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DID YOU READ

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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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.