Tuesday, April 2, 2019

The Art Of Video Games: Uncharted: Drake's Fortune

SPOILER ALERT!!! Minor spoilers for Uncharted: Drake's Fortune.

Video games were invented for the adventure genre. Instead of passively watching an action scene unfold, you play through it. This is why Uncharted: Drake's Fortune, is more engaging as a game than it ever would be on film, television, or the printed page. You become a part of the adventure itself.

Uncharted feels familiar and fresh at the same time, capturing enough of the spirit of classic adventures to make us cheer, but is not so  that it becomes cliche. It follows Nathan Drake, the descendant of the legendary voyager Sir Francis Drake, on his adventure in search of El Dorado, the City of Gold. Along for the ride with him are the elderly ladies' man Sully and the plucky reporter Elaine. Drake, however, also has to compete with more violent treasure hunters who want the gold as badly as he does.

Drake, as to be expected, is often compared with two of the most famous treasure hunters in modern fiction: Indiana Jones and Lara Croft. While one can't help but think of these two icons while playing Uncharted, Drake stands out differs from Jones and Croft insofar that he is more grounded in realism than in fantasy. Jones is an "archaeologist" who travels the world, battles Nazis, and sleeps with beautiful women. He's a fantasy figure who represents a nostalgia for the Republic serials of Old Hollywood and the Uncle Scrooge expeditions of Carl Barks. Croft is also a fantasy figure, but of a more modern sensibility. Born out of the "girl power" zeitgeist of the 1990's, Croft challenged the conventional roles of women in video games. An extreme athlete who, due to her great wealth, can afford to go on crazy treasure hunts around the world. Further, she's a gun-toting badass and a busty sex symbol. I suppose that I'd position Drake somewhere between these two.

Like Croft, Drake is a man of our times. His adventures lack the Old Hollywood romance of Indiana Jones. Nor is he an archaeologist like Jones, his intentions are purely for money. However, unlike Croft, Drake isn't a stylish badass. In fact, he's more of a wisecracking goofball, whose strongest parallels bring to mind the science-fiction characters Mal from Firefly and Starlord from Guardians of the Galaxy. (On a side note, Mal's actor, Nathan Fillion, played Drake in a fan film.) In the adventure genre, however, the closest you get is in Romancing The Stone's Jack T. Colton. While Colton isn't quite the joker Drake is, they're both troublesome rogues quick to make a buck and slow to rope in newcomers. In fact, Romancing The Stone as a whole bears a strong resemblance to Uncharted. They are both modern day treasure hunts through South American jungles where inexperienced blondes get intertwined with the hero, and have to learn on their feet. A major difference, of course, is that while Romancing The Stone was a straightforward run for the X, Uncharted adds the element of "lost civilizations" and mysticism present in the tales of Jones and Croft.

Nathan Drake, ultimately, is just a regular guy, or as far as one can be in a video game, and I wager that's part of his appeal. He shares in some of the basic human failings and limitations that the rest of us have, but carries enough moral decency to make us cheer him.

The gameplay of Uncharted has three major elements: exploration, puzzles, and firefights. Your adventures in Drake's Fortune take through the jungles of South America, an abandoned German military base, the ruins of a Spanish mission, and the ancient temples of El Dorado. Each of these spots is beautifully rendered with graphical detail. One can't help but appreciate the atomsphere of scouring the quiet glow of the old church or enjoy the smoothness in leaping from one stone pillar to the next or swinging from each vine. There were moments when I even felt like Spider-Man, scaling the walls at impossible heights. You get time to rest inbetween these dizzying moments in the various puzzles in the temples. They'll often require you to flip through Drake's notebook, picking up clues on solving the problems at hand. Not a high point, exactly, but compared to puzzles in other games, they're far less frustrating.

Then there's the fighting, which is similar to most shooter games. Unlike most shooters, though, you're limited to only two guns at a time, a smaller pistol-type and a larger semi-auto type. Some guns, like the shotgun, work great at close-range and are most effective at taking down armored enemies. They can only hold little ammo, however. The dragon sniper is perfect for dealing with faraway enemies, especially other snipers, but they're unwieldly at close-range. Sometimes, a good combo of punches is just what you need to do. You can also throw grenades, but enemies can throw those, too. Perhaps one of the more delightful turns in the combat is when you briefly find yourself in the middle of a zombie survival horror. First there was the dread that came when scouring the abandoned base, not knowing when a monster would come around the corner, then the tension of shooting down the swarms while Elaine brought down the escape rope. No doubt, Naughty Dog took notes on this level when they made The Last Of Us. I'd be remiss not to mention a pivotal part of the gameplay: reaction commands. There'll be times when you're, say, crossing a stone bridge, and suddenly, it gives way. If you don't press the right button quick enough, it could mean life or death. I quite enjoyed the use of them needed to confront the final boss.

Uncharted is a welcome addition to the pulp canon of adventure yarns, and remains more refreshing than many modern attempts at the genre by Hollywood. Drake became a mascot of the PS3 the same way the Croft before him became a mascot for the Playstation. He not only showed what could be done on the PS3 system, but also that video games can compete as one of the top formats for blockbuster heroics.

Some Frostgrave Progress

   Two posts in before the end of the month! Look at me go! I feel so much better after this second procedure, let me tell you...

   So up today are a few of the soldiers for Frostgrave and a shot of the mausoleum graveyard terrain.

The Crypt.
I got it from a set of 3-D printed stuff on eBay. Price was very reasonable

Bronze roof. I should probably have added verdigris - I may go back and do it at a later date.

Five Soldiers
Man at Arms, Infantryman, Treasure Hunter, Thug, Crossbowman (l to r)

I also finished up one of a pair of Fu dogs. Theses will be living statue traps in Frostgrave
Bronze with a molten metal/orange eye effect.

Monday, April 1, 2019

GMB Versus The Flag Dude

May has been a poor month for painting as I remarked last week, although things picked up in the last couple of days and I managed to up the number to 48 which was another German Infantry batallion, this time IR 63.
So not too bad, this means I'm still just about on course for 1,000 figures for the year providing I don't have too many more months like this.
A tiny difference between this unit and all my previous line infantry is that these fellows have a standard from The Flag Dude. I saw these at Salute and couldn't resist buying a couple. They are actually 7 years War standards but giving the "scrunching" its somewhat impossible to tell the difference, and, lets face it, if I hadn't mentioned this, you'd have never known.
IR63 Bianchi, sporting a Flag Dude standard 
To be honest, trying to compare the 2 is a bit like asking which footballer would you prefer in your pub team, Wayne Rooney or Lionel Messi? Both companies are brilliant and worlds apart from anything one could produce for oneself, the quality of both is so incredibly high. Particularly given their relative cheapness.
Which gives us our first comparison. FD are £3.00 each while GMB are £3.50 for 2. With GMB you have to cost in the finial and staff which adds a bit over a quid for 2  flags so the cost is actually about the same(ish)...buttons really either way considering the effect.
Obviously the big initial attraction the FD is that everything is done for you, and done very nicely. Flag is "scrunched" rather attractively (though probably not realistically), The finial is included and the flag is attached to a lengthy staff,in fact the only thing that needs to be done is to trim this to a desired length and paint it.
With GMB you do have to do a tiny bit of work.
The pole  needs to have its finial attached, and then the flag glued to the pole. My prefered method for this is to cut the flag out, fold it so its creased centrally around the pole before "dry fitting" it. Only then smear PVA glue over the inner surface of one half of the flag before folding in and lining the flag up as neatly as possible. At this point a bit of scrunching can take place. I always try and do it to expose as much of the detail of the flag as possible (otherwise, whats the point?). Then leave it for a couple of hours before giving it a few thin coats of brushed on gloss varnish to stiffen it. Finally give it a coat of matt (or not, depending on taste).
More IR63. Custom "scrunching"
The final analysis comes in the detail. The printing on the GMB stuff is slightly better, and their finish a little bit finer. Also the colours on these Austrian flags is a little more vibrant.
I can't comment on how this is with other periods. One nice thing is that the ranges are somewhat complimentary, there are items that each company do which the other doesn't.
I.R.24 Baron Strauch. Proud of their GMB flag
Oddly,  the deciding factor for me is the fact that the GMB flags aren't the finished article which FD are.
The reason for this is that with GMB I glue the standard with the finial to the figure before priming. So all painting and handling takes place with a bare standard pole, but one which is firmly glued on bare metal with the glue painted over. Then, when the figure is completely finished and varnished I attach the flag as outlined above.
More GMB.
With FD flags this isn't possible. Because the flag is all done you can't attach it until after the figure is finished. One could prime the figure and then attach the flag, but this would mean having a great big flag flapping about (ok,not actually flapping but you know what I mean) while painting the standard bearer which I'm not that keen on. Subsquently, I ended up gluing on the FD flag once the figure was finished and then varnishing over the glue. Not ideal.
So, for me, GMB has it. Just.
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