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DID YOU READ

The Sandbox: “Flower”‘s Video Game Poetry

The Sandbox: “Flower”‘s Video Game Poetry (photo)

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Though it sounds strange to say, few games have ever provided the rush that “Flower” does. The third release by thatgamecompany (TGC), “Flower” is a downloadable PS3 game that provides a two-hour ride over open plains and through deep canyons. You use the console’s Sixaxis motion controller to direct a current of wind that, along its journey, accumulates flower petals. You tilt the control, and the wind tilts with you, a mechanism only complicated by having to push a button (any button!) to spur the wind forward. In the six levels, all obliquely cast as a flower’s “dream,” you’re asked to touch, and collect, petals with the ability to animate the environments around you, ones crafted with an eye toward evocative detail (the sway of grass, the range of colors, the shifting temperament of the weather) and scored to a delicate combination of melancholy music and twinkling sound effects. Sounds “artsy”? It is, a status advanced by devoted fans like “Pan’s Labyrinth” director Guillermo del Toro, who said it’s “like Haiku poetry.” Don’t let such yucky, fawning praise dissuade you. On a purely sensory level, this daring title is more stirring than almost anything found at a mass retailer, imparting a heady blast of sensations — of flight, of blooming, of birth, of renewal — via a simple, abstract experience.

Founded by Jenova Chen and Kellee Santiago, the SoCal-based TGC has made its name with three games — the PC’s “Cloud,” and the PS3’s “flOw” and “Flower” — that attempt to expand the boundaries of what games can do and what they are. TGC is at the forefront of a growing indie game movement fostered by the major consoles’ new online distribution channels, which can deliver not just supplemental material for major titles, but also idiosyncratic stand-alone products aimed at niche audiences. And that’s how one might describe “Flower,” which has no avatar to embody, no enemies to kill and no concrete narrative to complete. Well, maybe that last point is debatable, especially with regards to the game’s later levels, but we’ll get to that. What’s most notable about “Flower” is its ability to generate intangible emotions through its simple conceit. A surprising swell in the chest greets your first go-round with the game, which induces a potent feeling of limitless freedom, of being unshackled, thanks in part to how the controls create a tangible, tactile relationship between user and content.

If I sound enthusiastic about “Flower,” and I am, it’s because TGC’s latest is that rare instance in which familiar gameplay mechanics — touching a series of objects to unlock challenges; motion controls; cut-scene clues — work not to further a traditional plot but instead to elicit primal emotions. Calling it a “zen” game, as many have, is apt when looking at its first four levels, which are pleasantly tranquil, requiring the player to coast through a windswept field, a windmill-peppered valley, some ravine-marked terrain and a nocturnal countryside dotted with bales of hay and lampposts. That peacefulness, allowed to flourish by a conceit that initially avoids burdening itself with overt meaning, has led many to make “Flower” a case study in the ongoing “games as art” debate, as it (like “Braid”) self-consciously employs, and manipulates, time-honed formulas to stimulate both the head and the heart.

07012009_Flower2.jpg“Flower” is another heartening example of how games are evolving. But it’s not, despite the praise I’ve just showered upon it, a revolutionary triumph, or really even a complete success when judged on its own terms. Considering how moving the game’s opening sequences are, it’s easy for enthusiasm to give way to exaggeration, a situation that’s plagued many critical assessments of TGC’s Little-Download-That-Could. But as it moves from levels of serenity to those of ominous darkness, progress that’s mirrored by the gradual revelation of a guiding story, “Flower” loses its way, forgoing what made it so compelling in favor of delivering an experience offered by a bounty of on-rails shooters and platformers (“Sonic the Hedgehog”‘s coin-collecting, tube-navigating race sequences being a direct influence) that gamers have been playing for the better part of the past 20 years.

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Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.

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Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:

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The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.

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They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!

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Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.

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Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.