A moving moment

You’ve probably all noticed that my blog updates have become somewhat infrequent, at least compared to the beginning, where I’d hammer out an entry a day. Don’t worry, this is just a momentary slump (I hope); things are somewhat stressful at the moment, and I don’t get to watch or read as much as I’d like. Even when I do find the time, I’m usually somewhat too tired to appreciate films, series and books as much as I’d want to.

That’s where gaming comes in. I can be as tired as I want, yet I can still get some enjoyment out of Guitar Hero (where I’ve graduated to Hard mode, meaning that I’ve now got five fretting buttons to contend with!) or Splinter Cell. Or I could be “enjoying” Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth.

CoC: DCotE (doncha love acronyms?) is one of the creepiest games I’ve played since… well, since Thief 3 and that Holy Grail of computer game horror, the Cradle. I’m not particularly informed when it comes to H.P. Lovecraft and the Cthulhu mythos, but for those of you who know even less, Cthulhu is this cheerful fellow:

Yo, C-man!

(Any similarities to a certain crustacean Doctor are purely coincidental.)

The game has a couple of easy scares (boo! decomposing corpse!), but by and large it works with more subtle techniques: half-glimpsed horrors and whispers in the dark. Slowly going insane is as much of a threat in this game as things that go bump in the night. The game starts with the protagonist cuts his stay at an insane asylum short by hanging himself – what follows essentially is a long, drawn-out flashback – an odd way to motivate players to progress: “Just one more level and I can hang myself! Yay!” For the first two, three hours of gameplay you don’t even have any weapons, which makes for an original twist on the genre: for once, the solution to all your problems isn’t unloading a gun in some gilled horror’s face.

And the game has what is possibly the best chase sequence I’ve ever seen or played. You’re woken up in the middle of the night as a couple of shady guys (with serious throat problems, from the sound of it) try to break into your room to turn you into chowder. Your only option is to run, bolting doors behind you or blocking them with wardrobes and the like. Then, a bracing escape via the rooftops while you’re being shot at… and don’t even look down, because otherwise you’ll find out just how Jimmy Stewart felt in that classic Hitchcock movie about a guy with vertigo. I think it was called… “The Man Who Was Afraid of Heights”.

A season too far…

We watched another two episodes of the second season of Life on Mars yesterday, and while they were more enjoyable than a couple of the ones earlier this season, they still felt like variations on a theme – and minor variations at that. The impression I got was that they had material for a total of eight or nine episodes, at most. Instead they decided to stretch it to two seasons and 14 episodes altogether, and as a result much of the impact was lost. This could have been a little gem of a series, and instead it turned out to be an okay execution of a clever premise, extended past its sell-by date.

You doity rat (redux)

Quite a few series are milked, the episodes becoming tired, stale rehashes of earlier material. Even fans say that The Simpsons have been going on for too long (although they also argue that the last season has been a marked improvement). Same seems to go for Spooks (another BBC series by Kudos, the producers of Life on Mars), Buffy (I’ve seen few defenses of season 7), The X-Files or most of the Star Trek series.

And then you get series that are killed untimely. Firefly and Deadwood come to mind, but I’m sure there are other examples as well. (Futurama, perhaps, ending with one of the best episodes of the entire series, but it’s being revived right now, so I’ll wait and see.) Series that, quite simply put, had much more to say. Series that quite often also expected something from the viewer, that made demands – for instance, that you tuned in every week. You can’t really tell a good, sustained story if viewers may look in once a month, at best.

Death by trampoline?

To be honest, I can only think of a handful of series that managed to end when they should have. Six Feet Under is a candidate. M*A*S*H, perhaps, although the jury’s out on whether the series maintained its quality, got better, or simply got smug and self-righteous. Most people loved “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen”, but there are some who hated it with a vengeance for being Alan Alda’s soapbox.

I guess that, given the choice, most fans would prefer more material of their favourite series even at the price of diminishing quality. But it is frustrating to see them putting out yet another cop series or medical soap but at the same time not allowing more complex, more ambitious – and, admittedly, less audience-friendly – material the breathing space it needs.