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DVD Movie Review: CODumentary (Lights, Camera, Action!)

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CODumentary (UK Rating: 12)

CODumentary is obviously a passion project. The film spends it's opening moments pointing out it has no affiliation with Activision, Infinity Ward, or any of the other studios who have been involved in the Call of Duty franchise. This is one man's concept to showcase a game series he clearly adores greatly.

That optimism rubs off, and by the film's conclusion, it manages to convince someone who's not a Call of Duty fan to give the series a shot. Perhaps that's not the film, though. Perhaps that's seeing the game in action for a solid hour, not counting it not being on-screen, that whets your appetite for some intense FPS action.

Unfortunately, as a film, CODumentary is a lacklustre collection of ideas that are strung together to create an hour and a half of film. This isn't to say that CODumentary isn't watchable, or doesn't have its merits, it just teases the viewer with great ideas, before abandoning them without regard.


 
Theme and style are important in any documentary. When thinking of famous game documentaries, Indie Game: The Movie immediately comes to mind. Its theme is clear, juxtaposing the ups and downs of the design world with whimsical set pieces that remind viewers that there is something magical about videogames. CODumentary occasionally accomplishes finding its style and themes, but then ditches them quickly to try again.

The beginning of the film seems to be that of a historical documentary, and it's the best fit. By showcasing Normandy, and then jumping to Tulsa, it accomplishes melding the two worlds together as one. Then the film properly begins and it becomes an endless stream of developer and fan interviews, akin to watching YouTube videos. Eventually, it becomes a soulful piece, before breaking into an E-Sports jam fest, and then returning to every other component quickly over its last fleeting minutes.

The problem is how quickly and without regard it moves between these styles, as though it wanted to try everything out without making a solid commitment. There's nothing wrong with creating different tones, but these blend together like oil and water. The final result is a wildly inconsistent film that never feels like it knows where to go next.


 
The interviews are a mixed bag, as well. While there are some entertaining ones, like Gearbox's Randy Pitchford, and some enticing ones, such a young disabled fan, the vast majority feel off. They come across as heavily scripted, and one interview sounds like it's been rehearsed for E3. This heavily scripted feeling makes a lot of the interviews feel more like showroom floor interviews, and as the film attempts to garner an emotional tone from time to time, these pieces feel incredibly flat.

The most jarring disconnect is the presentation of the impact Call of Duty and similar titles have had on E-Sports. There's absolutely nothing wrong with E-Sports, and it does showcase that the film isn't just about Call of Duty, but the future of this medium and, more importantly, the way it brings everyone together as people. The reason it feels so jarring and out of place is largely the tonal shift. It has hints of promise, perhaps of a more interesting film that centres on E-Sports, but it glosses over things too quickly.

What's maddening is how it focuses so heavily on its less interesting points, and more heavily on its interesting points. Instead of the E-Sports string of thought, it would be interesting to focus on women in E-Sports, or even the teams of E-Sports. Instead of just hearing one man's testimonial about how he enjoys the game as a man with disabilities, what about a whole documentary about disabled gamers?


 
At one point, the film tackles the infamous firing and lawsuits between Activision and two of Infinity Wards' co-founders, Jason West and Vince Zampella. This would have been a fantastic film by itself. Really, CODumentary teases you with exciting ideas, and then tosses them aside after a few minutes in favour of interviews about how the maps are made or another person talking about how fluid the gameplay is. If you're a fan, you know all of these things, and they seem like wasted potential.

All of this would be mildly disappointing at most if the film weren't so hard to watch. The film's narrator, who pops up only so often, doesn't convey any real interest other than getting the lines out. The film's overuse of on-screen text/title cards also borders on ridiculous, and gives portions of the film the look of an old Windows Movie Maker film. Some of the on-screen graphics look extremely tacky, including one segment that seems to be channelling Deal or No Deal.

This film ends up teasing gamers with Call of Duty, though, in a way where people like this writer who do not play the games are actually interested. The whole experience, however, just leaves you wanting more information where the director, Jonathan Beale, is clearly unwilling to look. This costs the film a lot, and while it's a somewhat recommendable piece of cinema, don't expect it to change your life.

CODumentary may be enjoyable for fans of the games, and might get you excited to play them if you never have. Unfortunately, though, it offers nothing else but teases of interesting ideas dropped in the middle of fanfare and interviews that feel more at home on YouTube than they do here.

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Feature: Cubed3’s Devilish Brain Training Diary

It's a rainy, miserable day and I'm cooped up in the north of France, enjoying a hard-earned vacation. It hits me as I shovel another pain au chocolat into my mouth that I'm maybe a little too well-rested - I can feel my brain turning into mush after going too long without the constant stimulations of regular day-to-day life, and the last thing I want is to go back to work completely mentally unprepared. It's time to fire up the new Brain Training from Nintendo, Dr. Kawashima's Devilish Brain Training: Can You Stay Focused?, and see what I can do to get my grey matter kicked back into gear.

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I'm greeted by my good old friend Dr. Kawashima - I'm no Brain Training novice, now - as he talks me through his latest research. This time, he's focusing on working memory; that is, the part of the memory that deals with data on the extreme short-term; the kind of stuff that doesn't need to be retained for very long. In this era of rapid-fire digital information and stimuli, it should come as no surprise that people are finding it hard to maintain their concentration.

I'm launched into the first of the good doctor's new Devilish Brain Training exercises, as he dons a bright red complexion and some devil horns, just for some added campy effect. It's Devilish Calculations, and it sounds not unlike the traditional Calculations x20 of past Brain Training games - my personal specialty, and the task that I used to be able to hit "rocket speed" at consistently. Except this time there's a twist - I won't be answering the maths questions as they appear, but rather I'll be answering the last sum to show up, meaning I'll have to keep a few numbers stocked away in my head.

It's easy, I tell myself, and I speed up the rest of Kawashima's explanation so I can get to the good stuff. Everything's going well so far, save for a handful of mistakes, and after a couple of attempts I'm allowed to move up to a faster level, and then to a more difficult version that asks me to remember three answers instead of two. It's by this point that I grow complacent, and I notice I'm concentrating a lot less - and when my phone lights up next to me, my attention wanders completely. I look back at the 3DS screen and I realise that I've completely lost the plot. I've no idea how to get back on the rails and so I sit there in stunned silence, watching the questions roll by and I end up with a pitiful score of just 20%.


 
Kawashima sends me back down a level and even though his tone is calm, I can tell he's a bit disappointed in me. I am too. My time's up for this particular challenge and I close the 3DS, walk away, and think about my actions.

The next day arrives and I feel recharged. I've learned from my mistakes and I reopen the game, have a bit of a chat with Kawashima (it's very one-sided - I don't think he's listening to me) and I'm given the option to try out two new memory games: Devilish Pairs, a simple matching game, and Devilish Mice, a game of concentration. Both are a lot calmer and slower-paced, and the lack of pressure makes it a lot easier for me to handle, and I fly through these, even getting to the ninth level of Devilish Pairs on my first try. Still, though, something's scary about re-attempting Devilish Calculations - it's a stressful game and I want to be fully prepared for it.

The next day, I take a break from the Devilish Brain Training feature and opt for the more traditional modes hidden to the sides. I'm delighted to find the classic Calculations x20 mini-game is here in its original form, and even though I've gotten a little rusty in the last ten years, I still manage a decent time of twenty seconds. Word Buster is a similarly simple memory exercise that asks me to memorise just one word at a time, and it's over quickly.

Complacent in my scores in these two games, I foolhardily stumble back into Devilish Calculations and am almost immediately brought back down to reality when a barely-audible conversation from another room completely takes over my concentration and I lose track on just the third question, forced to watch as the questions scroll slowly across the screen in frustrated desolation. I get a few attempts at the same game in my time limit and I start to see a little improvement over the course of it, but by the end I still haven't progressed past the faster version of 3-Back and it's frustrating.


 
I return the next day ready to really give my brain a good seeing-to, and it's the turn of newly-unlocked Devilish Shapes to do this for me. It's similar to Devilish Calculations, but instead of numbers, I'm supposed to remember various silhouettes, but it's clear that the visual section of my brain is understimulated because I'm really bad at this one, not even managing to progress past the first stage. Irritated, I head into the corner of more relaxing games, including Block Head (a turn-based competitive puzzler that reminds me a bit of Othello) and Blubber Blast (a no-stakes puzzler that's not unlike Dr. Mario).

The next day, I decide that enough is enough. If I want to really train my brain, I've got to take the good with the bad. If I fail, I'll just pick myself up and keep going. No pain, no gain.

I go through every Devilish Brain Training game I've unlocked so far, including some new ones - Devilish Cups is a particular favourite, mirroring the traditional cup memory game everyone's familiar with - and I find that by the end, after nearly half an hour of continuous rigorous training, I'm getting quite good at this concentration lark. Even Devilish Shapes doesn't seem so difficult anymore; still, Devilish Calculations strikes fear into my heart, and I decide to leave that one until tomorrow - my final test.

The final day arrives faster than I anticipate, and I wake up with a renewed sense of vigour. I won't be defeated this time. I warm up with a quick run of Devilish Cups, and ease myself in with a round of Calculations x20 before diving into the dreaded game that started the whole thing off.


 
I've started taking Dr. Kawashima's advice more seriously now - where before I was dozing off or fast-forwarding through his lengthy sermons, now I find that I'm really adhering to his formula: my phone is switched off so that no pesky text messages can osmose my stone-stiff focus, the lighting and temperature in the room are as comfortable as I can get them, and I'm isolated in a far corner of the house where nobody else can distract me. I've even decided on an easy way to memorise the numbers I'm given in sequence.

I take a few deep breaths, hit the Start button, and the next time I blink, the game is finished. So lost in focus was I that several minutes have passed and I've been completely unaware of my surroundings. I look at the screen, and I've progressed from the fast version of 3-Back to 5-Back - in other words, I've gotten through three stages in that time.

The version of me that started this game a week ago would be astounded right now. What started off as a bit of fun to keep my brain active has become a genuine interest in improving my concentration in day-to-day life and, shockingly, in just a week I've seen actual results. Time will tell whether I start seeing the progress I've made in my home and working life, but I'll definitely be spending more time with Dr. Kawashima's Devilish Brain Training: Can You Stay Focused? to keep my mind sharp for the foreseeable.

 

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