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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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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.