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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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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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