Months Later: Re-Assessing Wolfenstein II

Let me start by saying this isn’t really a review. I intended to sit down and write an actual review some time ago, but I’m still trying to catch up on games from 2017 as we wade through more and more incredible releases this year. All while working full time and spending much of the last month working 10-12 hours a day while finishing up a feature documentary. That’s besides the point though, this piece is more of a re-evaluation of my thoughts on one of the first games I played in the calendar year of 2018; Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus.

Wolfenstein II was a game I was very much looking forward to playing. I thought the previous game — The New Order — was quite good, and boasted a surprisingly strong story to go alongside solid shooting mechanics and level design that managed to deviate from the overly scripted, “corridor shooter” mentality a lot of games adopted towards the end of the PS3/360 console generation. To be honest, Wolfenstein: The New Order went under my radar when it launched. I didn’t particularly enjoy the demo I played at PAX West some years ago, but I picked up on sale a couple of years later and enjoyed my time with it. So, when The New Colossus was teased at E3 2016 and announced at E3 2017, it was a game I was excited about like a lot of other people. Throw in the late marketing push that capitalized on the currently insane political climate of the United States (and to a degree, the world) to take shots at those lunatics out there still spouting hateful fascist rhetoric, the excitement to go on a virtual Nazi killing spree was amplified.

I didn’t get around to picking up Wolfenstein II until after Christmas, and started the game up shortly after the calendar turned from 2017 to 2018. I devoured the game over the course of about a week. While there were certainly elements of the game that stood out to me, I did walk away from the game feeling somewhat let down. I dismissed those complaints as nitpicky things, and to a degree I do still feel like they are nitpicks. In the two and a half months since however, those nitpicks have become bigger and bigger issues for me. Other people I know had the exact same problems I did, where mechanics felt just the slightest bit off. Things that were so smooth in The New Order felt like they had been changed for the worse in The New Colossus. The movement of your character is very twitchy, feeling imprecise and making it difficult to drop through holes in the floor or climb ladders. The sights on your weapons seem like they’re not entirely accurate, and low level enemies can withstand a lot of damage before going down. Not only do many of the  levels feel more linear and restrictive than anything in The New Order, they’re often empty and lacking real reason to explore. These are things that on their own may not necessarily ruin the game. Once they start to pile up and as time has passed, they’ve become the thing that I remember most from the game.

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Not the interesting and engaging story that shifts B.J. Blazkowicz from a meathead stand-in for the player to a legitimate character with deeper motivations, or the well-directed cutscenes and villain that you enjoy hating. Not the insane tonal shift that comes two-thirds of the way through the game, or the sheer audacity to do some of the absolutely ridiculous things the game does. It’s just these small nitpicks that build up and have made me realize Wolfenstein II is a game I very much enjoyed watching, but not so much playing.

Maybe most disappointing of all was as I was preparing to write this post, and I finally came to terms with what bugs me most about Wolfenstein II; it feels like we’re missing a chunk of the story. There’s a pay off — and it’s a helluva pay off — but it feels like we’re missing half the build up.

Without delving too far into spoiler territory, the game has a significant and frankly, wild tonal shift about two-thirds of the way through the story. Because of how drastically it alters the game, both in terms of story and in terms of gameplay mechanics, it makes everything prior to it feel like it was the first act. A tutorial to draw you back into the world and this cast of characters, while also introducing new ones. And once we are done with the introductions… The game races to the finish. It’s almost as if the time that would have been spent on additional missions was set aside for underwhelming side missions, which allow the player to explore zones they have already worked through in the story in order to hunt down assassination targets. There is nothing special about these side missions, however. There are few, if any changes to the locations in their side mission form. No unique twist to the encounter, or special way in which to take your target down. You just blast your way through the area and eventually stumble across a random Nazi officer who happens to be your target. The first couple of times I played these assassination missions I completely missed the fact I had killed my target, and had to backtrack to find the item they dropped so I could complete the mission.

While these missions make sense as a part of the story — hunting down the leadership of the Nazi regime one by one — they felt like an afterthought. Filler. Meant to keep people around and pad out a campaign that was missing three or four main story missions. I certainly would have rather had three or four unique missions with engaging combat scenarios (or even just a couple of missions) compared to the 15 assassination missions presented here. Particularly because the game never really emphasizes them until late in the story, and by that point the narrative and the characters are rushing you towards the game’s conclusion.

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I do want to take a moment to praise a later section of the game that takes place in a Nazi station built on Venus, because those zones were easily the most memorable and enjoyable sections of the game for me. The levels felt more open, and you could naturally pace yourself as you moved through them. Combat was difficult and engaging, without being frustrating (outside of one particular difficulty spike). The levels were worth exploring because you could find details about life on the station by checking every nook and cranny. Perhaps most notably — in my opinion, of course — was that the visual design of these zones blew me away, often feeling like it directly pulls from 60’s and 70’s science fiction films such as 2001: A Space Oydssey and Alien. It is a look that developers at Creative Assembly (the team that made Alien Isolation, another massively underappreciated game from 2014) referred to as “low-fi sci-fi”.

It’s disappointing because it’s easy to get attached to the colourful cast of characters in Wolfenstein II. Some of the writing offers clever, if not on-the-nose commentary on the current political climate in the world. It deserves praise for having the audacity to reach for some of the story beats and visual moments it goes for, and it does absolutely go for it. Above all it does an incredible job of building its’ hero into a character with a real backstory, with clear beliefs and motivations. It even goes to great lengths to explain why he can take such an incredible amount of physical abuse and still survive. Despite that, when it feels like an entire act of the story is missing and the gameplay has quirks that make it frustrating to deal with at times, those things unfortunately overshadow the great elements that are present in Wolfenstein II. And there are absolutely great elements there, it just feels like some things didn’t get the attention they needed.

Now, I’m not a game developer. I don’t know whether this was the result of a lack of budget, a lack of development time, or just the wrong decisions being made by the development team. I don’t really want to speculate on that either because I get it. I work in film — albeit on much smaller budget projects — and even in my short time in that industry, I’ve seen how creative projects like this can go totally sideways with the slightest push. There’s a good amount of things to like in Wolfenstein II, and I keep going back to the fact that the game deserves all kinds of praise for doing some ridiculous things that were really surprising. In the end though, the quirks and nitpicks and rushed elements of the story are what I remember more than anything. I remember feeling underwhelmed. That sense of disappointment has only really grown with time, to the point that I think I can say I didn’t really like Wolfenstein II that much.

Maybe that’s all about expectations, as reviews for The New Colossus were well above The New Order. I also paid more than the $8 I did when I got The New Order on sale. Expectations do have a significant impact on our overall impressions of a thing, but I found The New Order to be a much more satisfying game and experience. That makes me wonder though; were my expectations for The New Colossus too high, or were my expectations for The New Order just really low?


P.S.: Again, I don’t really view this as a review so I’m not going to assign a score to it. I haven’t gone in depth enough on certain aspects of the game, and could say more if I wanted to really grind away at it. So let’s just leave it at that.

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In Industry, Weeks 4 & 5

Yeah, so, I guess I forgot that I hadn’t written about weeks 4 and 5 out in industry yet. I should probably do that. Update on the current day though, I’m sitting here watching the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals in the second round, currently 3-2 Pittsburgh in the third period of game 4. Pittsburgh has a 2-1 series lead. Playoff hockey has been quite good this year.

So… my final two weeks on my industry practicum as a part of BCIT. As I mentioned in my last post, I was being allowed more responsibility and just felt more and more like I actually belonged as a part of the crew working on this film. I was getting included in more email chains, asked to do more, and even pulled a few clips for the editors that I believe ended up in the film. At least, the most recent cut I’ve seen. Just little things to go along with simply settling in over my time at Network. It’s hard not to feel a bit like an outsider at first when you don’t really know anyone, and it’s the first film you’ve ever worked on. You’re so afraid of messing anything up that you are kind of reluctant to take on too much. Now I was welcoming challenges, and managed to solve a nasty problem we were having that managed to take up nearly a week of my time.

I should’ve been able to figure it out sooner, but other things took priority during the days.

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Since I was feeling more comfortable, I was also sitting in on more meetings, even if it wasn’t with editorial. I just wanted to see other aspects of the production and keep tabs on what they were doing, in case there was anything we needed to know or any information I could relay to them on the spot.

Things were becoming so hectic in the office, and nights were running so late, I was often on my own for an hour or two upon arriving in the morning. I would take that time to watch the latest cut of the film, which meant I was one of maybe a handful of people who was 100% up-to-date with what was in the current cut and what wasn’t, something that was useful whenever discussions about making changes were made. At this point I knew everything that was in there and could recall small bits of archival footage on the spot.

That was kind of cool.

It’s quite difficult to talk about a lot of this stuff without getting into too much detail, which I have to refrain from doing. I just focused on working hard during those last two weeks and trying to learn as much as possible. The last day or two I felt a little melancholy, joking about being “banished” back to BCIT. I mean, it’s certainly a step down to go from working on a feature film to making little two minute videos and “mentoring” the first years in the program; no offense meant to the first years.

But I left my final day feeling good about things, and I do hope the crew there will be interested in bringing me back once school is complete. I’d love to get back to work, especially since I did a bit of work for the next documentary they’ll be working on already.

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Anyways… I don’t really know what to talk about much on here. School will be wrapping up in a couple of weeks. I almost wonder if I should use it to get back into the swing of writing reviews again. I used to be a prolific (?) writer of video game reviews. Likely not well written, as I was 14 years old, but I wrote a lot of them. This was back when I could walk into a Rogers Video and rent all the new releases every week, instead of spending nearly $90 (with taxes) to get a new game on release day. This year in particular has reignited some of the passion with both the quality and quantity of video games released, particularly in a crazy run the first few months has had. The most recent game I played, NieR: Automata, is particularly interesting for tackling much deeper and much more mature thematic content than most games would ever dare to think of, let alone actually build a narrative around. It’s also a fantastic example of a video game narrative that takes advantage of the interactive nature of the medium (vs. a film or a novel) to strengthen the story it tells.

But that, dear internet friends, would be a story for another blog post. And I’ve got at least one or two more school-related posts in me right now, and probably a couple more once classes are finished.

Until next time.

In Industry, Weeks 2 & 3

Hello there, people of the internet.

If any of you are even reading this right now…

I guess I didn’t do too well keeping up the upkeep of the blog after writing that last entry, but hey! I’m spending some time working on it today. I’m sitting here watching playoff hockey and decided I may as well be productive instead of continuing to procrastinate on school work. There are only four weeks left after all, I should finish strong. Edmonton and San Jose are on right now, Game 5. I’m torn. Edmonton is fun to watch but if San Jose wins the Cup, the Canucks will get their first round pick this year. Regardless, it’s fun to watch playoff hockey without a horse in the race. It hurts to be a fan of the Canucks these days.

I figure I’ll take this post to give an overview of how my second and third weeks out in industry; firstly so I don’t have to write as many entries and secondly, I think there would be too little in each post if I went week by week.

The thing I can get out of the way right now is naming the project I was working on: I Am Heath Ledger.

Yeah… First film I get to work on, and it’s a feature length documentary about Heath Ledger. Pretty crazy, and pretty damn lucky too. Heath’s probably most known for his turn as The Joker in 2008’s The Dark Knight, an absolutely incredible performance that won him an Academy Award. It was a movie that came at a time when I was starting to appreciate the more nuanced elements of the craft of filmmaking, and was the first time I really noticed a specific actor very clearly doing something special in a film. It’s a performance that has stuck with me as on my favourite acting performances ever for nearly 10 years. I remember the shock and the sadness when news came out of his untimely death.

In a weird way, for the five weeks I spent working on this film… Heath was, kind of alive again. Our film has a lot of unseen archival video that Heath and his friends took while he was on his meteoric rise up the Hollywood A-list a decade ago. For every second of cool footage that is in the movie, there’s hundreds if not thousands more that we aren’t able to include for whatever reason. I still got to watch it all, and because of that it very strangely felt like Heath was alive again and that I got to know… some version of him, at least. It’s impossible not to feel some sort of attachment to him as a person now, instead of just as a fan of a particular performance.

In terms of the actual work, it was still somewhat slow going for me at first. I was trying to learn as much as I could without biting off too much and screwing something up, for sure. I was slowly starting to feel more comfortable, and by my third week I felt like I was settling in. By that point, I was no longer doing small bits of work on another, currently unannounced documentary. It was all-in on Heath, a full-on sprint to the finish. I was being given more responsibility and more things to do, a challenge I felt ready and able to embrace. I think I did a good job, considering I came into the position as a junior assistant editor with little-to-no knowledge as to what the job actual entails.

See, at school they teach us how to edit. But other than some basic media management, we don’t learn much about being the assistant editor.

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Of course, it’s a job that varies depending on the company you work at, the editors you work with, and the project itself. I still didn’t really understand what I was getting myself into though, and that was a humbling moment. The kind that is good to have on occasion, a reminder that maybe I don’t quite know as much as I would like to think I do. The kind of thing that keeps you from becoming complacent. I actually stayed late a few nights, and came in on a weekend to continue to help out as well. I wanted to help out, we were inching closer and closer to our scheduled picture lock day, and hell… I just enjoyed what I was doing. It was fun bouncing around edit suites and different computers and working on bringing this film to life.

For those of you curious to see the film, it premieres at Tribeca on April 23rd… There’s a one day only screening in the USA on May 3rd, the 60 minute version premieres on Spike on May 17th, and then the full version of the film will premiere on The Movie Network on May 22nd, I believe. I think it may also be out on iTunes that day, though I’m not 100% certain. It will release on iTunes at some point.

And hey, my name should be in the credits somewhere so keep an eye out for that.

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In Industry, Week 1

Author’s Note: This post was written a couple of weeks ago, so things that are written in the present tense are now out of date.


Hey again. Sandro here.

One of things that I am supposed to be doing is maintaining this blog. Haven’t really kept up with that. It’s been crazy. I’m in my industry practicum right now and we’re literally in the finishing stages of a feature-length documentary.

Doesn’t leave you with a ton of time to dedicate to other things. Especially when you’re trying to put in extra hours to try and impress your boss, and hell… just to help out. I’ve wanted to make movies since I was barely able to walk, and even if I’m just a small cog in the machine I want to do my part and then some to get this thing across the finish line. Even more so because I’ve arrived at this company just in time for a very big project that sounds like it’s been more challenging than anything before it. A good test to see if I really am crazy enough to follow through on the whole, “I want to work in the film industry” thing if there ever was one.

I should catch up on the blogging though, I guess. I’m thinking for now I will try and go week by week with my experiences, without getting to specific, because… Well, I can’t really. At least as I write this. The film we’re working on is dealing with some sensitive material and technically hasn’t even been officially revealed to the public yet. So it’s best I keep my mouth shut on some of these specifics, at least for now. I think I’ll be able to share a trailer for it around very soon though.

So, week one… I suppose I can say that I am interning at Network Entertainment. They work on a variety of shows, but I’m working in editorial on the feature length documentaries. It was an interesting first week for sure. A lot of new names and faces. Definitely felt like I didn’t have a clue what I was doing, because we’ve never really done anything that would be an assistant editor’s responsibility at school. Media management is one thing, everything else was just… wow. Just I sat, and listened, and tried to absorb as much as I could about what they needed me to do. Not to mention just trying to catch up on the projects we’re working on. One is still fairly early on, the edit hasn’t even started. The other… Well, that’s the one that we’ve been pushing the picture lock date on for about a week now.

A lot of excitement and nervousness for sure… for sure.

This week was difficult though. I had to miss a day because… Well, this is difficult. I don’t want to get into too much detail because it’s… It’s just difficult. Back in November 2015 we got a puppy, very young, her name was Finley. We have another dog named Shadow, she’s much older. Finley was new because our other dog, Lacee, had passed away earlier that year. We had this adorable Golden Lab-Retriever/Australian Shepherd mix. But as she got older and stronger, she became very aggressive. This started to tail off once we got her spayed, but the two dogs fighting or Finley getting aggressive still happened from time to time.

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At the end of January this year, we moved to a smaller house. The two dogs started to get very territorial. The fighting between the dogs became more frequent and more intense. And Finley biting us became more and more frequent. In the last few weeks it was almost as if something had snapped, because even when things were okay she was behaving rather strangely.

Late on the Wednesday night of my first week of practicum, Finley went… Well, she basically went feral. It only lasted about 30 seconds but she attacked me and my sister. We had to call 911 to get an ambulance. My sister got it much worse than I. I’ve just been left with a ton of scars from puncture wounds around my wrists and forearms. I lost probably 90% of my mobility and all of my strength in my arms for a few days. My car is so old that I have to put the key in the door to unlock it, and I couldn’t even do that.

The dog had to be put down, of course. I tried to find other solutions. This was a dog that had a tremendous ability to feel empathy. But we were scared of her. Our other dog was terrified of her.

I don’t know what went wrong. A failure on our end or something just not being right with Finley. But I hope she’s found peace… Somewhere. Anywhere. It’s sad what happened but I know for the most part, we’re a whole lot less stressed out and in losing Finley it’s almost as if we got Shadow back. She’s much more relaxed and her personality is shining through again.

It just had to happen.

 

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So that really brought an end to my first week. I was back in the office on Friday for a screening of the film, but between all the antibiotics and painkillers, and the fact we had to make that call… I wasn’t really there mentally for a while.

I’ll try to be back again to talk more about my experience at Network.

My Six Degrees Idol

Why hello there, world.

That may not be the most professional way to open things, but I believe that blogs should feel a little more personal. Almost like we’re having a conversation; albeit a rather one-sided one. In this post I want to talk about the Six Degrees of Separation, and specifically my “Six Degree Idol”. For anyone who is not familiar with the Six Degrees of Separation, it is a concept that essentially states that you can be connected to anyone on Planet Earth within 6 “degrees”, or connections.

Today, I am going to breakdown how I am connected to writer/director Quentin Tarantino.

The first degree of separation is Roger Williams, the President & CEO of Inspired Image Picture Company. Most recently, he directed the documentary RiverBlue; which details the impact that fast fashion — specifically the classic blue jeans we all love to wear — is having a tremendously horrible effect on the world’s rivers. My father introduced me to Roger a few years ago, and I spent about a month shadowing two of the editors that work at Inspired Image’s Vancouver location.

In my month of shadowing, my eyes were opened in a number of major ways when it comes to the art and process of film making, and editing. I thought I had a much stronger base of knowledge than I did, and that realization set me on the path I currently walk as a BCIT Television & Video Production student. Also during that time, a shoot was scheduled to take place at Inspired Image. I do not recall what the video was for, but it brought in the presence of a very well-known Vancouver-born singer: Michael Bublé.

He would be next link in this little chain I am forming. Bublé released his debut album in 2001, and has released eight studio albums in the 16 years since. Despite his worldwide success, Bublé is still quite prominent in the Vancouver community. He has been one of the co-owners of the WHL’s Vancouver Giants since 2008, and has supported a number of charitable projects. While I cannot profess myself to be a huge fan of his music, I’ve certainly enjoyed much of what I have heard. I certainly enjoy his rendition of Feeling Good, and he performed a very cool version of the classic Spider-Man theme that I really love.

Unfortunately, I did not get to meet Mr. Bublé. Myself and the other editors were sent for a long lunch, and they had completed their short shoot by the time we returned. While it would’ve been an undoubtedly cool experience, for the purposes of this exercise he serves as a stepping stone towards an ultimate goal, and leads to the next link in the chain. Between 2005 and 2010, Michael Bublé performed five separate times on the Late Show with David Letterman.

David Letterman is one of a number of absolutely legendary late night television hosts, in addition to being a writer, comedian, and producer. He was on the air as a late night host for a total of 33 years, and retired from the Late Show in May 2015. He is revered as one of the absolute greats in his field by many, even if many of his best years were a little before my time.

As a part of doing the job Letterman did for so many years, he has had countless Hollywood actors, directors, and more appear on his show. Which leads us directly to the final goal of this blog post: Quentin Tarantino.

Tarantino appeared on the Late Show a total of five times between 1994 and 2009, and is one of the most well-known directors in modern Hollywood. His films are known for heavily stylized violence, dialogue-heavy scenes, and large ensemble casts, as well as references to many of the pop culture moments that have inspired his films. Winning many industry awards, including two Oscars and two Golden Globes, Tarantino’s films have been both critically and commercially successful.

Tarantino is also notorious for his claims that he would retire from film making after completing his tenth film. His most recent film was The Hateful Eight, which was a personal landmark for me because it was the only movie I can remember that I have seen projected on film. The 70mm projection of The Hateful Eight was one of the most magical movie-going experiences of my life for that reason alone, and one that inspires me to create to this day.

So there you have it, the six degrees of separate from myself — Sandro Desaulniers, BCIT student — to Quentin Tarantino, one of the biggest names in the film industry. It’s certainly interesting to see how quickly you can form these links, particularly if you can find a way to tie into any sort of late night show. That alone can be used to connect to so many people, even if getting there is a bit of a journey.

If you stumbled across this online somewhere, I hope you were moderately entertained by it. That wraps it up for me here so until next time, I bid you adieu.