Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Hallmark's "The Curse of King Tut's Tomb" sadly inept

"It?s 1922, and free-spirited archaeologist Danny Freemont is infamous for his outlandish theories about the pyramids, Atlantis, alien civilizations, and the Egyptian Book of the Dead. Freemont is certain that if found, the Emerald Tablet, rumored to be buried in King Tut?s tomb, would hold the power to control the world. Unfortunately, the only one who believes Freemont is nefarious archaeologist Morgan Sinclair, a member of the diabolical secret cabal known as the Hellfire Council.

Sinclair wants the tablet to summon and harness an invincible evil, and he?s fully prepared to follow Freemont to the ends of the earth to get it. With the help of a crackerjack team, Freemont will venture into the Valley of the Kings, toward Tut?s tomb, nearer the portal to another world, and closer to the truth behind a mystery that will change the world forever?or end it."

With Hollywood squandering so much money on films with little plot but tsunamis of violence, I truly commend production companies that are attempting to create inspiring films that target a cross section of the viewing audience instead of the seemingly bizarre tastes of adolescent (18 - 25 year-old) males.

The Hallmark Channel, capitalizing on its well-earned reputation for quality enterntainment, showcases a number of these family-friendly films. Some of them, often produced by Larry Levinson Productions, are well made with good (if relatively unknown) actors. "Love's Long Journey", a story of a young 19th century couple's efforts to build a successful cattle ranch, featured an interesting ensemble of actors, and a few plot twists that helped it rise above the overworked B-western theme. It's prequel, "Love's Enduring Promise" was equally well done. Of course, both of these films were written by Michael Landon Jr. and the young writer seems to have inherited his father's "feel" for creating uplifting stories from the lives of everyday people.

Hallmark's "The Odyssey" followed the classical story pretty closely and although their "Jason and the Argonauts" suffered from a really amateur lead, it moved along nicely and had some good supporting roles. But when it comes to action/adventure films, Hallmark and/or Levinson cannot seem to strike the right chord. "The Curse of King Tut's Tomb" not only suffered from terrible acting (mostly attributed to Casper Van Dien) but from the overall air that none of its cast took the story seriously. Of course, I guess you could hardly blame them since it seemed to be a badly blended mixture of the recent "Mummy" sequel that introduced the legend of the Scorpion King and a pathetic remake of Indiana Jones. In fact, several measures of the background music were barely disguised excerpts from John Williams "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" theme.

In addition to a muddled plot (if, in fact, you could call it that), Van Dien's archaeologist, a bumbling n'er do well with two sidekicks that brought neither comic relief nor useful expertise to the story, evoked little empathy (or sympathy). Why any university would ever hire him or a talented, beautiful, respectable archaeologist would be attracted to him is, frankly, beyond me. Unlike the original Indiana Jones who demonstrated an indepth understanding of ancient history, languages, and symbology and made the audience respect his knowledge despite his unorthodox methods, Van Dien's character would not inspire anyone to consider a study of the past as a fascinating pursuit. He approached the job like an undisciplined child in a sandbox. At least in Indiana Jones, the villain and Jones were equally gifted. Here, the villain (played by Jonathan Hyde of "You musn't read from the book!" fame in 1999's "The Mummy") approachs the undertaking with some professionalism which contrasts starkly with Van Dien's ineptitude.

The only bright spot in the film was the brief appearance of a dynamic young man made up to quite closely resemble the latest Tut facial reconstructions. Next time, Hallmark/Levinson, ditch the rest of the cast and focus on Tut and his efforts to escape the fate Horemheb and/or Ay had planned for him.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Gods & Heroes: Rome Rising (PC)

Gameplanet (PC): "PART FANTASY, PART HISTORY, Gods & Heroes: Rome Rising will put players in the role of hero at the time of ancient Rome. You will face the traditional enemies such as Gauls and Carthage - however, there are also mythical beasts such as minotaurs, furies and gorgons with which to also contend.

Game features will include:

* Embark on a hero's journey to explore and conquer mythic Rome.
* Acquire, train and control a squad of warriors in epic battles using both traditional and user-created formations.
* Build and customise a squad of soldiers including melee, ranged and caster-class fighters.
* Master forceful hand-to-hand combat tactics in gladiatorial duels based on the ancient pankratic method of wrestling.
* Face and fight fierce mythological creatures including Medusa, Chimera, Cereberus and the Hydra among others waiting to challenge you.
* Experience fast-paced combat featuring moves choreographed and tuned so finely that the timing resonates to the feel of action role-playing games.
* Command and wield the unequalled powers of the gods as you fight to save Rome.
* Fight alongside and control as part of your squad creatures of myth including the Minotaur, Cyclops, Automaton and others.
* Embark on over 1,000 story-driven missions."

Friday, May 12, 2006

CivCity: Rome to be released July 2006

GameSpot: "The Civilization series has always been known for allowing players to create massive, boundless empires through a careful balance of domestic and military strategies. However, in the upcoming spin-off from Firefly Studios and Firaxis games, the focus is instead on a single city. Of course, it's not just any city but the legendary metropolis of ancient Rome. We recently learned more details about CivCity: Rome just in time for E3.

As implied by the title, CivCity is a city-building game in the vein of the classic Sim City. The game plays out as a series of missions that you must complete. In doing so, you'll end up building a living, breathing, highly detailed rendition of ancient Rome. To develop your city you have to use strategic planning to manage technology, production, politics, and more in an attempt to take your city from a humble village to a thriving urban center.

There are more than 70 different technologies to develop in the game, so you can expect to have a wide array of options when it comes to choosing where to focus your efforts as you build your city. In addition to technology, there are hundreds of unique types of buildings that you can place in your city. In fact, the most important decisions you make will be in regards to building placement, because the game is going for simple, accessible gameplay that doesn't get bogged down in complex menus and minor details.

Unlike in many city-building games, the people that inhabit your city in CivCity aren't just mindless masses. Each person in the game is unique, and you can watch families live, grow, prosper, and interact right inside their homes, which sounds like it will provide an interesting and personalized gauge of your success as a city planner.

The city will also be full of touches that will make it feel as unique as Rome itself. You can watch gladiators duke it out in a grandiose coliseum, witness tense political debates, build magnificent structures, the likes of which the world has never seen, and much more."

Monday, May 08, 2006

'The Glory of The Roman Empire' to be released in June

Entertainmentwise: "The Glory of The Roman Empire has taken all the best bits and ideas from previous 'build the world' strategy titles and rolled them into one very nice looking, smooth sounding, un-annoying title that will have you simply pleased to play a game that doesn't mess up in any major area. Searching for potentially annoying features within the game, to be honest - I couldn't find any.

Any tweaks I would suggest are relatively minor things, such as allowing you to build the same structure again after you've made one of them so that you don't have to re enter the build menu from the very top level once again. It would also be nice to have some indication after a structure has burnt to the ground of what you used to have built there, for replacement assistance. On the Quest screen, I would like to see a form of check list indication of what parts of your quest you have achieved, or have yet to achieve. The reason for this one is simple; sometimes in a mission you aren't aware of what left there is for you to do and spending ages trying to complete the level when all you actually had to do was build a woodhouse can be rather frustrating. Stronghold 2 gives you percentages of the work done as well, which I would love to see enter the final version of this game. But I am nit picking, here.

The control of the mouse, scrolling and zoom, buildable and non buildable areas are all dealt with in the easiest and best possible manner. Detail is fully optional and lovely to look at, and the game has a gradual learning curve that is easy to understand and non frustrating, yet challenges fairly quickly. Missions are selectable and non linear, gaming areas are returned to in latter missions like Stronghold 2 giving you a real sense of pride and care in your town set ups, and the background music is very Roman, very gentle and very unobtrusive; you barely notice it unless you're thinking about it. That's how level music should be - atmospheric yet subtle."

Friday, May 05, 2006

Death in Rome interesting and educational little online game

I stumbled across this well done little online game developed by the staff of the BBC.

Description: Be a Roman sleuth - use your detective skills to unravel the events behind a mysterious death. You have until dawn to investigate the crime scene, and crack the case.

Time is short. Each expert you consult will cost you precious minutes. Piece together the puzzle using their evidence, eye-witness testimonies, and perhaps a little detective's intuition.

It was fun and I learned a few things about ancient Roman life too. I?m afraid I didn?t arrive at the right answer the first time though! Watch out for red herrings!

Medieval 2 next full game package from Total War folks

GameZone: "The Total War team is hard at work on Medieval 2: Total War, the next step in the Total War franchise.

The gameplay will span from 1080 to 1530, the largest period covered in a Total War game. The conquest of the Americas will play a pivotal role in the game?s campaign, as the Aztecs will make their first appearance in the heat of the action.

On the battlefield, Medieval 2 is even more detailed than Rome: Total War. The units on the field each have their own unique look and feel to them, some with more armor, and some with nearly none. They also act differently and will do different animations while standing idle, which adds to the game?s sense of realism. Impassable terrains will also play a role on the battlefield, meaning that players will have to exercise a bit more strategy when thinking out their plan of attack.

Out of conflict, you also have the ability to either make your civilization a castle or a city. Cities are civilian, and tend to do better in trade and mercantile exploits than castles, which excel in military ventures. Princess units are important outside of battle, as well, as they can be used to fortify relations with allies or even turn enemy generals into compatriots through marriage.

The AI in the game has been improved in terms of negotiations. Now, the AI will bring baggage to the table when negotiations are underway, be it failed previous negotiations or battles, and this will have an effect on the outcome of the talks, positive or negative."

Rome: Total War Expansion "Alexander" to be offered as download

TotalVideoGames.com: "SEGA Europe and SEGA of America have today announced the development of a second expansion pack to The Creative Assembly's Rome: Total War, which will be available exclusively via digital download in June for an undisclosed amount.

Entitled Rome: Total War - Alexander, the pack will guide players sequentially through the battles faced by Alexander the Great as he unites Greece and conquers Persia. The game will also feature voiceover content from Brian Blessed and more than a half dozen movies that help unveil the storyline as the player progresses. The six battles are expected to last around thirty hours in total, which will hopefully satisfy fans eager to get hold of the next Total War instalment.

'Digital downloads let us quickly and efficiently get new and exciting content to the players that were outside the scope of the original game,' commented Mike Simpson, Studio Director at Creative Assembly. 'It should provide many hours of new and absorbing gameplay, and will be superb value for money. It's been great fun putting the Alexander pack together and I'm sure the players will enjoy it just as much.'

SEGA also confirmed that new factions and over sixty new units will all play a part in the epic battles of the game, including the Macedonians and Indians, as players get the chance to conquer the ancient world once more... "