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What Kinect Means

What Kinect Means (photo)

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Microsoft held a splashy launch party in Times Square two nights ago to usher in a new era for the Xbox 360. Hundreds of attendees walked away from the bash with Kinect units, but it’s a safe bet most people didn’t know what to expect when they finally got the thing home and plugged it in. The same can be said for the video game industry. Kinect represents a massive shift, one that takes the once-niche idea of gesture-controlled input and brings it to the mainstream.

For $150, consumers can get their own little piece of the “Minority Report” future and marvel at the voice and face recognition built into the device. City dwellers will need to shift around their living room furniture to actually play the games, and a few of them are actually worth the effort. Harmonix’s “Dance Central” will be this year’s must-have party game and “Kinectimals” will suck in anyone in eyeshot of the irresistible cuteness of its spunky virtual animals.

Still, outside of the individual games available at launch for Kinect, it could forecast a sea change for how video games get played and developed. What follows are some object lessons Kinect could provide and slight predictions of how it might change the game landscape moving forward. And, yes: all of this could be moot is Kinect winds up as a massive flop. However, Microsoft’s pledged to keep pouring money and support into the Kinect idea so the only difference may be in whether its repercussions make for sudden shift or a slower, sustained one.

1. Research Is Its Own Reward
Microsoft’s been very candid about how most of the technologies that have gone into Kinect come from areas that weren’t specifically geared toward gaming. Voice commands, skeletal tracking for movement and connected cameras for depth perception are all technologies that Kinect uses to track people in real-time in a 3D space. They’re not necessarily new innovations but the idea to use them for video games is. The research had already been going on so, when the notion to bundle these thing into one gaming-centric device hit, the production of Kinect had a vast well of knowledge to draw upon. Of course, Microsoft’s deep pockets and many-tentacled organizational structure makes it uniquely positioned to both do the research and manufacture the product. So, even if the research and execution are great, it might be a long time before anyone is able to pull off a feat of this magnitude.

2. Everybody, Do the Twist
With Kinect’s launch yesterday, all the major gaming consoles have motion control options now. Will this parity foster creativity in the space? Or, will it mean that each system gets uninteresting mini-game collections, as with the ones that drop onto the Wii like so many turds.

More important than what kinds of games we’ll get is how they’ll get made. When multiplatform games–the ones that appear on each console and/or PC– begin production, developers need to choose which platform to start working on first. The Wii changed things up for this generation, because its meteoric rise made everyone scramble to make games that would rake in the dollars. But the Wii’s not a hi-def console. For hi-def games, the Xbox has been the lead development platform because its architecture so closely resembles that of a PC, so you’re almost getting a 2-for-1 deal.

Kinect’s arrival throws another wrinkle on top of all that there is already to consider–system capabilities, online connectivity and user base–by making its input so different. The Wii remotes and the Move wands have enough similarities that some development ideas can move smoothly between the two platforms. But the Kinect’s body-controlled gameplay will force developers to choose differently than they have before.

3. PCs: Alone Again, Naturally
Gaming innovation has had a long history on the PC, but motion gaming seems to be one arena where PC-centric developers and even hobbyists have little to no interest.

There’s no reason that a decently functional computer couldn’t be hooked up to a HDTV and be the platform where Wii-, Move- or Kinect-style gameplay happens. In fact, there’s a whole category of machines called HTPCs (home theater PC) that specialize in streaming content or acting as alternative set-top boxes with cable TV access. (Apple positioned its most recent Mac Mini as one such device.) Most of these machines are robust enough to run motion control games with the right software or hardware. Yet this curious gap remains. Hopefully, as a company with a big stake in maintaining the viability of the PC as a game platform, Microsoft will bring out a PC version of Kinect soon.

4. Physical Movement as Gameplay Isn’t Going Away
There’s a subset of people that have seen movement-based gameplay as a fad. And that’s kind of understandable, because it feels goofy to jump, run or gesticulate wildly to make something happen on a screen. But what will most likely happen is that genres where physical movement doesn’t feel as out of the ordinary–like dancing or exercise–will flock to gestural gaming. This shift is already underway with games like Ubisoft’s “Just Dance” their “Your Shape” fitness games and their upcoming “Michael Jackson: The Experience.”

EA SPORTS Active NFL Training Camp | EA SPORTS

EA’s also had success with its “EA Active” series, so much so that they’re going to go after dudes with “EA Sports Active Training Camp,” a title that aims to replicate the workouts of NFL training camps. Maybe it’ll click with ultra-competitive guys who all want to one-up each other’s time on the 40-yard dash

5. The Race for a “Hardcore-Friendly” Motion Game Is On.
Ever since the Wii hit the scene in 2006, the conundrum of how to lure in the skeptical hardcore gamer has hung over it. The same problem will now vex Sony and Microsoft with regard to their Move and Kinect add-ons for the PS3 and the Xbox 360. The hardcore question begs another question, though. That being, why?

It’s a good question. The most inescapable reality of a post-Wii world is that it split the video game market into two portions. On one side of the chasm are stereotypically hardcore gamers and the mostly unfair accusations against them do have some truth. They can be un-curious, skeptical and fixated on graphics and genre. They were once Nintendo faithful during the GameCube era but the Wii’s preponderance of twee content has pushed them away. Even when a shooter like “The Conduit” comes out–specifically targeting people who want a good-looking, action-heavy and narrative-focused experience on the Wii–the best it can manage is polite applause for even trying to go there. So, again, why try to entice the hardcore gamer to the motion-control pleasure dome? To pull back the hardcore gamer grants a blessing. It takes away the upturned nose and amounts to the reunification of Germany. It takes away the classist subtext in comments like “Sure, it’s good… for a Wii game.” Wiping away that attitude invites the most technologically talented designers to come create in the motion-gaming landscape.

Efforts are underway. The Playstation will be making the next installment of their “SOCOM” military shooter playable with the Move controllers and Microsoft recently announced that certain games will be abe to use both a traditional controller and the Kinect. If any of these efforts prove successful, then the tent of motion gaming will seem more inviting to those who walked by it before.

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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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