DID YOU READ

Everybody Do the Limbo

Everybody Do the Limbo (photo)

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In a nondescript office suite in the Gramercy section of Manhattan, I was getting ready to control a boy who, I think, was rising from the dead. He carried no weapons and couldn’t cast any kind of malevolent magic spells. This was new for me.

Most video game demo meetings happen in swank hotel rooms or in fancy event spaces, catered with the temptations of an open bar and free food. When I got my first hands-on time with Independent Game Festival award winner “Limbo” two weeks ago, it happened a dark, foreboding recording studio. Sound plays a major role in “Limbo,” so it was only fitting that I was playing it while nestled in a full movie-quality surround set-up. The game itself was being projected onto a giant screen. This elaborate presentation, while lacking in delicious mini-burgers, effectively served as an entry into another world. And that’s really what “Limbo” felt like.

The game sports a ghostly look and drops the player in cold, with respect to narrative. You don’t get a screen crawl or a cutscene setting up the story. Instead, you watch as the nameless lead character rises from a pile of dirt and leaves, stepping tentatively from the left of the screen to the right. There’s no music in “Limbo” and the whole affair is wordless, unfolding in hazy, soft-focus black-and-white. “Limbo”‘s a platformer, that hoary video game genre where players control a character running and bounding across the screen. The game seem so anemic and feeble that you’re never sure if you’re going to make it when the boy attempts to jump. When you do miscalculate a leap, his legs snap painfully, an arm can go flying or his head can roll gently down a slight hill. I first saw “Limbo” at the IGF Awards ceremony and was entranced by the inky aesthetic. I wasn’t the only one hypnotized by the game, as it’s won awards for Visual Arts and Technical Excellence.

The parts of “Limbo” I played made me feel as if my fingers had just touched a video game made by the Ingmar Bergman. The bleak Bauhaus palette, hollow-eyed central character and his creepy and sudden deaths all spoke to a stark single-mindedness that make playing the game chillingly addictive. Despite the fact that its affect is almost completely flat, “Limbo” delivers a mix of horror and humor that makes you laugh, too.

04122010_LimboVideoGame2.jpgAfter bathing in the game’s quiet, mysterious world for almost an hour, I wanted to ask some questions of PlayDead, the Copenhagen-based development studio behind the game. PlayDead’s CEO Dino Patti graciously took out time from giving “Limbo” its final bits of polish to get back to me.

How big is the PlayDead staff currently? How many people were there initially? How did you guys first meet?

Our team maxed out at 16 people at the peak of production, and we currently have eight members of staff. PlayDead was started by Arnt Jensen and I, based on a game idea that he had some time ago. We met in the 2006, and our only goal was to make “Limbo” a reality.

This might have seemed like a long time to take to make the game a reality, but both funding and finding the right people has meant that we’ve had to take our time.

This is your studio’s first game. You’ve won a major award and gotten picked up for Xbox Live. Many studios who are more established don’t accomplish either one of these things. Does this meet or exceed the expectations when you had development started on the game?

We have been sure from the start that we had something really special with “Limbo” — and it seems that creative freedom and a clear vision has paid off. This combined with agile, iterative development and only working on the most important tasks has seemed to be the right mindset to make the game.

Personally, I always expected “Limbo” to get big. I’ve been in love with the title from the start, but must admit that it’s already exceeded my expectations.

“Limbo” is very minimalist. It’s not only stripped down in terms of its looks but also in the way the player’s supposed to find out how to proceed. What drove those decisions as far as the look and game design?

It’s really simple — and we really love to keep things simple.

04122010_LimboVideoGame3.jpgWhich came first, the gameplay or the aesthetics?

What really sparked “Limbo” was the first concept trailer made by Arnt, and the video shows a bit of both. I would say the aesthetics were very important to us, which then combined with a vision about how the gameplay should be to make what “Limbo” is today.

“Limbo” is more starkly horrific than a lot of other indie games, yet the platforming style of gameplay evokes a certain kind of nostalgia. This left me feeling a little uneasy when I died a particularly gruesome death. I remember thinking to myself that Mario would be decapitated like if he fell into a pit of spikes or missed a jump. Did you mean for players to feel this kind of tension, this feeling between nostalgia and horror?

Our aim has been to reach in and touch players’ emotions, and the tension you felt is part of that goal. I think that new media has a lot more censorship than they used to, and we really haven’t felt bound by cultural constraints.

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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.