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Breeding Frenzy

Breeding Frenzy (photo)

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For all the talk about narrative arcs, aesthetic razzle-dazzle and tricks and tropes borrowed from film, games are really about gameplay. And because of that, there’s often nothing as satisfying as a title that simply delivers rock-solid mechanics that let you enjoy fundamental gaming tasks: running, jumping, toggling, searching, exploring, shooting.

It’s an obvious yet often overlooked fact that games are best when they feature a control system that satisfyingly allows you to complete the tasks at hand. From “Pac-Man” to “Super Mario Bros.” to “Halo,” intuitive, straightforward controls can provide as much pleasure as any convoluted RPG story or intricate sports scheme. It’s a truth that’s been particularly beneficial to indie games, whose limited budgets often drive them to mine old-school genres for kicks rather than to reinvent the game mechanics wheel. What’s broken about antiquated games aren’t always their structures but, instead, their graphics and sound. With a little bit of polish and some upgrade tweaks here and there, indie developers can make the old new again.

12302009_AlienBreed1.jpgWhich leads us to “Alien Breed Evolution,” the new downloadable title on Xbox Live (and, come next year, the PC and PS3) from Team17 Software, a 20-year-old British indie outfit responsible for the cult hit “Worms.” “Evolution” is an updated version of Team17’s 1990 PC top-down shooter that was primarily notable for its frantic action and resemblance, in both concept and creature design, to “Aliens.”

As with the original game, the premise is meat-and-potatoes: you’re a super space solider on an intergalactic ship that collides with a mysterious vessel, leading to a massive infestation of creepy-crawly E.T.s all determined to eat you. While your ship is wracked with fiery explosions, you navigate corridors, rooms and passageways carrying out a series of sequential tasks that don’t require much complex thinking — push this button, operate that control panel type busywork — while blasting your way through hordes of villains, who erupt from holes in the ground and burst from the walls in large packs. Save for an occasional survival horror-style jolt, these attacks are on the predictable side, though as you get further into the game, the sheer number of enemies turns the proceedings hectic.

That blistering pace is certainly part of “Alien Breed Evolution”‘s charm. Its storyline never generates much actual mystery about the cause of these unholy circumstances. Mostly, Team17’s new title thrives because its gameplay does away with complicated button configurations in favor of a rudimentary control scheme that’s easy to master, expertly responsive and consistently rewarding. You move with your left analog stick and aim with your right analog stick; your right trigger button fires your primary weapon and your left trigger handles your secondary items. That’s about it, save for using your bumper buttons to rotate the camera and your directional pad to cycle through your choices of firearm and health packs/grenades. The learning curve’s about three minutes, which in other cases often foreshadows boredom — since getting the hang of difficult controls is regularly a key to succeeding in, and thus enjoying, contemporary console titles — but which here allows you to take pleasure from the core gameplay of shooting, shooting and more shooting.

12302009_AlienBreedEvolution2.jpgIf this sounds a little shallow, that’s because it is, in a narrow sense. But games revolve around the act of controlling on-screen avatars. So a game like “Alien Breed Evolution,” which puts a prime emphasis on interactivity, isn’t really insubstantial so much as just rigorously concentrated on one of its core elements. The beautifully refined, stripped-down nature of Team17’s glossy remake provided me with at least as good a time as my attempts to further hone my football skills with “Madden NFL 10,” whose control design has become so unwieldy they could alienate anyone who hasn’t been keeping up with the series for the past five years. From that angle, “Alien Breed Evolution” is a prototypical modern indie, a simple last-gen premise executed flawlessly with next-gen accouterments. And Team17 has gone the extra mile — the game’s use of Epic Games’ famed Unreal 3 engine, the same tech used for AAA titles like “Gears of War 2,” “Bioshock,” and “Batman: Arkham Asylum,” results in graphics that are anything but indie.

At a cost of nearly $2.5 million to make, “Evolution” is one of the most expensive indies to date. Not every small-scale developer can hope to pony up that sort of cash for tech like Unreal 3. But even if a future of indie games created with major-developer tools is somewhat unrealistic, “Evolution” also hints at another avenue for indies to attract mainstream players via its episodic construction.

Team17’s game is the first entry in a trilogy, with each installment containing a prologue and five full levels that last five hours, as well as co-op sequences. In effect, it’s the indie game equivalent of a serialized novel, replete with an ongoing narrative and cliffhanger endings — “Evolution” ends on a tantalizingly inconclusive note — that stokes anticipation for future chapters. By spreading out a full-length, 15-hour title over three separate releases, Team17 not only extends crucial development time for its relatively small 30-person staff, but also turns its latest into something more along the lines of a protracted mini-event rather than just a quickly disposable throwaway. By milking existing gaming architecture for future titles and profits, Team17’s game illustrates how indie companies can prolong their works’ shelf lives. Although in this case, it’s the basic badass action that truly creates a continuing need for “Breed.”

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Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.

Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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GIFs via Giphy

Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.


Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…


IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.


IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).


IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.


IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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