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DID YOU READ

An Indie and a Major Team to Crank Up “Shank”

An Indie and a Major Team to Crank Up “Shank” (photo)

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Several months ago, a New York Times article on the indie game scene framed big corporate game publishers like Electronic Arts and the heroic indie game intellectuals like “Braid” creator Jonathan Blow as church and state. Never the twain shall meet, it implied, and that’s to the good of the plucky, iconoclastic indie guys.

The truth is that gamemaking’s a big ecosystem with creators and dealmakers that cross-pollinate and interconnect in a variety of ways. Chris Hecker, the motor-mouthed designer who’s incubating the head-spinning “Spy Party,” honed his chops on EA’s “Spore.” “Portal,” 2007’s critical darling released by Valve, grew from a student project called “Narbacular Drop.” Andy Schatz helped craft “Whacked!,” an early influential Xbox Live game for the first generation of Microsoft’s game console. He then passed through EA before founding Pocketwatch Games, which won for Excellence in Design at the 2010 Independent Game Festival Awards for its game “Monaco.” Want more evidence that indies and majors can co-exist peacefully?

Look no further than “Shank.” This pulpy, over-the-top side-scrolling brawler’s getting ready for release through Electronic Arts, even though it’s being built by indie studio Klei Entertainment. EA Partners began more than a year ago as a way of fostering games that the publishing giant wouldn’t necessarily develop internally. After hits like “Brutal Legend,” the division has updated its mandate to include pursuing relationships with smaller game development entities. That’s been helped along by Outreach Director Jamil Moledina. Before he became an exec at EA Partners, Moledina served as director for the annual Game Developers Conference, which made him a one-man access point for gamemakers all over the industry.

05142010_Shank2.jpg“Shank” looks like a cartoon that the characters in Quentin Tarantino’s “Grindhouse” film universe would watch on Saturday mornings. At first blush, it looks like something that’d be too quirky to bear the EA stamp. We first got in touch with Moledina and then Klei Entertainment CEO Jamie Cheng to see how their hand-drawn game came into the fold.

Jamil, you’ve worked around developers before, but is this your first gig on the development side? What were the biggest surprises in this section of the industry?

Jamil Moledina: Yes, strange as it may seem given my GDC background, this business development role at EA Partners is my first time at bat in the game business itself. Working for as long as I did with developers in my past job, and seeing first-hand the general skepticism toward publishers, probably the biggest surprise to me was how developer-centric EA Partners really is. I called several of the signed partners before taking the job, and they all seemed to view their relationships as mutually rewarding, and as the best they’d experienced in the business. Now, seeing things from the inside out, it’s very clear that everyone in EA Partners shares a passion for zealously advocating and supporting their partners and titles, and valuing talent as a key business goal unto itself. In short, I was surprised to find myself perfectly at home.

What would an indie developer studio need to have in the portfolio to form a relationship with EA Partners?

JM: Having shipped a great game to this market is always a plus. We look at the critical and commercial success of a studio’s prior titles, or their prior individual work if they’re a startup, but most importantly, we play their games to see how much fun they are. It sounds somewhat simple to say out aloud, but really we’re all gamers here at EA Partners, and we’re relying on our judgment as much as on the data. At the end of the day, we’re confident to place our bet on proven talent. If a studio has all that, I’d encourage them to ping me directly – my first name at ea dot com.

You’ve also been part of agreements with big developers like the one EA struck with Epic Games for “Bulletstorm.” How different are the moving parts when you’re switching up from Epic and “Bulletstorm” and Klei and “Shank”?

JM: Great question. Nothing in principle is different. Both of those studios and indeed all of our partners are at the top of their game, and we work with them as equal partners. Tactically, there are execution differences, for example the marketing strategy and execution is scaled differently for a downloadable game, but the dedication of staff and talent on our side is the same. From our point of view, this is a reasonable approach, given our long-term talent-centric priorities.

05142010_Shank3.jpgWhen and how did the conversations about the partnership begin? How far along was development on “Shank”?

JM: We had shared our readiness to support the indie community to several prominent influencers in the space, including Creative Artists Agency. We were fans of Klei already, but their agent at CAA put us in touch for the first time around last year’s PAX. “Shank” had its first level playable, and we absolutely fell for it. The mix of perfect brawler controls, classic action movie visuals, and sheer badassery made the title really stand out for us. We knew from that moment that Jamie and Jeff were going places, and we had a chance to hitch a ride.

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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.