray makes his way back to the control room, straps on a jet pack and leaves the castle just as it explodes, sparing most of London in the process.

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Can a film justify its release if it does not have much of a plot? Steamboy is an interesting film; on the one side it’s very well researched, and is somewhat surprising to see a Japanese animated film set in 19th century England and feature locations such as Manchester and (‘of course’) London, as well as feature great moments of a country’s history such as the Great Exhibition and famous faces like Railway Engineer Robert Stephenson. I am not saying this can’t be done, I am just saying how well and detailed it all is but you would not exactly expect for a film from Japan to be set in this country during that period. Of course, this film does also have big outstanding and unbelievable moments, interesting characters and great themes; much like you would expect from the man who made Akira: or should you? That’s the point though of seeing it isn’t it, or at least most might think so, that because this man-made an iconic film from the 1980’s, one of cinema’s all-time great animated films, that is why we should see it; no other reason right? This film is of course heavily touted for being from Katsuhiro Otomo, the same director of Akira; but is that the reason why we should see this film, or should it be that it’s a happy coincidence, and that this film should really be its own thing. I think that is where this film sort of collapses. There are some good things about this film: It does feature big moments of disbelief, and it features themes and ideas as well as argues the differences between progress and greed as well as the blessings of science, but only a little bit really, as all that gets entrenched in delivering the Akira experience, with big moments, wonders of awe and nothing else really. It has it’s moments, moments of philosophy that intrigue that inspire, and the story develops this a little bit; but possibly under the belief that he had to deliver a 19th century version of Akira rather than explore these ideas and create something that was its own identity, Otomo just sort of skipped all that. Don’t get me wrong, I really like Akira, I would just rather watch Akira rather than something that is not a near carbon copy of it (Force Awakens).

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The film’s characters are a real odd bunch and (international released version) are played by some top-notch quality actors. Much like what was stated above, some characters are minor-ly developed and are actually going in the right direction but are lost in what is a rather convoluted and unused plot. The issue that this film has with its characters is that it’s hard at any one point to actually know who is good and who is bad. Ray Steam is obviously the hero of the story, but it’s just obvious if somewhat boring. The character is nicely set up and has reason to explore and discover as he is lost without his heritage and is in a world that he would rather be doing something else in, but other than that there is no real reason for him. He tries to be brave and do the right thing, he is just not a decent enough character to really get behind or enjoy. Someone like Scarlett is a lot more interesting. She actually develops over the film’s timeline, going from a toffee nosed brat to a proper hero and someone worth rooting for. Yes she starts off in a situation where she is horrid and someone you have no affection for, but as the film develops she becomes a good character, so why she couldn’t be the protagonist is beyond me. That is the thing though with this film, there are two solid female characters, Scarlett and Emma (Paula J. Newman), but Emma gets 3 minutes of fame and is never seen again, but she was interesting compared to Ray who is just useless. The issues with good guy bad guy just continue throughout. Yes, the henchmen are bad, but that is their point and Archibald Simon on the other hand is just a pleasant annoyance who can’t stop talking. Robert Stephenson is nicely done, but it’s sad that someone who should be a sort of helper, a guide or assistance in times of such peril turns out just to be as horrid and bad as the somewhat…..Supposed to be…..villains. His assistant David pretty much covers this role with ease, and it would have been more interesting if David per say was the villain out of the two and was something of a manipulator, and so Stephenson could then be the helper, with a villain by his side that needed defeating. Lloyd is of course a good guy but the story does the right thing of teasing his intentions and asking if he is bad or good, and then reveals his intentions correctly and stays that way, I just don’t think the mad professor look really does him any favours. Eddie meanwhile is of course the big bad villain and is voiced brilliantly, and much like Lloyd is teased into his role, but he just keeps changing his mind. His intentions and motives are there as to why he is who he is, but why would the villain suddenly change sides like that at the end. He should be a boss to fight, a hindrance to overcome, not someone who is like: “Oh well, let me give you a hand!”

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The voice acting works in some of the film’s favour, and boasts acting talent like Patrick Stewart, Anna Paquin and Alfred Molina, but it’s not fully utilised I feel. Scarlett is voiced nicely and actually sounds and feels real, compared to Anna Paquin whom does a good job in a male voice role, but in the form of the voice that most people believe how British people speak. Speaking as a British person, I do not speak like that, I have actually yet to meet someone who does. Both Alfred Molina and Patrick Stewart are British; and they don’t speak like that; and they’re in this film! It becomes near offensive the more it gets touted. Maybe instead of hiring people to create a generic voice that does not actually exist, maybe they should hire British actors to do the job, because then it would be a lot more realistic (and less offensive). When it comes to the voice overs in this film the only ones that really do anything I feel are those of Patrick Stewart and Alfred Molina. Patrick Stewart’s character is not seen much of to truly enjoy, but it’s still good when he is on-screen, although possibly a bit loopy and mad. Alfred Molina though I feel really carries this film. It’s a voice of reason and passion, and although the character struggles to really find his place in this film, the voice over does the character tremendous and enjoyable levels of entertainment and justice. It’s just a shame about everyone else really.

The film does have its recovery sections, it’s not all collapsing. The animation is nicely done and works well to really capture the beauty and spectacle of 19th century England, especially London. The fleet of vessels on the Thames, the beauty of the city’s iconic buildings and structures, to the animated engineering of its own infrastructure. Add to this the machines and contraptions of the story’s fictional contents like the steam-powered soldiers, the monocycle, and of course the mighty Steam Castle in all its forms and you have this well-made world which has added benefits. I do think the animation style and colouring loses a bit in comparison to the film’s contemporise like the recent works of Studio Ghibli for example, but when close up the details are superb. The film’s soundtrack Composed by Steve Jablonsky) is an additional benefit too as it creates mostly sounds and ambiance rather than pieces of music. The music does have its moments of grandeur like the launch of the steam castle or the chase within, to moments of peace too like Ray’s theme, Scarlett’s theme, and of course the music behind the blessings of science monologue. Now while not insinuated within the soundtrack itself, there is one piece of music though that does come out in relation to the film: That of its theme from the trailer: Full Force; the adventure and steam-driven music that creates and encapsulates moments of awe and wonder, but creates a level of seriousness and tension to shine out loudly.  Although the film does tout some of that wonderful adventure but still steam punk driven piece of music here or there, it’s this piece of music which shines out for the film’s soundtrack, even though it is really non-existent, but it’s iconic and memorable enough for you to remember it in conjunction with this film.

Generally it feels like something of a shame altogether, because I was expecting more. Steamboy has its likable moments and bits to enjoy, but the story is so convoluted and makes more room for big moments rather than a properly developed plot. It’s one of those occasions where the trailer delivers more than the film. Steamboy is something of a quick storyteller; it just dashes from one thing to another, not developing nor explaining, creating interesting moments but not diving into them sacrificing its potential in the process for something else, but no reveal as to what. It comes with great voice talent but does not really use it effectively, it has interesting characters in the wrong roles and it has spectacular ideas that are just ignored. On the plus side the animation is delightfully detailed, and has music that has its occasions which are used well. Yes it has its big moments which are nicely done and very creative, but a film like this should be more than that. It should not be living in the shadow of its legendary predecessor and working hard to live up to be like its bigger brother. It should be blossoming like a flower, being independent and making its own path, then and only then can it have a chance to be on an equal footing and be appreciated the same way, rather than just being a clone in a different setting.

GENEPOOL

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The Lost Reviews – Arms Dealer

21 10 2016

Arms Dealer

Tutorials are a major importance to Video Games, without them, chances are we would have no idea how to play the game. It would be complete guess-work as we play the first level over and over again hoping for a hint as to what we are supposed to be doing. Thankfully, that’s why we have Tutorials. Tutorials though don’t have necessarily spoon feed you with information, they could either present just the core details to you or let you work it out from there, or they could be simple prompts at the side of the screen, and rely on you to implement them and discover them yourself. Tutorials themselves could even be a part of the game, and when effective enough could become one of the most memorable parts of the game; a good example would be Age of Empires II for instance. Recently I have been playing another game that too has a memorable tutorial, but all for the wrong reasons.

Age of Empires 2

Arms Dealer (produced by Case in Point Studios, LLC) is a game about buying, selling, trading and shipping weapons around the world to some less than reputable characters. As a new person to the gig, you have some money to which you can begin to build your empire, but to start with you need to buy some guns, make friends and maybe build some form of transport. You start in a country, and from there can buy weapons, while also buying intel on countries to get the prices up and down during buying and selling as well as get involved with auctions. As the game progresses you will need to watch your back as agencies from around the world are looking to bring you down, so while you are earning cash and reputation, you will also be building up your prison sentence should you get caught. Well that’s the theory of how the game works or should work, just depends how much you age by the time you get past the tutorial.

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The game comes with a nice clever interface. It provides you with a map similar to DEFCON and Pandemic 2 to which you can plan where you want to go, buy weapons from, and who to sell them too. The game also comes with an intuitive scheme of windows, much like your desktop; which you can move around willy nilly to your heart’s content to get the best input system possible for you to play the game. It’s sort of like that snap feature on Windows 7 (just without the ridiculous advert). The game controls and input are pretty basic as the only real control you will need comes from your mouse. You just simply click what you want to click, while moving the in game windows around to suit your comfortably.

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The in game map and windows are nicely made, and the images of weapons and vehicles are nicely detailed, and the in game text is nice and easy to read. It’s just everything else is pretty terrible. Some of the in game buttons don’t look like buttons, so you don’t know how to press them, or if you can press them. Some of them are actually pretty small and hard to click on and some of the text is not exactly helpful as you are trying to find an action and you don’t know where it is or how to find it either.

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The real issue with this game for me though is the flipping tutorial. Now most in game tutorials will try to restrict the amount of writing it puts on-screen, other than of course direct and intuitive information, the information you need and want, in order for you to play the game. Sometimes a tutorial will even have some form, of spoken dialogue, so you don’t cause yourself any un-required eye strain. Here though the dialogue boxes have no spoken word, and contain nothing but tiny text, in a small window, and guess what, there is a lot of it. Some spoken word would be a great deal of help here just so you can get a touch more detail, without hurting your eyes. But that is not the worst of it. Due to the amount of windows and text boxes you will be opening during the game, there is a lot of reading involved, and unnecessary moving of windows because the tutorial window demands the centre screen, and so always moves itself back into place, which is not helpful. Worse is still to come, as the text is not descriptive enough and asks you to press buttons you can’t find but according to the tutorial…..’EXIST!’ So you start looking around for the button it tells you to press, but you just can’t find it. And then the windows start to throw a sissy fit, as if you accidentally close a window (but more likely do it on purpose just to get it out of the way), it sort of reverts back to an original state, forcing you to start all over again (not to mention; the lag).

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The windows feature is a nice add-on, it’s a general shame that it just does not work properly. How are you supposed to see this wonderfully detailed map when sooner or later the whole screen is just going to be filled up with in-game windows! How a game like this, which in fairness should strive, like all games, not to create a nuisance is supposed to work is beyond me. Why can’t the windows work like the windows of an installation screen? Instead of you opening up windows to complete an over the top action, why can’t the screen change automatically, by pressing a continue button or something. When you purchase an item off Amazon, you don’t need to open several windows to complete the action, because the window changes automatically to the next step. It’s simple, very simple, so why does this game then thrive to do the exact opposite and be a nuisance.

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I have to mark this game down sadly, which is a shame because overall I really wanted it to be good. I held high expectations and hope that this would be a fun game. I like economic/trading games like this, because generally they are games which don’t require you to complete in one sitting. It’s not Call of Duty; it’s a nice small game which could either be played in short bursts or long periods. It’s like Evil Genius: you don’t have to play it for a long time if you don’t want to, you could play a quick snippet, and play more when you wanted too. The game has some nice points, a wonderfully detailed map, and some nice pictures of guns (which if that is all you want, then great, perfect game for you), but if you want more than that; I am afraid you are going to be disappointed. I hope this game can be salvaged, because I feel that it is a wasted opportunity full of potential. I think that this game could have been really good; a proper enjoyable little gem with plenty of hours of game-play; But right now; I feel like I wish had not wasted my money on it, even if it was a cheap purchase!

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GENEPOOL





Top 5 Robot Wars House Robots

23 02 2016

New Robot Wars Logo

Robot Wars is back. Yes; the fiercest, deadliest quite possibly the finest game show to grace the home TV screen is set to return to its rightful home on BBC Two. Announced just a couple of months ago, a lot of excitement has already begun to build for the return of a TV game show Icon with announcements including who is going to be hosting it in the form of Dara O’Briain and Angela Scanlon with also the return of Jonathan Pearce on commentating duties, to some sketchy videos showing the possible return of the House Robots. While little has been announced in terms of show content, it has already begun to get some momentum, and excitement is already high. For me, it is a big thing as I absolutely loved Robot Wars and I have wanted it back on for many, many years. Well now it is happening, and I am brimming full of nostalgia. So; while I try to figure out exactly which were my favourite robots for a later post (although I am sure of who Number 1 is), I thought I would do a post on who were my favourite House Robots.

The House Robots for those not in the know were the shows sort of villains. They were a group of robots suggested to be so good that they were unbeatable. They were presented as bad guys, and there was always a cheer when one of them was taken out of action. They were loved, but most of all hated. In more basic terms though they were just an extra addition to add to both entertainment value, plus the overall destruction content of the show. They were sort of like characters in pro-wrestling that would invade the ring and beat the other wrestlers up. But still they were entertaining and enjoyable to watch. Over the course of the shows run there were 9 house robots in total; but this list is really only going to be filled with the best 5, which also happen to be the first 5. So there will be no RefBot, Growler, Mr. Psycho or Cassius Chrome, (or the Sentinel…..or Shove) because no matter who got introduced in later shows, to me there was only 5 real House Robots (the others were more like sidekicks). So, prepare yourself for a destructive route down memory lane, as I present to you, my Top 5 favourite House Robots from Robot Wars.

Dead Metal

5. Dead Metal – Dead Metal has always been something of an outsider in comparison to the rest of the group. He has always been difficult to place nor had much of a personality in comparison to the rest of them. This however has also sort of worked in his favour. In comparison to the rest of the House Robots, he has changed very little. He has always sported a pair of pincers and circular saw. Like some of the others he was updated a bit more by series 3, by having the saw not on an arm like it had been, but instead more on an extending beak position. He started out as something more like a scorpion before becoming something more hawk like. His look has always been off-putting and has not look as crisp as the others. This however is his charm, because while the others are more like personalities, or characters; Dead Metal is more like a grotesque Monster; A Beast to say the least. A creature of pure destruction, sacrificing looks for power. So while he did start of relatively boring, and has not been in as a favoured light to the others; he has his own characteristics and charm, and that is in by having none of those things in the first place.

Sgt Bash

4. Sergeant Bash – The original leader of the Gang. Sgt Bash had a great start to his career carrying a magnificent yet terrifying (as well as very effective) flame thrower, his main weapon of choice. He also came with some kind of frontal ram later replaced with some claws and a circular saw at the rear. Given his name, he was dressed up to look like a military commander, and until the arrival of Sir Killalot was the group’s leader. Sgt Bash always remained something of an up front leader and continued to enjoy a popular career as a house robot and continued to remain a main figure-head in the arena all the way through the series run.

Sir Killalot

3. Sir Killalot – When first introduced in series 2, Sir Killalot made a quick impression thanks to new host Craig Charles giving a live demonstration of the machines powerful claw hand attachment. I remember his debut quite well, and I believed he was far too overly powered (but not in the same kind of language, as I was not even in high school yet). I thought his size was far too big, and his strengths far too good. Basically he had to far and unfair an advantage to everyone and everything else. But to come to think of it now wasn’t that the point? I mean, these guys were villains, they were not her to battle and win, they were here to bully and destroy, and now they had the perfect leader to send them into the battlefield. Sir Killalot was always magnificent. He was huge and came packed with weapons as iconic to that of Bash in series 1. He was big, came on tracks, but more importantly, looked like a cyborg. He had human like features. Arms, hands, even a face that would put those Brotherhood of Steel Fallout 3 characters to shame. He was imposing and deadly; and remained so throughout the show’s run. While he may have been copied slightly with the arrival of Mr. Psycho in series 6, there was only one true leader of the House Robots, a robot so deadly, it did not need any form of back up…..unless it fell in the pit.

Matilda

2. Matilda – The show’s first real personality and everyone’s favourite (for a time at least) Matilda was iconic the first time she rolled on-screen. She was a simple enough idea but came backed up with a whole lot of weaponry. Her charm was in what she was, she was a Dinosaur. She looked so detailed, and was a very close embodiment of a robotic Triceratops, complete with tusks that acted like fork lifts. But this was not all she had though, because she also came armed with a tail, a tail chainsaw, and a cool looking one at that. While she may have had that replaced with a fly-wheel, the chainsaw armed Matilda was always her most beautiful form. She was simple, beautiful but always deadlier than her male counterparts.

Shunt

1. Shunt – Shunt is a little bit different to all the other house robots. Yes, while they are all independently different from one another in look and abilities…and of course name, Shunt has one extra level of difference which makes him that extra bit unique. You see if you look at all of them, there is a certain level of character and personality, suggesting that there is more life in them and that they, as robots are the next stage in earths cycle for the need of a dominant life form. Shunt though, is less cyborg, less android. He does not look like a living creature, nor has a name to suggest it. You see, Shunt is more like a machine. He/It looks more machine like, more robotic than the others. His design is more like a bulldozer than anything else. Armed with not one, but two bulldozer blades and a terrifying axe and suggested that it can pull a land rover. He has virtually no colour nor personality. But because of that he always stood out for me. I like Axe Robots, plus I like big imposing robots that look like they can deal damage instead of just flipping robots up and over. Shunt is not a robot to make others less powerful or invulnerable, he is a robot designed to do what House Robots are meant to do; once again, Bully and Destroy. Using its scoops and axe to pin robots just where he wants them, and then use the axe to kill them all together. Not so deadly an assassin, but more like a vicious tank, plus he just looks unstoppable, and as far as I remember, he was; and that for me is why he was my favourite.

GENEPOOL








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