Monthly Archives: August 2013

The James Bond gadgets – his greatest enemy

Brilliant one-liners. Posh suits and tense firefights. And Vodka Martinis – shaken, not stirred, naturally. James Bond is a movie fanchise classic, a juggernaut of a beast with 23 films to its name and massive box office earnings to boot. Of course, none of this would have been achieved if the films weren’t endearing, something you can watch time and time again, and they certainly are that… I myself have recently been trawling through the back catalogues watching some of my favourites just recently. Yet with these viewings I’ve noticed something rather peculiar, something that inadvertantly ages Bond and makes some of his films into slightly peculiar viewing. And no, it’s not the massive amount of sexual innuendos you seem to miss as a kid – it’s the technology he uses.

Allow me to explain. Take Die Another Day, a fairly recent addition to the Bond franchise. In it you have all the staples of what makes a Bond film, and then you have… the the Aston Martin ‘Vanish’. A car that turns invisible. It sounds cool, and in many ways it sort of is – yet the reality is the end product ends up looking little silly, copious amounts of CGI being badly justified by one line that basically says it’s all done by mirrors. It’s a desperate attempt by the film makers to keep up with the cutting edge in the tech world, where gadgets and gear improve so quickly nowadays it’s hard to even keep up, never mind innovate. Even the phones Bond uses in recent movies end up looking dated, with no signs of the touch screens we are so used to today – instead they are all clunky grey bricks with big buttons, which look like they could cause more injury to the bad guys if Bond was just to throw the phone at their heads. The end result is that it all ends up looking a bit peculiar when you watch some of the recent films back, with the Brosnan era being the worst offender by a mile.

It really is that bad.

…It really is that bad.

Big deal, you think. It’s simply a case of technology always marching on. The old films must suffer from the same problems, right? Yet the odd think is, they don’t, or at least not as much. The perfect counterpoint to the Aston Martin is the Lotus Esprit featured in 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me, which at one point dives off the end of a pier in spectacular fashion, only to turn neatly and awesomely into a mini submarine. Sure, it’s pushing the boundaries of realism a bit itself, but the weird fact is it ends up being more believable as a piece of cutting edge technology than the Aston Martin ever does, despite the film being made 25 years earlier.

Some of the gadgets from even earlier films pull off the same effect – Bond’s attaché case in From Russia with Love is packed full of goodies such as gold sovereigns hidden away in a secret compartment and a tear gas defence mechanism, but it still seems cool and innovative despite everything that’s followed it. And this is a film from 1963! Another example is the rebreather from 1965’s Thuderball, which even makes an appearance in Die Another Day basically unaltered… Making it a gadget that is simple, but clever, cool and innovative enough to pop up as useful almost 40 years later. Compared to the exploding pens and laser watches from more recent Bonds, I know which gadgets I’d pick, if only for the fact they weren’t likely to explode when I started writing a letter. It’s little wonder the Daniel Craig films have gone back to the core basics of Bond simply having a gun and his wits –all the gadgets ever seemed to do before that is age ungracefully.

Does this affect the quality of the films and your ability to enjoy them? Of course not, naturally. As long as the dry quips and Bond mannerisms are there that we all know and love, you would have to be a bit of a killjoy to let a slightly outdated phone completely ruin a film for you. But just look out for it the next time you watch a Bond film – because it turns out if you want some of the coolest gadgets, you may have to go for a blast from the past…

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How to bring back The Crystal Maze

The Crystal Maze. The name alone is enough to invoke fond days of rushing to the television waiting for that iconic theme song to kick in, only to spend the next hour yelling at the screen as you watched another team of bumbling idiots try and work out how to use a metal detector. Hosted by Richard O’Brien and then Ed Tudor-Pole (better known as “Not Richard O’Brien”) it was a show way ahead of its time, full of amazing set design, genuinely clever games – and countless moments of people collecting 15 gold and 225 silver tickets at the end, thus failing to win in a spectacular manner.

It ran for years, and should have run for many more, but was unceremoniously ripped from our screens and quickly fell into the annuals of misty eyed nostalgia. For years, many have prayed for it to return to our screen, but it remains stubbornly absent, perhaps due to producers fearing that there would be no way to reproduce the glory days. Well, never fear! I, with my extensive producer knowledge of one badly made music video for a school project, have come up with the most foolproof way of bringing the show back from the dead…

1) Don’t try and replace Richard O’Brien.

To many, Richard O’Brien was the crystal maze. He made the show, with his eccentric mannerisms, sudden harmonica playing and not-so-gentle jabs at teams who did not know what the heck they were doing. When he left it’s fair to say the show did suffer, despite the replacement host of Ed Tudor-Pole actually not being as bad as most people probably remember. The problem was he was cast almost as a clone of Richard O’Brien’s character,  crazy mannerisms and all. Not only could he not pull it off as well, but it also only ever served as a reminder to viewers of how good the other guy had been.

Not just famous for a certain stage show.

Not just famous for THAT stage show.

The brilliance of Richard O’Brien is something the returning show would have to tackle, but perhaps the best way to do this is recognise that brilliance, but don’t even think of trying to emulate it. The Crystal Maze needs a host that isn’t just a generic person in a suit that probably has hosted about six game shows in the past. They need some of that O’Brien charm and wit, a little bit of that eccentricity, while not just lifting O’Brien’s old character completely but instead bringing new stuff to the table. Who could this new host be? No idea, but if someone with those qualities could be found the show would be off to a flying start.

2) Don’t mess with the format. At all.

Remember the Krypton Factor? Remember enjoying the assault course and watching all the contestants fight it out side by side, leading to genuinely exciting finishes? Sure you do! Now remember the remake of the show a few years ago, and how everyone ran the course separately with times just flashing up boringly at the end? Thought not. This is a good example of part of a show’s perfectly good format being tweaked into something that just isn’t as fun any more, and it something a Crystal Maze remake should desperately avoid.

The format of The Crystal Maze doesn’t need changing. You go through zones, you get crystals if you succeed, these give you more time and a better chance in the final zone. Simple, exciting and effective. There’s no need to throw in twists like “Oh you can sacrifice two crystals for less silver tickets in the dome” or “This game is five minutes long now, meaning we’ve made it way too simple and causing boredom after the first two minutes.” The rules that already exist are
the ones that work, and ripping up this rule book is going to end up in misery and despair.

3) Throw a budget at it.

It can be argued that some of the charm of the original Crystal Maze was that everything at its core was fairly basic, even though at the time the show itself was an incredibly high risk thing to create and produce. The industrial zone was basically just pipes and construction tape put up everywhere, in the same way the medieval zone saw an overtly liberal use of fake cobwebs. You could do the show again on the same budget, and the same style, and still end up with a classic – but what would happen if you threw today’s production values at it?

There's a reason this was replaced by the Ocean zone.

There’s a reason this was replaced by the Ocean zone.

It seems contrary to think about this when the very last point above said to not change things, but think about it… The level of immersion and spectacle that would be created by giant sets and expensive games would be a feast for the eyes that would make you never want to stop watching. Throwing a bit of polish at old games and perhaps using technology to come up with some brand new and unique challenges would not go amiss either. There’s a limit to that – we all tried to remake the games at home, so don’t make every game a complete technological feast  – but with an even bigger budget than the show had at the time, the show itself could onlt thrive better than ever before.

4) No celebrity versions!

Perhaps more of a personal issue of mine, but the show really should not come back with a bang, only for the likes of Joe Swash and Kerry Katona to turn out to be the contestants. That was another little spark of charm that the old show had – it was a bunch of strangers grouped together, each trying to help the other and resisting the urge to scream at them for being such a collosal moron. Throw in celebrities and, while it’s still technically a bunch of people who are strangers to each other, most of them are just going to play up to the cameras – and the chances of the team not working well together, and one person actually spiralling off into a rant about morons, are slim at best.

Strictly speaking it’d still work in the end, with the allure of celebrities perhaps dragging in the more casual viewer, but in my eyes it would just not be the same. Think of this possible rebirth of the show turning out like All-star Family Fortunes… Its fun, sure, but without the simple, everyday charm and humour that only a bunch of normal people being dragged into an extraordinary situation can create, it’s not exactly the most stunning thing to hit our screens. And before anyone suggests it, no, Vernon Kay is NOT a good idea for a new host.

So there you have it. The foolproof plan that proves the Crystal Maze could return and still leave a massive impact on people. The sad thing is, however, that considering the scale and history of the show it’s probably unlikely we will ever see it return. But who knows? Perhaps all these ideas could be seen and implemented, and the crystal that transpires will turn into a real gem…

Great levels in Sonic History; City Escape (Sonic Adventure 2)

Rolling around at the speed of sound, got places to go…

Ok, let’s cut to the chase straight away – there’s a reason why City Escape is such a good Sonic level, and one that will bring a nostalgic glint to the eyes and hum to the lips of most gamers. That damn music. From the second that bass lick hits your ears before Sonic himself has even hit the ground, it’s amazing. Then the lyrics kick in, and before half the level is even done you’re bopping your head along to the tune. Give it a little while and a few more play throughs, and you’ll even be singing along, which is far more of a guilty pleasure than it really should be. Whatever magic fairy dust was floating around when Crush 40 made this track, it certainly did its job very well.

Yet to say City Escape is a great level simply on the basis of its soundtrack would be a massive injustice, because the level itself is pretty cleverly designed, never mind fun to play. The opening cut scene deserves a special mention for setting the scene – Sonic’s wanted by the police, has just made a daring getaway, and is now diving down to Earth strapped only to a piece of metal. It’s cool, it gets the blood pumping, and when you take control and start boarding down the steep streets, it’s highly entertaining.

This first segment is not only exciting, it also goes out its way to look cool and show the game is all about fun. For instance; hitting a car in reality should halt you instantly, ruining the momentum. Here, all it does is send the car smashing into all the others, sending them all flying

like skittles in a grand display of gleeful carnage. And don’t forget the ramps – hit the peak of them, and with a simple button press you’re sent spinning merrily through the air, collecting all types of treats along the way. Sweet.

Sonic boarding

You will play this and never get board. Get it? No?

Sadly, all good things must come to an end, and you end up on your feet and wandering the streets and parks of the city. But even then you’re still thrown sweet little moments – that first time you grind down one of those twisting staircases, rolling under a wall to find yourself suddenly flying down a road at top speed, and of course the now-almost Sonic classic of running down the side of a building, complete with cheeky little camera spin just to add to the effect.

Yet it’s not only cool, it’s helpful! There’s Omachao, the slightly annoying tutorial guide, floating around in some places ready to scream advice at you, but there’s no need to ever trigger him. For the most part you’re left to your own devices, learning how to spin, dash and smash everything that lies in your path. The game even starts to give some glory to the daring at this early stage – shortly after learning how to homing attack from enemy to enemy, you’re left with a line of them hovering over a pit. There’s no need to go for it, but if you do, a nice little dose of points is your reward – very helpful for getting those elusive A ranks.

Even after all that, though, the game crams in one more defining moment – running full pelt away from a giant truck determined to make you into a hedgehog pancake. It’s a pretty simple sequence – it’s simply a case of holding the stick down and never stopping. Yet with the truck filling your screen and smashing everything out your way like skittles, it creates yet another memorable moment, and one that certainly raises a smile.
You may think this whole sermon steers way too much into the territory of just gushing about the level and ignoring its faults, and maybe to an extent you are right. But if you have ever played City Escape, you should remember how good it felt to do so that very first time, and how revisiting the level never really felt like a chore. And, of course, you should remember the music…

I’ll make it through from me to you, follow me!