Nostalgia and Pop Music in George Lucas’ American Graffiti.

For my 2014 art history paper: ARTH:319 ‘The Art of Film’ I was to choose a film and analyse it visually and culturally, looking at the construction and the context of the film. I chose George Lucas’ American Graffiti (1973) as I’m a huge fan of Lucas’ later, more stylized genre work, and I wanted to analyse his take on the more conventional coming-of-age story. This essay deals with how American Graffiti parallels many events of Lucas’ own teenage years, and how it spells out character moments through musical score and visual symbolism. Also included is the necessary research citation and segmentation of the film used to reference the movie.

Download the Essay Document.

News: Caecilius to John Frobisher to the Doctor: Why it doesn’t matter

So now that we have the announcement, “Peter Capaldi is the Twelfth Doctor!” we have the usual vapid complaints against him (usually fuelled by the fact he isn’t actually the current actor, whom some fans would just like to stay on forever), but this time, some are having a bigger non-superficial problem. Peter Capaldi has been two different characters in the Whoniverse already: civil servant John Frobisher from Torchwood’s third season, and Caecilius, the Roman sculptor who the Tenth Doctor met in the fourth series episode The Fires of Pompeii. Neither of these characters were bit parts like Karen Gillan’s former appearance as a Soothsayer in the same episode, before she was ever Amy Pond. And both were also larger than Freema Agyeman’s role in the season two episode Army of Ghosts as Adeola. Plus the fact that this is a Doctor’s casting rather than a companion’s makes the supposed problem much higher profile than those previous casting choices.

Read the full article at DOCTOR WHO TV.

Review: Daytona USA

Those were the days. Walking into the TimeZone Arcade on Cuba Street, with fistful of coins, and a bunch of pals, jamming some sweet Daytona USA.

An arcade game initially released in 1994, Daytona was later ported to the Sega Saturn, PC, Dreamcast and recently an online multi-player version on Xbox 360 and PS3. But here in New Zealand, I’ve found that the arcade version has been immensely popular, at least as far as arcade games go here. Cabinets for it can still be found at most of the few arcades left scattered about the country, as well as at many cinemas, laser tags and at the theme park Rainbows End.

Daytona USA is a racing game, named for the Daytona International Speedway in Florida. Players race stock cars called the Hornet (notably in the crossover fighting game Fighter Megamix, where the Hornet is an unlockable character that stands on it’s back wheels, boxing with it’s front). The cars feel quite resilient, as shown when in a race, you’ll try to get the upper hand on your opponents by ramming them into the side of the track, and after flipping they are only slightly dented.The gameplay in general is very competitive, with ramming galore, and a mini map on the HUD which shows you when other cars are nearing you from behind, allowing you to practice some ‘defensive’ driving techniques. That said, the racing isn’t extremely high speed, which is a trade off i suppose for the slightly more aggressive gameplay.

a mini map on the HUD which shows you when other cars are nearing you from behind, allowing you to practice some ‘defensive’ driving techniques

There are three tracks, a beginner, advanced and expert track. The beginner track (later called ‘Three-Seven Speedway) is pretty iconic as well as simple, with two long straight lengths, one hard turn and one easy turn, and the track starts with a “rolling start” so your car is already in motion when the race begins. The notable iconography in this track is the giant statue of Sonic the Hedgehog that is prominent during half the track, assuring you that this is a Sega game. The advanced track (Dinosaur Canyon) is a step up in difficulty, with several difficult turns as well as a lot of slopes that can mess those turns up if you’re not careful. But once you’ve memorised the track it’s just as easy as the beginner track really, and if you’re just starting off, make sure to watch your track map, there are dead-ends on this level. The expert track (Sea-Side Street Galaxy) is a big step up in difficulty, even just in terms of its size. The game has a time extension meter, so they have 40 seconds to finish the first lap, and every time the player hits the time extension marker, the time is reset but with slightly less time to get to the marker again. If the player runs out of time the race is over automatically, this is obviously designed to make the game more arcade friendly. But with the expert level, which has several different paths or differing length, it can be a challenge to keep the timer above zero. One has to know the shortest route possible, in order to keep the time up, but thankfully the expert race is only two laps long, so finishing it isn’t impossible. It also has a statue of Jeffery from Virtua Fighter, again assuring you of that Sega branding.

This is a pretty short review, but that’s because Daytona is a pretty simple game. It is one of those quintessential genre games, that is short sweet, and doesn’t need to play around with the formula that much. At it’s it’s of release the game was considered to be the most visually detailed 3D racer, and it’s easy to see why. Even today, with a little anti-aliasing, the textures still look gorgeous, with a sort of shiny optimistic feel you won’t find in newer racers. The game design and gameplay have obviously been influential, especially to Sega, where it’s style can be seen again in game such as SCUD Race (Sega Super GT), Crazy Taxi, and obviously Daytona’s own sequels, Daytona US 2 and 2001. Oh, and on a final note, that attract music is just fantastic.

Originally posted on BOSS LEVEL – Retro Game Gear

Review: Sonic 1 (8-bit)

Released on the Master System in October 1991 the 8-bit version of the first Sonic the Hedgehog game came out two months after the Mega Drive version hit stores, and was released to follow through on SEGA’s plans to push Sonic as their front-line mascot, by publishing game featuring him on all three of their major platforms, the Mega Drive, Master System and Game Gear (a port of the 8-bit version was released on the Game Gear in December) and this meant that Sonic was ingrained as a product for SEGA’s entire market.

But the 8-bit version of Sonic 1 is not simply a scaled-down port from the Mega Drive version, it is an original game unto itself. It has three completely original zones, and the 8-bit versions of Green Hill, Labyrinth and Scrap Brain Zones have original layouts and boss fights. There are also game play mechanics that are unique to this game and its sequels in the 8-bit Sonic series.

“some of the game’s qualities are somewhat inferior to the original Genesis version.”

The Chaos Emeralds, which in the majority of Sonic games are found in special stages; are here found hidden throughout out the levels, one in each of the game’s six zones. As with the 16-bit version of the game, completing the game with all six emeralds in hand rewards the player with the game’s ‘good ending’. The spinning signpost that signifies a levels ending throughout the Sonic games has a different purpose here. It will land on certain panels, depending on the amount of rings a player holds, and these panels will reward the player differently.

Of course, being on a less advanced system means that some of the game’s qualities are somewhat inferior to the original Genesis version. Obviously the graphics aren’t mind blowing, but for a Master System game they’re fairly good, a result of being released so late in the console’s lifespan (at least in North America, where the console stopped selling practically in the following year, 1991).

“apart from the somewhat difficult jumps, and the lesser graphics, this 8-bit version of Sonic is nothing to scoff at”

This also affects the resolution of the game, or the screen’s size. This may not seem like an issue, but combined with the play-style I’m used to with Sonic games and the level design on hand here, it could lead to some fairly nail-biting moments. There are many blind jumps where Sonic is standing in the midst of a nothing, on a tiny platform, but the landing point of a jump is just out of view, and below is a bottomless pit of death. The player attempts to jump the gap, and misses, or worse: overshoots the next platform, losing a life and some of their patience. Expect a lot of frustration during the waterfall parts of Jungle Zone Act 1. This was helpfully fixed in the Game Gear version of the game partially by warning signposts before particularly difficult jumps.

But apart from the somewhat difficult jumps, and the lesser graphics, this 8-bit version of Sonic is nothing to scoff at. It sparked off the 8-bit series of Sonic games that continued onto the game gear with Sonic 2, Sonic Chaos, Sonic Triple Trouble, and Sonic Blast (sort of), as well as a smorgasbord of spin-offs, for the Game Gear and Master System including racing game Sonic Drift, the isometric Sonic Labyrinth, and the fan favourite Tails Adventure.

The legacy of the 8-bit sonic games is seen in what is now called the ‘handheld series’ of Sonic games, which stand alongside to the ‘main series’ games, and include the Advance and Rush series games, as well as the 3DS version of Sonic Generations, and the upcoming 3DS version of Sonic Lost World. The Advance and Rush Sonic games in particular are similar to the 8-bit games in there originality compared to the main series Sonic outings of their time. And for a time, handhelds were the only place to get 2D platforming Sonic goodness, with the main console games being generally considered lesser. Apart from the historical value Sonic for the Sega Master System can be found here on Boss Level, or on a multitude of ports for modern consoles and PCs, and is well worth the buy, in this Sonic fanatic’s opinion.

 Originally posted on BOSS LEVEL – Retro Game Gear.