Sunday, December 5, 2004


‘Red vs. Blue’ mines
game for comedy gold

The Internet is an amazing place. It's where aspiring musicians, artists and even Joe-shmoe fans of some pop-culture item can post something they've created without any hope of making money, but if they're good enough, they can gain recognition and eventually make it into the capitalist mainstream.

The hilarious Web animation "Red vs. Blue" by Rooster Teeth Productions is one of those to follow that trend. Based loosely on the blockbuster Xbox game Halo, the series follows the Red team and Blue team in a story line called "The Blood Gulch Chronicles."

Each military team has a base at opposite ends of Blood Gulch, and most of the story is about their bumbling attempts to gain the upper hand in the canyon.

On the Red side are the gruff-voiced but sometimes softhearted Sarge (voiced by Matt Hullum), slightly insubordinate Grif (Geoff Fink), suck-up soldier Simmons (Gustavo Sorola) and new recruit Donut (Dan Godwin).

The Blues boast a whiny Tucker (Jason Salda–a), insolent and sarcastic Church (scriptwriter/director Burnie Burns) and rookie Caboose (Joel Heyman).

The characters have the attitudes of weary soldiers stuck in the military bureaucracy while they champ at the bit for war action and jealously guard their masculinity, and thus they swear frequently. As such, this series isn't suitable for young children.

But it becomes obvious this isn't a normal army story when, in the first few episodes, Church is killed by friendly fire and almost immediately comes back as a ghost to help against the Reds. Not only that, he's instrumental in making and carrying out battle plans.

Character interaction and sharp yet simple dialogue, rather than lots of action, keep the story flowing. That precedent is set from the opening scene with this little exchange by the Red team:

Simmons: "You ever wonder why we're here?"

Grif: "That's one of life's great mysteries, isn't it? Why are we here? Are we the product of some cosmic coincidence? Or is there really a God watching everything -- you know, with a plan for us and stuff? I don't know, man. But it keeps me up at night."


Simmons: "What?! No, I mean, why are we out here, in this canyon? What's all that stuff about God?!"

Grif: "Oh ... nothing."


THAT THE action comes secondary (and at times there literally isn't much moving around, other than nodding heads when a person speaks) is probably a testament to the extreme difficulty of getting characters to move in the desired way during gameplay.

This is because the animation was created by actually playing Halo, which explains the circular cross hairs that are constantly on the screen. The Red staff set up a multiplayer game in Halo in the area of Blood Gulch, made each character with his distinctive armor color, captured and edited the resulting footage, and dubbed in voices -- a technique called "machinima."

As such, the scenes are limited by the game's engine, and the staff had to get creative with some of the shots.

Season 2 develops the Red team members' personalities more, particularly Donut and Caboose. Unfortunately, "development" for those two means they lose more of their marbles as time goes on, and by season's end the rookies talk and act more like lunatic-asylum escapees than army soldiers. (Perhaps that says something?)

A running gag is Donut's sexuality. He eventually changes his armor color from standard red to, well, "light red" -- figure out what color that is and you'll understand -- causing some confusion as to his gender. Keep an ear out for subtle references to that.

The end of season 2 and beginning of season 3 see a rise in the action as the story moves away from Blood Gulch and hints at issues larger than the simple Red-against-Blue battle.

But season 3, which incorporates character models from the recently released Halo 2 game, throws the teams into a ridiculous situation and has limited member interactions, leading to a lack of witty dialogue. Here's hoping the humor will pick up.

"RED VS. BLUE" is a great series that requires no knowledge of Halo to enjoy. Its military humor strikes a chord with a lot of service members, who, the directors said, have e-mailed saying the series dead-on captures military life.

The series has gone the circuit of film and video festivals, winning awards for Best Picture and Best Writing for machinima.

Seasons 1 and 2 are available on DVD, which are fun to watch from the very beginning; take a close look at the requisite introductory screens warning against copying the disc. Episodes range in length from two minutes to as long as six. (If you think six minutes is short, remember how these things are made.)

The DVDs also include staff commentary, outtakes and various public service announcements featuring the Red characters on subjects such as WMDs, tattoos and Fourth of July safety tips.

The first six episodes of season 3 are currently available for download at the "Red vs. Blue" Web site at redvsblue.com, with new episodes released weekly. (Even if you have broadband Internet access, be prepared for a wait; the smallest files are about 20 MB each in size.) The site also has a limited archive that offers previous episodes on a rotating basis.

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