DID YOU READ

The Best Games of 2010

The Best Games of 2010 (photo)

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As far as video games go, 2010 might well be remembered as the year that controversy clashed with quirk. Or the 12 months that downloadable content went from novelty to staple. Or the 52 weeks where indies energized the mainstream. Or the 8765.81 hours of the iDevices‘ video game ascendancy. No matter how you slice it, it was a cycle of change, excellence and surprise. The games below symbolize all of that and more, depending on how you experienced them.

10. Osmos HD
Hemisphere Games

Osmos HD” rises head and shoulders above so much of the games content to be found on the App Store because of its thoughtful mechanics and abstract presentation. Though the action of avoiding absorption by other cosmo-microbe lifeforms can get frantic, the game still manages to impart a level of zen-like calm. The bigger screen real estate of the iPad makes the HD version of Hemisphere’s creation even more beautiful and the ambient trance soundtrack transports players to blissed-out interactive nirvana.

9. Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood
Ubisoft Montreal

Coming just a year after “Assassins’ Creed II” notched even higher success than its predecessor, everyone assumed that “Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood” would be a quickly churned out cash-in to strike while players were still in love with main character Ezio di Auditore. What we got was an ambitious new vision of multiplayer interaction and gameplay tweaks that incorporated Farmville-style mechanics to make medieval Rome feel more alive. “Brotherhood” does more than make you feel like a bad-ass; it makes you feel like a strategic bad-ass. Bellissimo.

12172010_Heavy_Rain_First_encounter.jpg8. Heavy Rain
Quantic Dream

Long hyped as an edgy digital drama, the Playstation 3 exclusive promised a watershed moment in video game storytelling. It may not have been all breakthrough, but the “Heavy Rain” experiment proved successful as far as decompressing and adding emotional heft to a narrative told through a video game. Doing mundane things like brushing teeth or playing catch with a virtual boy-child may have felt odd, but the sudden absence of those things created a void that powered the gameplay. Yeah, the actors’ performances may have lacked polish, but ultimately the game’s true impact came from its interactive possibilities and the way that they hewed to and diverged from reality.

7. Super Mario Galaxy 2
Nintendo

In a year where the company mascot notched a 25th anniversary of starring in games with “Super Mario” in the title, the little plumber starred in an adventure that exemplified how Nintendo earns such vibrantly loyal fans. “SMG2” felt vibrantly alive and quivered with ingenuity at almost every turn. Everything in the game — from the partnering with Yoshi to the power-ups and the puzzle-like structure of the worlds — felt considered and easy to understand. Factor in the automatic assist of the Super Guide and you get a title that nearly everyone can finish despite its burly difficulty. Experiences like the one “Super Mario Galaxy 2” delivered are the reason Nintendo design guru Shigeru Miyamoto gets compared to Walt Disney. Play and learn, everybody else.

6. Shank
Klei Entertainment

The triumph of “Shank” comes from synthesizing its inspirations — the Tarantino oeuvre, Silver Age comic books, anime cartoon stylings and old-school, side-scrolling beat-em-ups — into its own awesome entity. Klei’s effort felt finely tuned, with tight controls and clever balancing, and discretely crafted, too. Once players started, they knew they weren’t going to grind out 30 padded-out hours of diminishing returns on the downloadable title. You were going in to execute sharp, fast and beautifully gory vengeance, throwing your skills against these enemies as hard as you could. It’d leave a mark, “Shank” would, on calloused thumbs all over and on the gaming landscape at large.

12172010_MassEffect2.jpg5. Mass Effect 2
BioWare

More than anything, the acclaimed Canadian dev studio’s sci-fi sequel showed that they understand the meanings of the word “epic.” It’s not a wideshot of an orange sun cresting over a ringed planet, or a cutscene of a gritty gun battle. Those things can be part of it, but the trick of epic starts small. The individual choices that you make as customizable series hero Commander Shepard — how to broker disputes, who to help and who to hurt — feed into bigger events that create continuities unique to a player’s personality. Leveling up certain abilities over others, the thousands of dialogue choices through branching story paths, the team members you sleep with or the ones who die in that final, fateful suicide run… when you look back at it all, you see not just the epic, but how it came about. All that’s left is to salute the ones who make it.

4. Alan Wake
Remedy Entertainment

Video games have yet to get that perfection’s overrated. Most high-profile games sandpaper over the inviting, pebbled textures of idiosyncrasy, leaving audiences only glossy, hollow experiences to play through. Not Remedy. Not “Alan Wake.” The hero of the Finnish dev studio’s psychological thriller makes you cringe with his desperate running, tortured writing and a brittle and neurotic affect. But those shortcomings snag you (maybe because they’re familiar?) and pull you along into a dark forest of metatext where metaphor becomes weapon. “Alan Wake” didn’t have to be perfect. It chose to be interesting instead. Here’s hoping other dev studios follow Remedy’s lead.

12172010_SuperMeatBoy.jpg3. Super Meat Boy
Team Meat

Love is pain. And, in “Super Meat Boy,” love is jumping over giant saw blades and getting the finger from a fetus in an exoskeleton. The love’s readily apparent in the indie darling’s execution, from the way Team Meat shouts out other small developers to the way that it amps up the difficulty of a traditional platformer’s challenge to a fetishistic degree. “Super Meat Boy” wants you to wrestle it to the ground, pin it down and give it a bloody kiss on the lips. That’s the only love it understands and, thankfully, it got demonstrations of such from millions of gamers across the world.

2. Red Dead Redemption
Rockstar San Diego

Nobody knew what might transpire when Rockstar hightailed it out of the city in hot pursuit of the sunset. Gone were the radio stations and killing sprees, replaced by friendly howdys and herb picking. As a result of all that, the reluctantly reformed John Marston — questing under duress to round up his criminal cohorts — came across as more multilayered than anything else the NYC-based games juggernaut has produced so far. And the world he moved through felt wistful, like a dangerous postcard from times past. The trademark Rockstar violence didn’t disappear; it just got seated in a lonesome, surprisingly spare gameworld. As I wrote back when the game came out: “‘Red Dead Redemption’ happens just as the Old West is dying out. Electric lights dot the small towns you travel into and new railroad train lines are laying down the foundation of the infrastructure that we take for granted a century later. The people in the game know the world is changing and that awareness seems to charge the urgency of their words and actions: One last chance to get even, to get rich or to get glory.”

1. Limbo
PlayDead

I only ever played “Limbo” once, but it’s haunted me ever since. The downloadable game’s stark visuals pulled me in like no other game this year and the nonexistent narrative added a level of interaction, because my brain kept trying to imagine scenarios that would explain the things happening in the game. Was this heaven? Hell? Purgatory? Why am I enjoying these funny, horrid deaths so much? Is there any thread to stitch the experience together to anchor it in plausibility? “Limbo” offered me no answers; nor did I want it to. So many games pack in overblown features and sturm-und-drang presentation in an effort to impress players, but it was PlayDead’s dedication to minimalism in “Limbo” that makes it one for the ages.

Honorable Mentions: “Halo: Reach,” “Dance Central,” “World of Warcraft: Cataclysm,” “Minecraft,” and “Bit.Trip Runner”

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Hard Out

Comedy From The Closet

Janice and Jeffrey Available Now On IFC's Comedy Crib

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She’s been referred to as “the love child of Amy Sedaris and Tracy Ullman,” and he’s a self-described “Italian who knows how to cook a great spaghetti alla carbonara.” They’re Mollie Merkel and Matteo Lane, prolific indie comedians who blended their robust creative juices to bring us the new Comedy Crib series Janice and Jeffrey. Mollie and Matteo took time to answer our probing questions about their series and themselves. Here’s a taste.

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

Mollie & Matteo: Janice and Jeffrey is about a married couple experiencing intimacy issues but who don’t have a clue it’s because they are gay. Their oblivion makes them even more endearing.  Their total lack of awareness provides for a buffet of comedy.

IFC: What’s your origin story? How did you two people meet and how long have you been working together?

Mollie: We met at a dive bar in Wrigley Field Chicago. It was a show called Entertaining Julie… It was a cool variety scene with lots of talented people. I was doing Janice one night and Matteo was doing an impression of Liza Minnelli. We sort of just fell in love with each other’s… ACT! Matteo made the first move and told me how much he loved Janice and I drove home feeling like I just met someone really special.

IFC: How would Janice describe Jeffrey?

Mollie: “He can paint, cook homemade Bolognese, and sing Opera. Not to mention he has a great body. He makes me feel empowered and free. He doesn’t suffocate me with attention so our love has room to breath.”

IFC: How would Jeffrey describe Janice?

Matteo: “Like a Ford. Built to last.”

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Mollie & Matteo: Our current political world is mirroring and reflecting this belief that homosexuality is wrong. So what better time for satire. Everyone is so pro gay and equal rights, which is of course what we want, too. But no one is looking at middle America and people actually in the closet. No one is saying, hey this is really painful and tragic, and sitting with that. Having compassion but providing the desperate relief of laughter…This seemed like the healthiest, best way to “fight” the gay rights “fight”.

IFC: Hummus is hilarious. Why is it so funny?

Mollie: It just seems like something people take really seriously, which is funny to me. I started to see it in a lot of lesbians’ refrigerators at a time. It’s like observing a lesbian in a comfortable shoe. It’s a language we speak. Pass the Hummus. Turn on the Indigo Girls would ya?

See the whole season of Janice and Jeffrey right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Die Hard Dads

Inspiration For Die Hard Dads

Die Hard is on IFC all Father's Day Long

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIPHY

Yippee ki-yay, everybody! It’s time to celebrate the those most literal of mother-effers: dads!

And just in case the title of this post left anything to the imagination, IFC is giving dads balls-to-the-wall ’80s treatment with a glorious marathon of action trailblazer Die Hard.

There are so many things we could say about Die Hard. We could talk about how it was comedian Bruce Willis’s first foray into action flicks, or Alan Rickman’s big screen debut. But dads don’t give a sh!t about that stuff.

No, dads just want to fantasize that they could be deathproof quip factory John McClane in their own mundane lives. So while you celebrate the fathers in your life, consider how John McClane would respond to these traditional “dad” moments…

Wedding Toasts

Dads always struggle to find the right words of welcome to extend to new family. John McClane, on the other hand, is the master of inclusivity.
Die Hard wedding

Using Public Restrooms

While nine out of ten dads would rather die than use a disgusting public bathroom, McClane isn’t bothered one bit. So long as he can fit a bloody foot in the sink, he’s G2G.
Die Hard restroom

Awkward Dancing

Because every dad needs a signature move.
Die Hard dance

Writing Thank You Notes

It can be hard for dads to express gratitude. Not only can McClane articulate his thanks, he makes it feel personal.
Die Hard thank you

Valentine’s Day

How would John McClane say “I heart you” in a way that ain’t cliche? The image speaks for itself.
Die Hard valentines

Shopping

The only thing most dads hate more than shopping is fielding eleventh-hour phone calls with additional items for the list. But does McClane throw a typical man-tantrum? Nope. He finds the words to express his feelings like a goddam adult.
Die Hard thank you

Last Minute Errands

John McClane knows when a fight isn’t worth fighting.
Die Hard errands

Sneaking Out Of The Office Early

What is this, high school? Make a real exit, dads.
Die Hard office

Think you or your dad could stand to be more like Bruce? Role model fodder abounds in the Die Hard marathon all Father’s Day long on IFC.

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Founding Farters

Know Your Nerd History

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs via Giphy

That we live in the heyday of nerds is no hot secret. Scientists are celebrities, musicians are robots and late night hosts can recite every word of the Silmarillion. It’s too easy to think that it’s always been this way. But the truth is we owe much to our nerd forebearers who toiled through the jock-filled ’80s so that we might take over the world.

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Our humble beginnings are perhaps best captured in iconic ’80s romp Revenge of the Nerds. Like the founding fathers of our Country, the titular nerds rose above their circumstances to culturally pave the way for every Colbert and deGrasse Tyson that we know and love today.

To make sure you’re in the know about our very important cultural roots, here’s a quick download of the vengeful nerds without whom our shameful stereotypes might never have evolved.

Lewis Skolnick

The George Washington of nerds whose unflappable optimism – even in the face of humiliating self-awareness – basically gave birth to the Geek Pride movement.

Gilbert Lowe

OK, this guy is wet blanket, but an important wet blanket. Think Aaron Burr to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. His glass-mostly-empty attitude is a galvanizing force for Lewis. Who knows if Lewis could have kept up his optimism without Lowe’s Debbie-Downer outlook?

Arnold Poindexter

A music nerd who, after a soft start (inside joke, you’ll get it later), came out of his shell and let his passion lead instead of his anxiety. If you played an instrument (specifically, electric violin), and you were a nerd, this was your patron saint.

Booger

A sex-loving, blunt-smoking, nose-picking guitar hero. If you don’t think he sounds like a classic nerd, you’re absolutely right. And that’s the whole point. Along with Lamar, he simultaneously expanded the definition of nerd and gave pre-existing nerds a twisted sort of cred by association.

Lamar Latrell

Black, gay, and a crazy good breakdancer. In other words, a total groundbreaker. He proved to the world that nerds don’t have a single mold, but are simply outcasts waiting for their moment.

Ogre

Exceedingly stupid, this dumbass was monumental because he (in a sequel) leaves the jocks to become a nerd. Totally unheard of back then. Now all jocks are basically nerds.

Well, there they are. Never forget that we stand on their shoulders.

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC all month long.

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