Monday, 13 February 2012

Prick us do we not Bleed?

Something that's come to my attention recently in my industry as a screenwriter is that a lot of people seem to look upon characters who have a lot of money as though that because they are affluent they should have no problems in their life. I first came across this when I was taking a class for "Great Screenplay" the first of which was the legendary Orson Welles masterpiece; Citizen Kane. The film is about a young man Charles Foster Kane who inherits a lot of money and builds a media empire. It also tells us the story of a man that no matter how much money he makes or how much "stuff" he can buy and never even look at in his massive mansion of Xanadu he lives in but was never actually finished before his death, all Kane really wanted was to be loved and appreciated his final thoughts going back to the last truly happy memory he had playing with the Rosebud sleigh.

Now many of my classmates including myself enjoyed this film and really took it's meaning to heart. Others on the other hand had a slightly different feeling about it and that was that the character of Kane was unrelatable; he was a rich man "why should I feel sorry for his problems?". Understandable, I've often said that certain characters aren't meant to be related to; such as the age old argument of how Superman is just not relateable as a character to which I say; he's not meant to be related to he's meant to be looked up to and someone to aspire to be. That being said a lot of people no matter what fancy film school you pay through the nose to go to aren't going to be able to relate to the character of Charles Foster Kane. And if you can't relate to someone like that in a story rooted in emotional development because you can't see yourself in their shoes why should you care about them?

Now I will admit now, I'm fairly privileged; my family is very well off, we own a rather large house in a nice neighbourhood in North London and a small house in Paphos, Cyprus as well as a shared car for my mother and father and my own car. I've made some of my own money with which I've bought various things. My family and I are in a fairly good situation economically or else I wouldn't be able to afford to live in Los Angeles and have gone to great college like I did. That being said we've not always been so well off; I remember times when we seemed to be moving from rented house to rented house whilst my father spent on average nine months at sea just scraping enough money together to get food for our family. I was never ghetto poor, but there were rough times that fortunately we've gotten away from for the most part. For a while there I had something of a guilt hanging over me about that in a strange way, like that I never wanted to admit that I was well off. While I have not had the kind of life that Charles Foster Kane had but I can certainly relate to him. Not because I consider myself rich because I've never let my money define who I was and in the case of Kane that's not how he defines himself either in spite of all the trinkets that he owns in his unfinished manor representative of his own life; it's incomplete and always will be.

In Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice" the Jewish money-lender Shylock is put on trial, a trial which is a complete sham, and gives one of the Bard's greatest monologues.

"Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs,
dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with
the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject
to the same diseases, heal'd by the same means,
warm'd and cool'd by the same winter and summer
as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed?
If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us,
do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?
If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that.
If a Jew wrong a Christian, what is his humility?
Revenge. If a Christian wrong a Jew, what should his
sufferance be by Christian example? Why, revenge.
The villainy you teach me, I will execute,
and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction."

In this speech Shylock is asking if a Jew is some kind of monster? No he's a human being, just because he is different to a Christian does not mean he's got any less human feelings and frailties. My favourite line in all of it is the title of the blog-post. "Prick us, do we not bleed?" Blood is the very life force that runs though human veins. It's indicative of the whole human experience when it's used in symbolism. 

If you cut the hand of a rich man, he bleeds too. Character's like Charles Foster Kane are human too; they have emotions, many of which stem from the fact that people define them only by their economic prosperity. This leaves them feeling alone and empty that in spite of all their achievements, be it financial, artistic or even personal there is almost a lack of soul inside them. People question whether or not we should feel bad for these people because they are rich? I say if you prick them do they not bleed? They are human, with all the flesh, blood and bone of any one of us. Money cannot solve emotional issues, it cannot solve that feeling inside each of us that sometimes we feel that no matter what we achieve it could all just be meaningless. Anyone who says that they truly are happy because of their money is lying through their teeth. Money does no solve true human issues. If we feel empty, or wish to be loved, we can't just comfort ourselves by buying a new shirt, or a car; that would only mask the problem. Perhaps to those without money it seems like that would be enough but it never is. Rich people bleed too; their emotional need to be loved, to feel more than the sum of their successes is just as great as ours. 

Should we feel bad for the rich? I mean they have all this money. But what does that get you? Why should we care about their emotional problems of the 1%? They're rich. Yes, they are; but they are also human.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

What I Would Have Changed: Twilight Princess

It's February, new month, new ideas. As promised a few days ago, this is something I'd been meaning to post for a while but here goes. It's a new series on this blog I'm going to call "What I Would Have Changed". It's kind of a What If series with retrospect. Hindsight is 20:20 as they say and I'll basically be saying what I would have done to change certain video games, films, television series e.t.c. We'll be starting with The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, a game I really like but know very well it has it's flaws.

What I Would Have Changed: 
“The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess”

As a warning there are MAJOR SPOILERS for Twilight Princess in this article... duh! Also some spoilers for Ocarina of Time but none for Skyward Sword don’t worry.

First off let me get something out of the way, I love Twilight Princess, it was in fact until recently my second favourite game of all time closely; why, because I’m its target audience, I’m one of those people who wanted more of the same and essentially a steroid induced version of Ocarina of Time and boy did we get it with Twilight Princess, everything that was good about Ocarina’s gameplay and visuals were Next-Gen-ifyed. I loved the dark art style the easy to use interface and the impressive graphics for its day (the original release was during the PS2-Gamecube-Xbox era). However this all being said I know several people who didn’t like the game, one of whom Benjamin “Benzaie” Daniel of made a Top 5 (actually Top 2, don’t ask) list about what he didn’t like about the game, a link to which can be found by clicking here. To be honest, I can’t blame them, my love of this game is based in sheer fanboyism at times and really that’s what this game comes off as at times, pandering to the fans. Don’t get me wrong, Twilight Princess is an EXCELLENT game, against other games it’s still easily a 9/10 or even a 10/10. However nearly every Zelda game has innovated in some way and Twilight Princess’ lack of innovation has really become more apparent to me since the release of Skyward Sword and in some ways it comes off as the awkward cousin of Skyward Sword.


Let’s look at the beginning. The Legend of Zelda was probably the first sandbox style game in existence, it was an epic quest packed with hours of adventure, tough battles and complex puzzles; it was a shining jewel of the original NES system and laid the groundwork for all adventure games since. It’s sequel was Zelda II: The Adventure of Link but really, that game had very little to do with the original and is often considered the black sheep of the series despite being actually a very good game it strayed perhaps a little too far into what other games were doing like RPG’s and Platformers and not enough of what the original Zelda was and this is an important lesson, Zelda is a trend-setter, not a trend-follower.

The next big game was A Link to the Past for the SNES and it is quite frankly a masterpiece. Its open world feel is huge with once again hours and hours of gameplay returning to the style that made the original so great and solidifying Zelda as almost a genre of its own. Every inch of the overworld and dungeons seem hand crafted to perfection, every enemy placement, every puzzle, every tree, rock and pot seems perfectly placed. It had a sequel/spin-off game for the GameBoy called Link’s Awakening, which was the first time Zelda went portable and was also a big success bringing the huge adventure world to a handheld machine, something that when people first started watching bricks drop in Tetris on the GameBoy, people thought would be impossible.

Finally the fan-favourite, the critical favourite, the most critically acclaimed game of all-time, Ocarina of Time for the Nintendo 64. Another masterpiece that would lay the ground work for not just every 3D adventure game but pretty much every 3D game since. Fully rendered 3D environments, excellent visuals and gameplay that fully utilised left, right, up, down and distance like never before. For the first time in a video game we got a 3D sandbox game that would go on to influence everything, every Elder Scrolls game, every God of War, heck even every Grand Theft Auto. Majora’s Mask a direct sequel that utilised a brilliant time mechanic was also very successful.

Then came The Wind Waker for the Nintendo GameCube and it was a raving success despite fanboy’s cries for something more akin to the 2000 Spaceworld Demo of Zelda. They just wanted Ocarina of Time again but in all honesty Wind Waker’s cartoonish art style is beautiful and very fitting for such a gallant game and set the whole game on a massive ocean whilst keeping true to the Zelda genre as it were. So with all the cries for an Ocarina of Time-esque dark Zelda, we finally got Twilight Princess released at the same time for the Nintendo GameCube and Nintendo Wii with different control schemes. Honestly I’d say the Wii Version is superior buuuut.... in light of Skyward Sword it seems very tacked on now despite the motion controls making aiming with a bow or boomerang much easier, it wasn’t a game meant for motion controls and as such, it suffers in comparison with its successor.

Skyward Sword, is only on the Wii. It doesn't have the same problem that Twilight Princess had of being "is it GameCube or is it Wii?” and trying to fit in both. Skyward Sword’s gameplay is unparalleled and is frankly the best gameplay I’ve ever played in a game and it really puts the motion controls of Twilight Princess to shame. As despite Twilight Princess being a better game on the Wii in my opinion, it’s gameplay is more suited to the GameCube’s buttons only controls and the motion controls are mostly a gimmick with this game but a true revolution and game-enhancing with Skyward Sword.

So, now that I’ve gone through the massive history of the Zelda series, skipping many of the handhelds like Minish Cap, Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks, as they’re not relevant to this topic. I think it’s time I actually discussed what this article is all about. What I would have done to make Twilight Princess a better game. Now obviously I’m not coming out and saying “I can do a better job than Shigeru Miyamoto”, no, I’d personally rather shred my own testicles in a blender than commit such sacrilege. Hindsight is 20:20 and for obvious reasons, they couldn’t see how Skyward Sword would pan out as I don’t think anyone at Nintendo owns a DeLorean DMC-12 or a Blue Police Box. So this is all based on the knowledge I have, on how I feel about Twilight Princess six years later and having played its successor and what I consider to be the only TRUE Wii Zelda game, Skyward Sword.

I’m limiting myself to three rules.
1.       I can’t add technology that didn’t exist e.g. no Motion Plus Controls a-la Skyward Sword or HD Graphics
2.       The game can’t be changed so drastically that it’s no longer recognisable as Twilight Princess, the core elements must remain, the Twili, Zant, Midna, Zelda, Ganondorf e.t.c.
3.        Can’t change the release date, as in, one change I would make would be to swap Twilight Princess and Wind Waker around, as I believe Wind Waker was released too soon and Twilight Princess too late.
With that then, let’s begin.

                THE CHANGES

Twilight Princess’s story is a strange one. Not the story itself but how to feel about it. You get this great sense of nostalgia from it and yet emotional detachment all at once. I think this is because Twilight Princess is designed as the true spiritual successor to Ocarina of Time, we get the nostalgia, but because it’s a cast of characters we don’t know we get emotional detachment. At first that doesn’t seem like a problem, nearly every Zelda game we meet a new supporting cast and we grow to like them, so clearly the flaw is with the characters themselves right? Well, yes and no. The supporting cast with the exception of Midna is pretty forgettable, even Link’s family and friends from Ordon Woods are kinda... meh. So yeah, the characters themselves aren’t the best, but I think the main cause is that we’ve got this yearning to play Ocarina of Time’s successor from the nostalgia and we’re getting these characters we just kinda don’t care about. So does that mean we just scrap the Ocarina of Time nostalgia and try and create a whole new game? Well sure that’d be good but we’re trying to make Twilight Princess better not create a whole new game. This has to be the game Ocarina fanboys wanted. So here is my dramatic change...

Make it a full sequel to Ocarina of Time. Before someone mentions Majora’s Mask, hear me out, as I’m including that game in this timeline. At the end of Ocarina, Adult Link goes back in time to being Child Link and tells Zelda everything, which leads to Ganondorf getting arrested and executed by the Sages, which becomes a focal point of the story a few hundred years later in the original Twilight Princess. Child Link then leaves searching for Navi and ends up in Termina where the events of Majora’s Mask play out and at the end of that he goes back into the woods to continue. Link has been an adult before but he’s back in his child body. Let’s say ten or so years later Link is now all grown up, even older than he was in Ocarina of Time’s adult time (he’d aged seven years). He’s a mature seasoned warrior at this point whose travelled far and wide (and it leaves room for midquels too) and now he’s returning to Hyrule, his homeland for the first time in ten years since he saved it. Instantly we’d have a greater emotional attachment to our protagonist.

Link is now the same Link from Ocarina of Time. We played as Link around ten years ago ourselves, as this Link has aged, so have we and we’re back in his shoes. To go on a quick tangent, one of the failures of the Star Wars prequels is that George Lucas failed to realise his primary audience had grown up, or he just didn’t care and wanted to appeal to a new generation, I can’t tell. One of the successes with Harry Potter is that J.K. Rowling did realise this and as such the tone, themes and characters aged with the readers of her books and as such people never grew out of the books because they books kept up with the audience but boy did I feel like I’d outgrown Star Wars when I watched The Phantom Menace at first... then I just realised George Lucas has gone completely barmy and went on with my life. If as many people did, go into playing Twilight Princess wanting Ocarina of Time Mk.2, we’d get the emotional attachment that comes with it and as such the character of Link who we grew up with is now grown up too and we feel attached to him, we’ve played as him before, we’ve seen his struggles and instead of a new Link with a life and family we have to understand, all the groundwork for Link’s back story is already laid out and much like Link, we’ve been away from this era of Hyrule for ten or so years as Twilight Princess was released eight years after Ocarina of Time, nearly a decade. We get the same sense of nostalgia that Link would get returning to this world that once gripped us and enthralled us by the millions. But all is not well, since Link has left the Twilight invasion has begun and now we the player as Link must save this world that both the character and ourselves love so dearly, the stakes are high once again and far more personal this time because Link is now a seasoned pro just like you but the world he once fought to protect is under attack from a new enemy... or is it.

Ganondorf and Link have a History. Unlike in the original game, Link has no animosity toward Ganondorf other than, “he’s the villain who wants to conquer my home and he must be stopped.” But with Link from Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask, he has a history with Ganondorf; he fought and defeated him once, then travelled back in time to put a stop to his plans once and for all but Ganondorf is still out to conquer his land. Ganondorf only knows Link as the “fairy boy” who led to his probably very painful failed execution by the Sages with a giant glowing magical sword and imprisonment in the Twilight Realm. He knows they’re connected via the Triforce and Ganondorf might even try to uncover why and find out that in an alternate future, he succeeded in conquering Hyrule but this boy, now a man, stopped him. It’s personal between them and would make the reveal of Ganondorf as Zant’s master and manipulator all the more threatening than just “the big bad coming to return” because this time, it’s the “big bad whose coming to return who we stopped once before but now is out again and more powerful than ever before... and seriously pissed at us!” At this point Link and Ganondorf want to put each other’s heads on pikes, they must HATE each other with a raw seething hot hatred of hating hate... It’s a lot of hate.

 The Supporting Cast are bolstered. In addition to the supporting cast that exists in the game, which might have to be worked around a little to be more memorable, the supporting cast gets a massive bolstering by having returning characters instead of what for many of the characters are just essentially clones of Ocarina’s characters. The Patriarch of the Goron Tribe, Darbus, for example is basically just Darunia, the Zora Prince Ralis could be changed to the Zora Princess Ruto once more, one who never met Link and never learned the lessons that he would teach her and as such is cowardly like the Prince Ralis. In addition there’d always be the lingering memory that Link has that he’ll always remember these supporting characters but none of them remember him. Bringing us to Zelda; Zelda in Twilight Princess is frankly a very boring version, she has little to no-screen time and really only serves to be “Princess Zelda” and nothing else. However if she were the same Zelda from Ocarina of Time, the one who worked with Link before to help have Ganondorf executed, then we have a character already built and her purpose in the story becomes more relevant and in addition we can add extra story to her that she’s now perhaps even Queen Zelda or still a Princess but preparing to rise to the throne, a fact that was present in the original game but is hardly touched upon, why because she’s really not important to the story at all. But if we have this character who we all knew about to be crowned Queen and then suddenly her old nemesis’ minions launch an invasion of her homeland and defeat her forces, then we’ve got a stronger character and a stronger motivation for saving this Zelda as there’s definitely something between them be it friendship or even romantic feelings of the man who saved her and her Kingdom once but now has returned when she needed him the most. This would also mean that Epona, whom you have from nearly the start of the game is still Epona from the original and avoids what I think is really dumb, having two Links... sure, two Eponas... yeah, you’re just pandering to fanboys now... But if it’s the same horse as before, it’s not pandering it’s logical.

How Link’s “family” fit into the story. Link’s “family” in Ordon Woods like Ilia are the driving focus o the start of the game in Twilight Princess. Obvious if they’re no longer Link’s family there’s no reason to have them is there? Well, yes there is. I liked the story of Link going after the Moblins to save the kids and Ilia. It was brave and heroic of him and then... it just kinda ended as Link’s quest continued on to save Hyrule and as such those characters became kinda forgettable. Well that’s only because they’re a driving focus of the plot, they needn’t be. Let’s say Link arrives in Hyrule by way of Ordon Village, he stays there to rest on his way to Hyrule when the village is attacked, and many are hurt and the reason for their attack? They’re after Link. The villagers blame him for their kids being kidnapped so Link sets out to right the wrong and in doing so heads into Hyrule to discover what’s happened and that something larger is at work which is why he was attacked. Someone wants the Hero of Time out of the way. This way these formerly very important characters that suddenly just kinda became inconsequential to the plot now are only a smaller part of the larger scheme of things.

The City in the Sky is Skyloft. Okay, I’m kinda cheating by using information from a game that hadn’t been made yet, but it’s very clear that the City in the Sky from Twilight Princess is meant to be the remnants of Skyloft from Skyward Sword, so clearly some ideas were in place... my question... why the heck are the natural inhabitants of this technologically advanced civilisation who once were in contact with the Hylians now retarded chickens?! Seriously, of all the things in Twilight Princess this baffled the crap out of me. Okay, now here’s where I’m no longer really cheating, because even if they hadn’t intended for the City to be Skyloft when they made the game, surely they must have known that a super advanced civilisation should not be made up of retarded chickens right? This is just plain ol’ stupid. Sure make them look a little different to Hylians, I’m sure after a thousand years or so since the evens of Skyward Sword the people of Skyloft might start to look a little different to Hylians but chickens? Really? No, just make them people, unless somehow the Loftwings and Humans merged to become tiny retarded chicken heads... yeah... no. Back into cheating mode, a few references to Skyloft would be nice but aren’t necessary so long as the super advanced civilisation in the clouds that we clearly know used to be Skyloft isn’t run by STUPID LOOKING CHICKEN FOLK! Maybe throw in a Loftwing or too, they were awesome.

Music can be done well again. Okay I’m going to throw this out there, I think the Ocarina was the pinnacle of Zelda musical instruments, since then it’s gotten worse and worse. Wind Waker had the... Wind Waker... it was just directional but y’know what it was fine. Twilight Princess had adjusting pitch with wolf whistles... okay weird... Skyward Sword had a crappy harp that you don’t so much play as you waggle the Wii Remote in time with nicer music that’s being automatically played. The skill variety has gotten less and less. The Ocarina had five notes, Wind Waker had four, Wolf Whistle has three pitches, the Harp is just bollocks. There’s little skill in the wolf whistle and virtually none in the harp, but I could harp on about it all day... (Bad pun is bad). You could keep the wolf whistle but make it better so that is somehow correlates with the Ocarina of Time, which Link has on him from all those years ago, where he last used it in Majora’s Mask. Adding new songs and perhaps even more notes using the C-Stick, X, Y, Z and even L & R buttons to make it challenging to fully remember them. Perhaps the wolf whistle teaches you the melody and then you have to remember it based on the whistle to play through the Ocarina for it to be effective later in the game.

Nintendo GameCube Only. When it comes down to it I’d rather play the Wii version over the GameCube, I’ll admit that readily... however having played Skyward Sword, it kinda makes Twilight Princess’ controls rather lazy by comparison on the Wii. The GameCube version however would be using the same controls as Ocarina of Time, which given that this whole game is now redesigned as a fully fledged sequel to Ocarina instead of just a spiritual successor that gives you an awkward sense of nostalgia and “I’ve played this game before...” feeling. It also leaves it defines it more clearly on the system without straddling the line.

Ganondorf’s Character Development. I’ve sort of covered this by mentioning how making this a direct sequel would enhance the Link-Zelda-Ganondorf characters but it needs to be said again really in more detail. In Wind Waker we really get the idea of this tragic Ganondorf who was filled with jealousy for the beautiful fields of Hyrule whilst his people suffered in the desert, which is why he tried to seize power. In Twilight Princess... he’s just power hungry. Sure he looks badass and the fight at the end is very cinematic and atmospheric but his character is totally underdeveloped in favour of Zant who takes the spotlight as the primary antagonist even after Ganondorf’s presence is revealed. I’m not saying decrease Zant’s development, his role is crucial to what was already good about Twilight Princess’ story, I’m just saying that once Ganondorf is revealed we need to see him and see how he’s manipulating Zant, discover his motivations and yes, see how much he hates Link and Zelda for what they did to him and how it’s their fault his armies were defeated by the Hylians and the Gerudo people slowly started to die out without a new male heir and suffering massive losses from Ganondorf’s invasion of Hyrule, who thanks to the efforts of Link and Zelda is thwarted thanks to an early warning leading to many of their deaths, as such this Link and this Zelda are directly responsible for the failure of his invasion and as such many of his people, whom despite his Greed was actually fighting for according to the Wind Waker are now dead and/or banished from their home. Obviously he shouldn’t have invaded but like many people who is Ganondorf going to blame, himself, no he’ll blame Link and Zelda... did I mention he’s gonna hate them? He might even hate himself secretly because of his own actions but refuses to believe he was in the wrong, his own guilt would get directed at his nemeses. This makes for a compelling Ganondorf who we’ve met before and understand but now can see his motivations clearly and why he has a personal grudge against our protagonists, because y’know he “would have gotten away for it if it weren’t for those meddling kids!”

That about sums it up. In conclusion really Twilight Princess as a game feels like it’s stuck between wanting to be a spiritual successor to Ocarina of Time and a game that stands on its own. I don’t think it needed to be a spiritual successor to Ocarina but rather a sequel, it needed to embrace its own fandom a little more. This game was designed to please the Ocarina of Time fans, the game’s combat mechanics are an upgraded version of Wind Waker, which are itself an upgraded version of Ocarina of Time. And the fact that Link fights against Ganondorf again, rides a horse called Epona through Hyrule field, visits Gorons and Zoras, and thus in the end the game becomes very much an upgraded version of Ocarina of Time but somehow feels detached from it. If it were a true sequel, if this were the Link fans of Ocarina had played as before returning to meet up with the Zelda they met before and fight a Ganondorf who had a personal grudge against this particular Link and the people around him, it would feel like a far more successful effort in replicating Ocarina of Time’s success with a darker art style and darker plot whilst bringing in new elements to the story like Midna, who was a great character and Zant’s Twili Invasion of Hyrule to keep this sequel fresh with some new ideas. Instead the game feels at times like a new Zelda game that uses way too much of Ocarina of Time’s locations, ideas and gameplay as though it were unintentionally ripping off its spiritual predecessor. On the other hand a sequel would feel more like it was made to continue the style of Ocarina whilst adding new elements into the game.