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The Big Touchin’ Deal About Games and the iPad

The Big Touchin’ Deal About Games and the iPad  (photo)

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By now, everyone knows that all those old iPhone games can be played on the shiny new iPad. While this may only seem worthy of a collective shrug, backwards compatibility’s become a big issue for video game players. Hardware that lets users run old games makes business sense in letting publishers and console manufacturers leverage their deep back-catalogs. However, the feature also signifies a gesture that rewards players for their loyalty: “Thanks for getting us here! There’s something new we’d like you to buy but, don’t worry, you’ll still be able to play old favorites on it.” When the Xbox 360 hit store shelves, players howled at the supposedly beloved old Xbox 1 games that wouldn’t run on the new machine. Sony had been implementing a variety of fixes to keep the life support going for PS2 discs on Playstation 3, but the newest PS3 Slim model pulls the plug altogether.

Business considerations aside, there’s an important issue here about how to archive experiences that happen digitally. Fans and/or researchers have to jump through arcane and sometimes illegal hoops if they want to play a dusty ColecoVision cartridge from 20 some-odd years ago. Of course, the iPad doesn’t have this problem. All the content on Apple’s iDevices has been delivered digitally, and getting content to perform across multiple platform iterations has been a matter of code, not of expensive-to-build hardware. The compatibility of experiences — across iPhone/iPod Touch and iPad — is especially important because so many of the games on the App Store come from independent developers. As the iPad becomes more popular, they have a chance to reach a larger audience than ever. But every creator needs to re-evaulate what that bigger screen gives them.

Still, all the hype about new games on the iPad smacked of launch-day opportunism and turned me off. Instead, I’ve spent most of my gaming time with the new handheld revisiting old favorites. Apple’s “magical and revolutionary” device can upscale games originally built for iPhone so that they fill up the whole screen. I wanted to see if this iPad feature significantly alters the play experience. Surprisingly, the iPad’s allowed my second favorite iPhone game to leap-frog into first and revived interest in another game that I’d long stopped playing.

04162010_drop7c.jpgI’ve played “Drop7” every day since I downloaded it more than a year ago, so I can safely say that it’s my favorite iGame. “Drop7” has you dropping numbered and blank discs on a 7×7 grid. Matching the number on a disc to the number of discs in a row or column makes them explode, and explosions reveal the numbers on the blank discs. A new row of discs pops up with each level, and the ultimate goal is to keep the grid as clear as possible for as long as you can. It’s one of those games where instructions don’t help; you can only learn it by playing it. But that moment when you finally get how you’re supposed to play will have you addicted. You’ll be hooked not only to see if you’re understanding it correctly, but also to see how far you can push this mastery.

The spare visual presentation of “Drop7” does no fancy tricks while you’re playing it. So it follows that iPad upscaling added nothing to the appeal of the game. It’s the iPhone’s portability (the fact that I’ve always got my iPhone on me) that allowed “Drop7” to sink its hooks into me. However, the iPad isn’t really pocketable, and because of that, the impulse reflex of reaching in and pulling out the game for a few levels doesn’t really work here. So, “Drop7” loses some of its mojo on the iPad.

Next up was “Canabalt,” a lo-fi free running platformer in which you tap to jump. It starts with a man running down a hallway and jumping out onto the rooftops of an apocalyptic cityscape. Your speed picks up the more successful you are and the levels are randomly generated each time you play. There’s an emergent, fill-in-the-blanks narrative in “Canabalt” — the collapsing buildings, kill-bot bombardment and marauding oversized mechs in the backdrop all create a split-second story. Are you mankind’s last savior? Could there be others like you running from testing or from servitude? Those screaming flying machines that streak by… are they part of your deliverance or your ruin? It may be unintended brilliance but you fall to your doom if you shift your awareness to think about any of these things.

You’re supposed to spend the tense second-to-second playtime in “Canabalt” running from something. But me, I spend it chasing something. That something is not distance, although that metric’s the one that delivers high-score bragging rights. No, I spend “Canabalt” chasing height. If you time that first desperate jump just right, then your character scrapes the top of the screen, going higher than he ever will in the rest of the game. The iPad screen makes the playfield bigger for “Canabalt,” and that creates a greater sensation of disorientation with each leap you make. For this game, the jump to iPad results in a more cinematic feel, as if it’s finally found a screen-size worthy of its epic qualities.

04162010_eliss5.jpgBut the biggest revelation to me from the pre-iPad games I played was with “Eliss.” In this lovably bizarre indie title, players must shift spontaneously spawning blobs of color away from each other in a cosmic setting with treacherous black holes, slo-mo asteroids and life-giving supernovas. “Eliss” demands constant movement, awareness and attention, and while the game charmed me instantly with its cute graphics and catchy music, all that hyperactivity stymied me on iPhone. I felt increasingly fumbly as I played, only getting as far as the fifth of its 17 levels. Rather than beat my head against the wall, I’d resolved to love “Eliss” from afar. But booting it up in upscaled fashion on the iPad was an incredible eye-opener, because it felt like this tiny universe had room to breathe. I had enough real estate to not feel panicky as things happened on screen, and this in turn renewed my desire to experience the game in full.

In time, games will come that make innovative use of the iPad’s native features, making it feel different from the iPhone. But, so far, the biggest achievement of this new hardware is to reaffirm the great possibilities of touchscreen gaming and digital distribution when compared to the PCs, discs and consoles that currently rule the market.

[Additional images: “Drop7,” Area/Code Entertainment, 2009; “Eliss,” Steph Thirion, 2009]

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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…

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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G.I. Jeez

Stomach Bugs and Prom Dates

E.Coli High is in your gut and on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Brothers-in-law Kevin Barker and Ben Miller have just made the mother of all Comedy Crib series, in the sense that their Comedy Crib series is a big deal and features a hot mom. Animated, funny, and full of horrible bacteria, the series juxtaposes timeless teen dilemmas and gut-busting GI infections to create a bite-sized narrative that’s both sketchy and captivating. The two sat down, possibly in the same house, to answer some questions for us about the series. Let’s dig in….

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IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

BEN: Hi ummm uhh hi ok well its like umm (gets really nervous and blows it)…

KB: It’s like the Super Bowl meets the Oscars.

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

BEN: Oh wow, she’s really cute isn’t she? I’d definitely blow that too.

KB: It’s a cartoon that is happening inside your stomach RIGHT NOW, that’s why you feel like you need to throw up.

IFC: What was the genesis of E.Coli High?

KB: I had the idea for years, and when Ben (my brother-in-law, who is a special needs teacher in Philly) began drawing hilarious comics, I recruited him to design characters, animate the series, and do some writing. I’m glad I did, because Ben rules!

BEN: Kevin told me about it in a park and I was like yeah that’s a pretty good idea, but I was just being nice. I thought it was dumb at the time.

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IFC: What makes going to proms and dating moms such timeless and oddly-relatable subject matter?

BEN: Since the dawn of time everyone has had at least one friend with a hot mom. It is physically impossible to not at least make a comment about that hot mom.

KB: Who among us hasn’t dated their friend’s mom and levitated tables at a prom?

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

BEN: There’s a lot of content now. I don’t think anyone will even notice, but it’d be cool if they did.

KB: A show about talking food poisoning bacteria is basically the same as just watching the news these days TBH.

Watch E.Coli High below and discover more NYTVF selections from years past on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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