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Four Reasons AMC’s The Walking Dead Will Flop (and two reasons it won't)

Courtesy of AMC

Between this site and my podcasting on The Body Count, I’ve made no secret of my love affair with The Walking Dead comics.  As far as extended-run, non-super hero comics go, I think it is the best series of all time.  The psychology, the pathos, the existentialism, and, to be sure, the action and gore, all put the series high up the ladder.  In fact, I’d say that the first 60 issues are as good as any long story arc ever seen in the comic world.  And now we are on the cusp of having all that goodness turned into a well-budgeted television series made by talented people who have kept creator Robert Kirkman close and involved.  It should be a no-brainer that The Walking Dead on AMC will blow our socks off like a close-up shotgun blast, right?  Not so fast.  I can see a number of reasons that The Walking Dead could come and go quickly, and, unfortunately, some of the risks are related directly to what makes the comics so good in the first place.


  1. They will focus on all the wrong things:  This is my number one concern.  Television, like film, is a predominantly visual medium.  The Walking Dead is loaded with visual elements that will pop on the small screen—scary imagery, a post-apocalyptic landscape populated by zombies, and gore by the bucket full.  However, none of that is the meat of the comic.  More than any other horror comic ever written, The Walking Dead is a character study.  If the production spends too much time trying to dazzle us with shiny objects and too little time exploring the layered psychological elements that power the story, the show will only appeal to people fascinated by shiny objects.  That isn’t The Walking Dead comic book readership and it isn’t the AMC viewer that comes for classic films or Mad Men and sticks around to see what this new show is all about.                                                                                       
  2.  There will be too much gore:  Seriously.  When I heard about the project, my first thought was, “They can’t do that on television.”  It turns out “they” can.  The question is, should they?  Kirkman has been quoted as saying that AMC hasn’t flipped out over any of the gore they have seen in the dailies, and it is generally accepted that it is going to be like nothing ever seen on free television.  That’s good for me, and maybe for you, but it isn’t good for building an audience of housewives and soccer moms that will be needed to keep the ratings up.  If the show is done right, the story and characters are compelling enough to hold the attention of the Mad Men fans or anyone else that stumbles upon it while channel surfing, but not if they are so disgusted by the gore that they don’t give it a shot after the first episode.    I think the show would be better off if they gradually ramped up the gore over the first season.  The truly iconic violent images from the series tend to be toward the end of story arcs, so that shouldn’t be a problem.  If they come out with all guns blazing, it will please horror hounds, but it might backfire with the larger audience.                                                                                                                                                                                                  
  3.  The season will be too short to build an audience.  Despite debuting right before Sweeps, The Walking Dead is basically the length of mid-season replacement series.  This means that the show has very few episodes to expand the audience beyond the comic book and horror fans that will be with the show from day one.  We know that a second season isn’t a given, and with just six episodes worth of material to put out there, will the general audience have time to discover the show?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     
  4.  Horror is the red-headed stepchild of series television:  This is the only reason my life in the current Nerdtopia isn’t perfect.  Sure, we get adaptations of The Game of Thrones, The Watchmen, The Walking Dead; we get great Batman and Spider-man movies (nuh-nuh-nuh-spider-man 3-I can’t hear you-nuh-nuh).  Indy comics are hitting the big screen in uncompromised glory (even if no one is actually watching them).  It is a great time to be a nerd, but, alas, not so much for the horror nerd—at least not on television.  The last horror series to be a hit on network television was…wait, there has never been a hit horror series on network television.  Buffy was a critical hit and had a great seven-year run, but it faced cancellation at the end of nearly every season.  Supernatural has experienced a similar fate though with lower highs and higher lows.  The only time we have seen any real success is with a horror/sci-fi blend: X-filesV, Fringe.  There have been a number of good series, just not many successful ones.  “Why” is a topic for another post, but I wonder if there are enough fans of the genre to make a horror show a hit, especially when the show is epic and expensive and really needs to be a hit, not just a moderate success. 



Two Reasons Not to Worry About the Above and (Why We Expect The Walking Dead to be a Huge Hit)



  1. The source material kicks all kinds of ass:  As I said in the intro, The Walking Dead is as good as it gets in the comic book world, in the horror world, in the writing world.  If the team stays on target and puts the best elements of the comic on the screen, the show will find an audience.  There is probably a great play on “the cream always rises to the top” idiom using blood or brains or something to use here, but I can’t come up with it.                                                                                       
  2. They are keeping Kirkman close:  All reports are that Robert Kirkman has been involved creatively in nearly every facet of the show.  No one knows better than him what makes The Walking Dead great, and his involvement should be the gris-gris that keeps the evil spirits away. 


We won’t have to wait long to see which of the above scenarios plays out.  The counter on the web site tells me we have only ten days and a few odd hours to wait.  Personally, I’m an optimist.  I always see the zombie as half dead.  The worst-case scenario:  we have a great Season One box set to slide in beside Firefly on the bookshelf.


Halo: Reach Longevity Report

How long will people keep playing Halo: Reach?  Forever? or, just until Black Ops is released?


It has been five weeks (at the time of this writing) since Halo: Reach dropped.  The initial response was great, with nearly universal acclaim and only a few prominent detractors.  Personally, I got so caught up playing the game that I never got around to doing a review (not an issue since I didn’t get a review copy and had no obligation to do a review).  After the initial explosion of heavy play, I’ve seen a gradual decrease in people on my friends list who are playing the game, which is understandable after a month.  I’m starting to see Modern Warfare 2 pop up all over as many of my gaming buddies start prepping for Black Ops.  With that being the case, I thought I’d take a look at Halo: Reach’s current status and speculate a bit on its longevity.

To set the stage, here are some numbers:

  • ·         Halo: Reach first month (September) game sales:  3.3 million
  • ·         Games of Halo: Reach played online in first week: 70 milliion
  • ·         Total games of Halo: Reach played as of this writing (Oct 18,   2010; 11:52 pm): 35,557,826
  • ·         Players online in the past twenty-four hours:  1,485,630

From release data to current activity, those are impressive numbers.  We know from the previous Halo games that we can expect a good number of those users to keep playing the game until Halo 4 drops, or indefinitely if it never does.  Hell, there were upset gamers when the Halo 2 servers were taken down this summer, and that game was released nearly six years ago for the 360’s predecessor.  Given that history, it is only fair to say Halo: Reach is likely to have long legs, at least for the masses of Halo enthusiasts. 

                Moreover, I think Halo: Reach could surpass the first three (four if you count ODST, which actually only had Firefight to go with Halo 3’s multiplayer content.  Why will the game keep all those Halo fans and a good deal of casual game fans coming back for months to come?  Two things make it a no-brainer for me:  the Challenges system and the variety of other perks/honors.

                No game in history has more ways of rewarding and recognizing the accomplishments of its players than Halo: Reach.  Let’s count:

  1. Achievements:  the standard 1000 Gamerscore points divided nicely between offline and online goals.
  2. Credits:  Collecting credits allows players to buy items at the Armory.  Despite being 100% cosmetic, pimping out your character model for multi-player and campaign play is a blast.
  3. Ranking:  While building up credits, players are also building up ranking points.  A big achievement is tied to getting to at least Lt. Colonel.
  4. Commendations:  These rewards range from Iron to Onyx and are tied to huge credit bonuses. 
  5. Waypoint Avatar awards and career tracking:  Waypoint  combines play on Halo 3, ODST, and Reach to get a broad look at the player’s Halo career.   Players can earn Avatar Awards for reaching high Gamerscores in all three games and for specific achievements from the other games.

All that, and I’m likely forgetting something.  As I said before, no game has done a better job at providing a carrot on a stick for its players.  Perhaps the most impressive and addictive carrot are the Daily and Weekly Challenges.  Bungie reveals a new Weekly Challenge every Monday and new Daily Challenges every day.  These challenges force players to play different modes and to play the game in different ways.  For instance, a daily challenge might be “Kill 100 Grunts with headshots in Firefight Matchmaking” or “Earn 30 assists in Multi-player Matchmaking.”  Even though the only reward for completing a challenge is an appropriate number of credits, just accomplishing the goal is often reward enough.  I’ll freely admit that I’m addicted to the Daily Challenges.  Despite having little to no time to play games at the moment, I check the Daily Challenge list most mornings and attempt to get as many of the challenges as possible in the thirty minutes or so I have to play before toddler wakes up and starts his toddling.

Add to all the stuff above, the marvelous Bungie.net.  It hasn’t changed all that much since Halo 3, but the sheer amount of data available to the players is stunning.  If every game company allowed players access to the enormity of stats available to Halo players, I’d never get anything done at work. 

        I think that taken as a whole, the perks and credits and challenges and commendations and previously unmentioned user-created content guarantee a long and fruitful life for Halo: Reach.  I am, however, going to keep my eye on the numbers the week after Black Ops is released.  I’m really interested in seeing how much crossover there is between the Halo and COD communities.  


Thunderstone Review 



Designed by Mike Elliot


                Thunderstone is an entry into the relatively new sub-genre of card game currently being referred to as a “deck building” game.  The central mechanic in these games has the players gradually building a deck from a pool of cards that is randomly determined at the beginning of each game.  This mechanic, first seen in the mega-hit Dominion, has a lot to recommend it, but it also has a built-in weakness—it is anti-thematic.  Maximizing the efficiency of a deck will nearly always become a mathematical exercise.  In Dominion, the mechanic dominated the theme to the point that I never felt I was doing anything other than trying to build a better card engine than my opponents, and I was wary of Thunderstone which presents itself as a deck-building, dungeon crawler.  Dungeon crawlers are among the most thematic of board games, and card game versions of dungeon crawls (even those that used some of the cards as dungeon tiles) have always seemed unsuccessful in capturing the theme.  Thunderstone was not just a card game, but one with a central mechanic that is known to obscure theme.  My hopes that the game could pull me in to the theme and be otherwise a successful game were, admittedly, pretty low.  The good news:  I was wrong.  The better news:  not only does the game feel like a dungeon crawler, it is one of the better dungeon crawlers of the past few years—despite being worlds away from the classic miniatures plus tile games like Hero Quest, Warhammer Quest, and the recent smash, Descent.

                Players begin the game by randomly selecting the following: monsters for the dungeon, heroes, and items for the village marketplace.  The monster deck is pretty self-explanatory: it consists of the monsters that the players will have to fight during the game.  Similarly, the heroes will be available to fight monsters during the game.  The village cards consist of everything from weapons and spells to food and tools.  The heroes and the items are set out in stacks to form the village.  The monsters are shuffled together and place above the village to form the dungeon.  The top three monsters are flipped up and placed beside the deck to form levels one, two, and three of the dungeon.

                Each turn the player draws six cards from his deck and, after evaluating his hand, decides whether to go to the village to make a purchase or hire a hero, or to go fight in the dungeon.  Nearly all of the cards, including some heroes, have a gold value for use if the player goes to the village.  The cards may also have a positive or negative effect according to which location they are used in.  If a player goes to the village, they can either hire a hero or make a single purchase from the available cards in the village.  Hired heroes and purchased cards are immediately discarded along with all of the cards from the player’s hand whether they were used to make the purchase or not. 

                If the player decides to go to the dungeon, he picks a creature to fight and adds up all of the attack values in his hand.  If his attack value is higher than the monster’s toughness, the creature is defeated and goes into the player’s discard pile (That’s right, defeated monsters become part of the player’s deck.  Some even have dungeon effects when they are in the player’s hand).  Of course, things aren’t quite so simple.  Before attacking, the player must account for the lack of light in the level of the dungeon he is attacking.  This part is a bit clumsy: first you subtract any light source in the players hand from the dungeon level, then, you multiply the result by two to get the light penalty  So, if you are attacking in the third level and have only one point worth of light source the penalty will be (-4).  As a result, it would take eleven points of damage to kill a creature with a toughness of seven.  If   that same creature had been in the second level, it would take nine damage to kill it instead.  It is important to note that the player could work out all of this math before deciding to go to the dungeon or village.  As such, the only time a player really loses a combat is when he chooses to.  The only penalty for losing a combat is that the attacked monster is removed from the dungeon.  This means a player can purposely attack a monster to remove it from the dungeon in order to keep an opponent from defeating it and collection the experience and victory points.  A player could also decide to do this just to accelerate the end game if he or she were ahead.

                That is basically the game.  When the Thunderstone which has been randomly inserted in the last few cards is flipped up in the dungeon and advances to the first level, the game is over.  Players score points for all of the VP values on cards in their deck.  The player who killed the monster that allowed the Thunderstone to move to the front (assuming that happened) gets points for the Thunderstone (3 pts).  The highest score wins. 

                I have really enjoyed my games of Thunderstone so far.  The light and level mechanism really adds to the immersion in the theme.  I have the ability to immerse myself in a theme even when it is pasted on, but Thunderstone legitimately feels like a dungeon crawl.  I have to assume many people will disagree with me on that, but, I’m pretty confident in saying this is a fun game for players who enjoy the dungeon crawl theme and like card games to boot. 

Final Score: 9/10—Excellent


Assassin's Creed Brotherhood Multi-Player Hands-on



I finally got to spend some time with the Assassin's Creed Multi-player Beta courtesy of Sony and Playstation Plus.  I had put off installing the beta for a bit simply because Assassin's Creed isn't a franchise that I have particularly enjoyed (though, to be fair, I still haven't given part 2 a fair shake).  It also isn't really a franchise that seemed desperately in need of a multi-player component.  After a few hours with the beta, it is fair to say my expectations and hopes have changed a bit.  The slice of the game made available in the beta is pretty enjoyable, but certainly not perfect.  

The beta gives players access to two multi-player modes, Wanted and Alliance.  Wanted is basically deathmatch while Alliance is team deathmatch with 2-man teams.  Both modes allow players to earn experience points that go toward leveling-up and opening new items, maps, and perks.  I was glad to see the rewards system as both the Halo and Call of Duty franchises have shown that such features really add to the longevity of  A a game.

The game includes single-player tutorial that allows the player to become familiar with the basic game concepts and controls.  After one game of that, I jumped right into a match.  Gameplay is very much pick up and play, and I was comfortable with what I was trying to do from game one.  Players choose an Assassin and enter a virtual world.  Soon after spawning each player is assigned a target.  The goal is simply to kill your target while avoiding being killed by your pursuer.  Kill a civilian (an easy mistake since all the Assassin models are used repeatedly to form the crowds) or get killed and you have to wait for a new target to be assigned.  The game is played for a specific amount of time and the highest score wins.

Scoring is intuitive:  the less aware your victim is of your presence before the kill, the higher your score. This puts a premium on being as sneaky as possible and using the crowds and the level design to your advantage.  If you are too obvious and get outed by your target, a chase mode launches and you have a limited amount of time to catch and kill your prey before they a no longer your target.  The pursued can shut doors or place obstacles in the pursuers path in order to escape.  These chases are stressful from both sides though I suppose it is better to be the chaser than the chased.  Regardless, the chases are fun and being on the winning end of one is rewarding.

Graphically, the game is pretty.  The character models are a success both technically and aesthetically. The levels look great and are well-designed in relation to the game mechanics.  I really can't wait to see the maps that come with the full game as I can see different maps impacting the gameplay greatly. 

Assassin's Creed Brotherhood does a great job of keeping the player aware of the elements of the game state that are important.  The HUD includes a picture of your target, an arrow that indicates the direction the target is in with an additional indicator of his elevation in relation to the pursuer.  I never found myself at a loss for what to do, and it didn't take move from my initial fifth-place finish to a win in my third game.  

Most of my complaints about the Beta are simply limitations of the Beta itself, not the full game.  I'd like to see more levels, but obviously those are coming with the full release.  I'd like to see the different assassins be more than just different models with different animations and actually force the player to use the characters in different ways.  A game this small cries out for the variety that is introduced with the inclusion of asymmetric character abilities.  

In the end, there isn't much to complain about. The game is tight, focused and, often, very tense. Do I think Assassin's Creed Multi-player is going to be a smash hit?  Not really.  It is fun, and the gameplay is tight and focused in the way Splinter Cell or Gears of War had previously managed.  I'm just not sure the game offers enough variety in the end to draw players away from more dynamic multi-player franchises. I expect a couple of months of heavy play before the players return to Halo or Call of Duty.   


The Walking Dead Intro that AMC won't be able to match...

Is there any chance that the actual intro for The Walking Dead will be as cool as this one by animator Daniel Kanemoto?  I don't think so.  It uses actual drawings from the comic in a way that perfectly captures the tone of the series.  That, and it is simply beautiful.  Also, check out the creator's other work.  He is stupidly talented.  Great work, Mr. Kanemoto.



THE WALKING DEAD "Opening Titles" from Daniel Kanemoto on Vimeo.