games technology Uncategorized

Living fiction

After decades of dreaming, virtual reality lies within reach. Valve, bastion of traditional PC gaming, now openly discusses a timetable ’til we have legit VR. Oculus, a VR headset start-up, has garnered accolades from the tech press. It’s no longer a question of “If we ever get VR,” but “When?”

What’s holding VR back? It’s not the visuals; we’re already close enough to photo-realism, even on the gaming console. The audio’s not a problem, either; games gamed CD-quality audio twenty years ago. Even the headset technology is catching up, packaging sight and sound into a light-weight, inexpensive package. No, the real problem is touch; how can you believe a virtual world that you can’t walk around or touch or climb?

Even without touch technology, I worry about VR addiction. Once compelling virtual worlds exist, will gamers escape dissatisfying real-world lives by slipping on their headsets? Too many young men already float through life in a gaming-centric haze, stumbling from bed straight into MMOs and FPSs, then back into bed again. Will affordable, convincing VR accelerate our decline into a Ready Player One dystopia?

Despite the risks to our humanity, and despite the remaining technological challenges, I find VR intriguing. My fascination has more to do with Star Trek than with the flashy neon worlds of Tron or Lawnmower Man. I don’t want a first-person version of traditional video games; I want the Holodeck. Picard, Data and the gang escaped into Sherlock Holmes mysteries, private eye capers, and high-seas adventure.[1]

I want to experience my favorite fiction, first-hand. Imagine having the ability to live into your favorite movies and TV shows—to try on your favorite roles. You might play Bilbo in The Hobbit, or Mikey from The Goonies. A tiny heads-up display would show you the script (if you needed it). Or maybe the AI would be more sophisticated, and non-player characters would understand your words and actions, then respond accordingly. You could rewrite the script. Go ahead; find out what happens if Bilbo refuses to pass along the Ring. Go ahead; let Chunk get killed. It’d be the ultimate Choose Your Own Adventure story.

  1. Holodeck episodes were reliably terrible. But the technology sparks my imagination.  ↩

movies Uncategorized

Goonies never say die

I grew up in the 80s; I still sometimes get nostalgic for the movies I loved as a kid. But when I re-watch The Neverending Story or Willow, I’m embarrassed for my childhood self. These films weren’t masterpieces to begin with, and they haven’t aged well.

That’s not true of The Goonies. If you diss The Goonies, I will fight you. Three decades haven’t spoiled this ensemble adventure; in fact, The Goonies only gets better with time.

What makes it work so well?

  • Old-school approach. Even today, moments from The Goonies give me chills. Filming it on location (in Astoria, Oregon) lends the film its spooky aura. Real sea stacks and genuine Pacific fog make the movie feel mysterious and thrilling—difficult to do with dry ice or manufactured sets. And when the film *does* use a set, it goes all out: remember the bone-pipe organ, or the massive pirate cave?

  • A stellar cast carries The Goonies. It helped launch careers for Sean Astin (later of Rudy and Lord of the Rings fame) and Josh Brolin (who’s been in just about everything). It benefits from quality character actors like Joe Pantoliano (who would go on to play Cypher in The Matrix). Familiar 80s regulars (e.g. Corey Feldman and Martha Plimpton) round out the cast.

    But it’s not just the individual actors—it’s the way the ensemble interacts. The Goonies tease and torment each other like boys often do. It feels real, and there’s some genuine chemistry there.

  • But what really keeps The Goonies from spoiling is its humanity. Its plot combines all-too-familiar adult problems (overdevelopment, foreclosure) and childhood fantasy (One-Eyed Willy and his pirate treasure). The preteen Goonies gang remind us of a time when we actually knew the neighbors, and it wasn’t unusual for kids to ride off into the woods on an adventure.[1]

What would spoil The Goonies? The same thing that spoiled other 80s hits (e.g. Ghostbusters, Blues Brothers, Star Wars, Indiana Jones): a bad sequel.

Fortunately, the things that make The Goonies great also make a sequel impossible. First, In an age of CGI shortcuts, studio suits would never approve a 110-foot pirate ship set. Second, many of the film’s supporting actors have moved on from acting; unpracticed former child stars would make a disastrous cast. And, finally, how do you conjure up that childhood magic again when your Goonies are middle-aged homeowners? A “meet the new Goonies” concept makes me want to vomit.

  1. One other thing in The Goonies’ favor? The music! Cyndi Lauper’s “Good Enough” is surprisingly catchy, and Dave Grusin’s original orchestral score fits perfectly. “Fratelli Chase”, the rollicking orchestral piece that opens the film, has been featured in movie trailers for decades.  ↩