How I Voted For “The Art of Video Games,” Part 3

How I Voted For “The Art of Video Games,” Part 3 (photo)

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The Skinny: The Smithsonian gathered votes for its upcoming Art of Video Games and this week, I detail what I threw my weight behind. Part one is here. Part two is here. Today, I talk about my picks from the Sega Genesis System/Super Nintendo Entertainment System era.

Era 3: Bit Wars!

The thing about console video games is that you have to choose a machine. That choice defines you in some way and some effed-up part of human nature demands that you vilify who make a different decision. Current-day fan rage over the Xbox pwning the PS3 owes its roots to this kind of tension, which reached a flashpoint when the Genesis and SNES were duking it out for parental dollars. A lot of the marketing jargon tropes were the same: the games you want only come out for this system, our technology is way betterthan their little baby technology, etc. If memory serves, the console fanboy flame wars weren’t quite as disproportionately ugly in the 1990s as they are now but, then again, this was before the Internet changed everything. As the mostly proud owner of a Sega Genesis, I’d always wonder if I was truly happy without all those Nintendo games exclusive to the SNES. My peers tossed and turned at night over the same angst. So it goes today, eh?

Sega Genesis
Target Genre
“Gunstar Heroes”
What makes this side-scrolling co-operative shooter worthy of enshrinement? In a word, choice. You could choose which weapons to start off with and, as you progressed, you could combine them with other guns to create unique attacks. You’d need them against the game’s hardcore difficulty and cleverly designed bosses. Other trailblazing innovations was health management that did away with one-hit deaths, the ability to choose a shooting style and he option to start the game and You coul just tell by paying “Gunstar Heroes” that its great looks and insane action were the result of unfettered imaginations work in tandem. The end result gave players unprecedented freedom in a game felt like an adrenaline-fueled action cartoon.

Adventure Genre
“Flashback: The Quest for Identity”
I remember this sci-fi adventure as being one of the first times I really noticed the way a game animated. Even though developer Delphine Software used rotoscoping like earlier classics “Prince of Persia” and Another World,” I came to this game first and discovered its stylistic predecessors later. The animation style made the characters more expressive, which in turn made me more invested in the interplanetary conspiracy plot. When hero Conrad ran or jumped, I saw the effort in his body language. He needed me to get him to safety. I adored this game, even if I didn’t know enough to figure out that it was drawing heavily on cyberpunk genre tropes. The lush animation also reinforced clever design ideas and a cinematic approach, too. “Flashback” felt like a big evolutionary step, like a medium starting to mature in the way it used its tools. I felt more mature, too, just for playing it.

Action Genre
“Earthworm Jim”

Humor in video games is generally accidental, and even intentional laugh-seeking tends to stumble out awkwardly like someone shoved it onstage from the wings. “Earthworm Jim” proved the exception. From its very premise, which has an earthworm donning mislaid power armor to become a barrel-chested hero to its cartoony look, “Earthworm Jim” was a farcical and self-aware creation. The humor was shot through its gameplay, too, what with all the cow launching and head-as-a-grappling-hook moves. The game still stands an example of really good comedy in video games, achieved by being serious about its silliness.

Super Nintendo Entertainment System
Action Genre
“Donkey Kong Country”
Dkc_snes_boxart.jpgThese days, it’s Mario this, Mario that. But, the jump-happy plumber was only part of the formula that made Nintendo the success that it became. The other half–giant, girl-stealing ape Donkey Kong–moldered in obscurity. “Donkey Kong Country” gives props to the ape who REALLY started it all for Nintendo, as we find out about his family. The gameplay let players switch back and forth between the bigger, stronger Donkey Kong and the smaller, faster Diddy Kong as they hunted down the big monkey’s stolen banana hoard. While the option to play as two different characters appealed to gamers, it was really the eye-popping graphics that won them over. Seeing it at a friend’s house, I couldn’t believe that these images were coming from a system that had been billed as inferior to its competitors. “DKC” made me-and many others-a believer in the power of Nintendo all over again at a time when they desperately needed that.

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Bro and Tell

BFFs And Night Court For Sports

Bromance and Comeuppance On Two New Comedy Crib Series

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“Silicon Valley meets Girls meets black male educators with lots of unrealized potential.”

That’s how Carl Foreman Jr. and Anthony Gaskins categorize their new series Frank and Lamar which joins Joe Schiappa’s Sport Court in the latest wave of new series available now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. To better acquaint you with the newbies, we went right to the creators for their candid POVs. And they did not disappoint. Here are snippets of their interviews:

Frank and Lamar


IFC: How would you describe Frank and Lamar to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?
Carl: Best bros from college live and work together teaching at a fancy Manhattan private school, valiantly trying to transition into a more mature phase of personal and professional life while clinging to their boyish ways.

IFC: And to a friend of a friend you met in a bar?
Carl: The same way, slightly less coherent.

Anthony: I’d probably speak about it with much louder volume, due to the bar which would probably be playing the new Kendrick Lamar album. I might also include additional jokes about Carl, or unrelated political tangents.

Carl: He really delights in randomly slandering me for no reason. I get him back though. Our rapport on the page, screen, and in real life, comes out of a lot of that back and forth.

IFC: In what way is Frank and Lamar a poignant series for this moment in time?
Carl: It tells a story I feel most people aren’t familiar with, having young black males teach in a very affluent white world, while never making it expressly about that either. Then in tackling their personal lives, we see these three-dimensional guys navigate a pivotal moment in time from a perspective I feel mainstream audiences tend not to see portrayed.

Anthony: I feel like Frank and Lamar continues to push the envelope within the genre by presenting interesting and non stereotypical content about people of color. The fact that this show brought together so many talented creative people, from the cast and crew to the producers, who believe in the project, makes the work that much more intentional and truthful. I also think it’s pretty incredible that we got to employ many of our friends!

Sport Court

Sport Court gavel

IFC: How would you describe Sport Court to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?
Joe: SPORT COURT follows Judge David Linda, a circuit court judge assigned to handle an ad hoc courtroom put together to prosecute rowdy fan behavior in the basement of the Hartford Ultradome. Think an updated Night Court.

IFC: How would you describe Sport Court to drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?
Joe: Remember when you put those firecrackers down that guy’s pants at the baseball game? It’s about a judge who works in a court in the stadium that puts you in jail right then and there. I know, you actually did spend the night in jail, but imagine you went to court right that second and didn’t have to get your brother to take off work from GameStop to take you to your hearing.

IFC: Is there a method to your madness when coming up with sports fan faux pas?
Joe: I just think of the worst things that would ruin a sporting event for everyone. Peeing in the slushy machine in open view of a crowd seemed like a good one.

IFC: Honestly now, how many of the fan transgressions are things you’ve done or thought about doing?
Joe: I’ve thought about ripping out a whole row of chairs at a theater or stadium, so I would have my own private space. I like to think of that really whenever I have to sit crammed next to lots of people. Imagine the leg room!

Check out the full seasons of Frank and Lamar and Sport Court now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Millennial Wisdom

Charles Speaks For Us All

Get to know Charles, the social media whiz of Brockmire.

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He may be an unlikely radio producer Brockmire, but Charles is #1 when it comes to delivering quips that tie a nice little bow on the absurdity of any given situation.

Charles also perfectly captures the jaded outlook of Millennials. Or at least Millennials as mythologized by marketers and news idiots. You know who you are.

Played superbly by Tyrel Jackson Williams, Charles’s quippy nuggets target just about any subject matter, from entry-level jobs in social media (“I plan on getting some experience here, then moving to New York to finally start my life.”) to the ramifications of fictional celebrity hookups (“Drake and Taylor Swift are dating! Albums y’all!”). But where he really nails the whole Millennial POV thing is when he comments on America’s second favorite past-time after type II diabetes: baseball.

Here are a few pearls.

On Baseball’s Lasting Cultural Relevance

“Baseball’s one of those old-timey things you don’t need anymore. Like cursive. Or email.”

On The Dramatic Value Of Double-Headers

“The only thing dumber than playing two boring-ass baseball games in one day is putting a two-hour delay between the boring-ass games.”

On Sartorial Tradition

“Is dressing badly just a thing for baseball, because that would explain his jacket.”

On Baseball, In A Nutshell

“Baseball is a f-cked up sport, and I want you to know it.”

Learn more about Charles in the behind-the-scenes video below.

And if you were born before the late ’80s and want to know what the kids think about Baseball, watch Brockmire Wednesdays at 10P on IFC.

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Crown Jules

Amanda Peet FTW on Brockmire

Amanda Peet brings it on Brockmire Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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GIFS via Giphy

On Brockmire, Jules is the unexpected yin to Jim Brockmire’s yang. Which is saying a lot, because Brockmire’s yang is way out there. Played by Amanda Peet, Jules is hard-drinking, truth-spewing, baseball-loving…everything Brockmire is, and perhaps what he never expected to encounter in another human.

“We’re the same level of functional alcoholic.”

But Jules takes that commonality and transforms it into something special: a new beginning. A new beginning for failing minor league baseball team “The Frackers”, who suddenly about-face into a winning streak; and a new beginning for Brockmire, whose life gets a jumpstart when Jules lures him back to baseball. As for herself, her unexpected connection with Brockmire gives her own life a surprising and much needed goose.

“You’re a Goddamn Disaster and you’re starting To look good to me.”

This palpable dynamic adds depth and complexity to the narrative and pushes the series far beyond expected comedy. See for yourself in this behind-the-scenes video (and brace yourself for a unforgettable description of Brockmire’s genitals)…

Want more about Amanda Peet? She’s all over the place, and has even penned a recent self-reflective piece in the New York Times.

And of course you can watch the Jim-Jules relationship hysterically unfold in new episodes of Brockmire, every Wednesday at 10PM on IFC.

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