Simple Yet Brilliant: Poker Night 2

Every now and then a company has an idea. An idea so brilliant yet so simple that everyone wonders: how did no one else think of that? Whether it is a correct to a common annoyance or simply streamlining current technologies into greater convenience: sometimes ideas just work. Today I’ll be talking about one such idea. Poker Night 2 from Telltale Games. Yes, a poker game. Don’t switch websites, let me explain.

Who out there is a fan of sports video games? Okay next question: are you actually that good at sports? For myself, I was a huge fan of Madden long before I ever played football (and when I did, I was nowhere near as talented as those pixels). Point being: you don’t have to be a professional athlete to enjoy sports games. Indeed that is a huge part of their charm. Does it help to know the game: yes. That’s it though, and even then it’s just a rule set. Gamers figure those out all the time.

“But Colin, poker is not a sport.”

No it’s not. For all the competitiveness and talent required, poker is a game that anyone can play with a deck of cards. So why am I hocking a poker video game at you? True anyone can play regular poker but Poker Night 2 is a high-stakes poker simulator. I don’t know about you but I don’t have $20,000 of real money to throw down every time I play. Even if I did, I’m such an addict that I’m glad the dollars in Poker Night 2 aren’t real. Oh, did I mention you play against fantastical characters from your favorite shows, movies and video games?

The cast of Telltale's Poker Night 2
The cast of Telltale’s Poker Night 2.

That’s right. In this game you’ll match poker skills against Brock Sampson (the Venture Bros.), Claptrap (Borderlands), Ashley Williams (Army of Darkness) and Sam (Sam and Max: Freelance Police). Oh and GLaDOS (Portal) is the dealer. Try playing against these people in real life. Rest assured, everyone besides Ash speaks with their correct voice. I should mention that, despite lack of Bruce Campbell (seriously what else did he have to do?), Danny Webber does an excellent impression and most of the time I couldn’t tell.

Anyway, this is a brilliant idea. Who can honestly say they’ve never fantasized about being friends with a fictitious character (Dinobot from Beast Wars and I are besties, if only in my head). While you might not be friends in this game, you’re still playing poker with some awesome people. Is it all make believe: of course. Thank god for that because I’ve gone through $500,000 dollars against these assholes so far.

Every character is brought to life with their exact personality from the original source.
Every character is brought to life with their exact personality from the original source.

Telltale should be commended for their effort here. I should say right now that I am not an expert poker player but I have played games before in real life. While you play in a fantastical setting, the game does appear to be a fairly good and realistic poker simulator as well. Again I won’t say that it’s the best (I’m not a tournament player or anything so I don’t know) but it felt like I was playing poker – and that is an accomplishment.

Like every good idea, there is room to grow. I don’t know about anybody else but after a few hands, I was already picturing who I would want in the next game. Oh, I should also mention right now that, as of this moment, I have not played the first game, Poker Night at the Inventory, yet but it is a video game that has my interest.

Telltale's Poker Night at the Inventory, right to left: Max (Sam and Max: Freelance Police), Strong Bad (Homestar Runner), Heavy (Team Fortress 2) and Tycho (Penny Arcade).
Telltale’s Poker Night at the Inventory, right to left: Max (Sam and Max: Freelance Police), Strong Bad (Homestar Runner), Heavy (Team Fortress 2) and Tycho (Penny Arcade).

Maybe this only appeals to geeks, but I can’t wait to see what additional characters come into being in the later installments. I am also rooting for this series to be financially successful enough to warrant said future games (in case you hadn’t picked up on that). Here are just a few ideas for Telltale, if they are listening. I have included my top three for each category (note: feel free to skip the following paragraph, it is pure fanboy wishful thinking).

Movies: James Bond (obviously), Agent Phil Coulson (probably the easiest character to get from the Marvel Cinematic Universe),  and Indiana Jones (again, obviously). Television shows: Sterling Archer (as good as Brock Sampson was, this guy would be better), Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch’s likeness from Sherlock would be wonderful to take money from), and Bender (another obvious choice). Telltale games (so far each Poker Night has featured at least one character from Telltale): Guybrush Threepwood (the original Captain Jack Sparrow), Bigby Wolf (good way to promote their new Fables game), Gerry Harding (just to give the poor characters from Jurassic Park: the Video Game some redemption). Valve Corporation (each game has also featured at least one character from Valve): Anyone from the Left 4 Dead series… that’s easy. Video games: Jack (really anyone from the Mass Effect Trilogy crew would be awesome – except Jacob.), Andrew Ryan (cause Bioshock‘s intelligence needs to be taken down a peg), Duke Nukem (he needs to be redeemed as well). And last but not least – misc gaming world celebrities: Yahtzee (http://www.escapistmagazine.com/videos/view/zero-punctuation), Korey (http://spill.hollywood.com/), and the Angry Video Game Nerd (http://cinemassacre.com/).

People are already making such crazy dreams a reality - thanks to the wonder of modding.
People are already making such crazy dreams a reality – thanks to the wonder of modding.

There is a criteria for their selection. Part of the reason why Poker Night 2 works so well is that you believe every one of these characters would actually play poker. During development, Telltale had originally intended to put up someone other than Sam. The first plan was to include either Doc or Marty from Telltale’s Back to the Future video game. Really though – could you see Doc or Marty gambling and drinking? Ouch, right in the childhood. Their next plan was to use someone from their recently released The Walking Dead. God, how horrible would you have felt taking money from one of those poor bastards? The point is: Telltale has a plan for these games.

Wonderful gameplay mechanics include unlockables that can change the cards, chips and even whole backgrounds.
Wonderful gameplay mechanics include unlockables that can change the cards, chips and even whole backgrounds.

I only have one idea for improvement going forward. If there is a Poker Night 3, it would be nice to increase the table. Maybe six opponents instead of four? Or a pool of six and four are chosen every time that way conversations are less likely to repeat (it does happen fairly fast, although I’m still hearing new stuff after several hours). Other than that: more unlockables, more challenges and increase the poker simulator (if it even needs it – I don’t know).

This is a great idea. Bring together fantastical characters who we admire and enjoy and make us all poker buddies. Well played, Telltale, well played.

Available now on Xbox Live, Steam (for Windows users) and PSN. Go buy it, you won't regret the decision.
Available now on Xbox Live, Steam (for Windows users) and the PlayStation Network. Go buy it, you won’t regret the decision.

Thoughts? Comments? Am I full of shit or onto something? Let me know now in the feedback section of this article.

Evil Dead (2013): Sequel or Remake?

As this post deals with a recent release, I shall do my solemn best not to include any spoilers in the following text. I will just say right now that I am a huge fan of this Evil Dead and I fully recommend it to those fans of horror movies who can stand being grossed out by a lot of fake blood. If gory scares aren’t your thing: stay away.

However, this is not a review but rather an interesting question that entered my mind while I was watching the film. Was I watching a remake of Sam Raimi’s 1981 horror classic or merely a new entry into the Evil Dead series? The marketing has definitely pitched this one as remake. It has the same cabin and same basic plot that The Evil Dead possessed back in 1981. However, as I concluded the movie I became convinced that what I had just witnessed was a sequel and not a remake.

For starters: the title. I know the word “the” can be seen as insignificant yet I feel that this is one instance where it matters. Sam Raimi’s first film in the series is titled The Evil Dead whereas this new film is simply titled Evil Dead. As I stated, I don’t feel this really makes a strong case, by itself, that the new film is a sequel. It is not the first time that a remake/reboot/re-imagining has reworked the title (like all the “re”s in that sentence?). One need look no further than Matt Reeves’ 2010 remake Let Me In, which changed its title a fair amount from 2008’s Let the Right One In. Let Me In, despite the different title, was definitely a remake and it had many more differences in its name than just missing the word “the”. So I will acknowledge that, by itself, this reason falls flat.

Good thing it’s not the only factor supporting the sequel notion. Most remakes recreate the iconic moments that made the original so well-remembered. For instance, while the 2009 remake of Friday the 13th was very different from its original (a lot more Jason this time around), the iconic character of Jason returned. The Magnificent Seven, a loose remake of Seven Samurai, still includes the titular seven defending protagonists. The Evil Dead was known for its main character Ash and his battles with the possessed bodies of his friends. The Evil Dead series is different from other horror movies in the fact that its protagonist is the star. We don’t come to see a Jason Voorhees or a Freddy Krueger, we come to see Ashley Williams blow the snot out of some demons.

Ash is not recreated in this new Evil Dead. In fact, none of the characters in this film share the same names as anyone from the original. The argument can be made that one of the new characters embodies the spirit of Ash from the initial series but the reality remains that this “remake” does not feature the iconic element that made the series so famous. Instead the audience is introduced to a new cast of characters with no prior knowledge of the horrors they are about to unleash upon themselves.

Which brings me to the cabin:

The Happy Cabin.
The Happy Cabin.

This screenshot is from Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead II.

The "new" Happy Cabin.
The “new” Happy Cabin.

Looks kinda similar doesn’t it? Like exactly the same? I know, I know what you’re saying: “it’s a remake, they’re supposed to look the same.” True but it does allow the possibility of the films sharing the same universe. Sam Raimi’s films were all contemporary meaning they took place in the 1980s. In the new film, two of the characters mention the fact that they spent time in this cabin as children (who wouldn’t want to). This would mean that they probably first came to it in the 1990s (they don’t look that old). By that point, Ash has already been teleported out to his medieval world in Army of Darkness. We never see the cabin destroyed or sucked into the portal at the end of Evil Dead II, it could very well have survived only to be discovered by a new family years later.

Now we’ll come to the book. Naturom Demonto (or the Necronomicon if you want to go by the sequels), the book of the dead. We see this book in every movie. It is the wonderful vehicle by which our characters experience pain and suffering. Some would argue that, since we see the book destroyed at the end of The Evil Dead, this new movie is automatically a remake as the book is once again present and completely not burned to a crisp. This is a valid point. Except that Evil Dead II introduces an intriguing idea: additional pages are discovered in Evil Dead II that are believed to belong to the Naturom Demonto. So, if there can be additional undiscovered pages, why not an additional undiscovered book?

The new Naturom Demonto looks significantly different from the book in Sam Raimi’s films. Gone is the face on the cover, leaving instead a rather blank looking tome… bound in human flesh. Why would Evil Dead deviate so much in book design after sticking so closely to the look of the cabin? Possible answer: same cabin, different book. This theory would also explain the slightly altered appearance and capabilities of the possessed in Evil Dead.

Ew. Imagine touching this and not washing your hands immediately afterward. Just ew.
Ew. Imagine touching this and not washing your hands immediately afterward. Just ew.

If the book was a different version of the Naturom Demonto, than the translations would be different and therefore so would the effects of the incantation. The possessed in Evil Dead look different than those in The Evil Dead (they still have pupils for example). Also (and this can be read as a spoiler so be warned) the possessed in Evil Dead do not need to be bodily dismembered in order to stay dead, they drop if you bash the hell out of them (ha, horrible pun).  This could mean that this different version of the book had a weaker translation that the first, meaning that its subsequent demons are not as strong.

Weaker or not, I would not want to be locked in the cellar with this.
Weaker or not, I would not want to be locked in the cellar with this.

As you can no doubt tell, I’ve put way too much thought into this. I’m a huge horror fanatic and I owe it all to The Evil Dead. I grew up with that movie (let the scariness of that fact sink in a bit) and I was initially horrified at the idea of someone other than Sam Raimi taking the reigns. Evil Dead surpassed my highest expectations and whether the film is intended as a remake or a sequel, it’s fun that they allowed enough wiggle room for the idea to be tossed around. I eagerly await any future films from Sam Raimi or Fede Alvarez: both of whom have proven to be masters of The Evil Dead.

PS – If you do see the new movie, make sure you stay until after the credits. There is a scene which may or may not definitively solve this argument.

Thoughts? Comments? Am I full of shit or onto something? Let me know now in the feedback section of this article.