How I Voted For “The Art of Video Games,” Part 4

How I Voted For “The Art of Video Games,” Part 4 (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. Part three is here. Today, I talk about my picks from the Genesis/Nintendo 64 era.

Era 4: Transition

Here’s where we officially get into “in recent memory” territory. The average age of most gamers is in the mid-thirties and the games of this era figure prominently in their collective memories. Maybe it’s the hazy college memories of skipping class to play Goldeneye for 24 hours straight with your friends or an unhealthy fascination with Lara Croft’s boobs, but these years mark the beginning of an era of gamers self-identifying as such. For my part, it took a lot of doing just to get a Genesis in my single-parent household and there was no way my mom was shelling out cash for a Nintendo 64 or a capable gaming PC on top of that. But, again, other nerds opened up the worlds of gaming on those platforms. This time period intersects with the beginning of my career as a journalist writing about games, but even before that, it’s when I started thinking about games as culture, not product. Here are the late 1990s and early 2000s titles that I think need to be part of “The Art of Video Games.”

Adventure Genre
“Grim Fandango”

Development on this game was led by Tim Schafer, who went on to further success with “Psychonauts” and “Brutal Legend.” But, the hallmarks of his particular brand of auteurism show up here: the skewed visual style, distinct comedic voice and off-center characters. It’s important to note that “Grim Fandango” is an adventure game, and one when the genre started to be eclipsed by more active alternatives. “Fandango” came at the tail end of a genre that would go on to have its ideas subsumed by other styles. Reflexes weren’t at a premium in adventure games, logic was. You might argue that something was lost with the wane of the point-and-click stye of gameplay. The cleverness of “Grim Fandango” illustrates that in robust fashion.

Action Genre
“Deus Ex”
So, like I said above, this era starts to see the expanding influence of action games, particularly shooters, on the imaginations of gamers. But, the points of differentiation between various games were generally presentational and aesthetic. “Doom II” had dark environments, “Unreal” had crazy guns. But, while there was fun, there was little freedom. “Deus Ex” changed all of that. It’s the progenitor of the “thinking man’s shooter designation,” earning that distinction from the way that players could improvise their own solutions. It fused RPG skill trees, action elements and Play style matters.

Nintendo 64
Target Genre
“Goldeneye 007”
For all the influence shooters started to have, that fiefdom stayed relatively constrained to PC games. The graphical requirements and precision control demanded by the first-person shooter genre in particular were severely diminished when attempted on the home consoles of the time. Rare’s “Goldeneye 007” changed all of that. It was only supposed to be a stupid James Bond movie tie-in game, but it became a phenomenon. A splitscreen mode let players hunt each other down in the games various levels, using famous Bond characters like Jaws and Chop Chop as avatars. More importantly, it was an FPS on a console and it just worked. Looking back now, “Goldeneye” served as a precursor to the kind of rabid multiplayer competition that’s a staple of console gaming now.

Adventure Genre
“The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time”

Nintendo’s adventure series often gets mentioned as the best game franchise of all time. And this particular installment ranks in the upper echelon of “Zelda” games. 3D gaming was still new to video games and “OoT” offered great solutions to targeting, along with context-sensitive actions that helped it flow smoother. And, learning to play haunting tunes on a magical Ocarina created an emotional bond with the game’s music that was hard to beat. The gameplay in the first 3D Zelda also gave gamers a smart time-travel plot that embedded ideas about maturity and destiny in a superlatively well-executed game. Where 2002’s “Ocarina of Time” really differed was by offering a surprisingly mature take on the franchise’s core myth, with Link’s adventures becoming a coming-of-age story. “OoT” was where the franchise matured, bringing along an entire cohort of players for the ride.

Action Genre
“Super Mario 64”
The kind of 3D that’s being inflicted on audiences now doesn’t really add anything to the movies, TV shows and video games saddled with it. Leaves, bad guys’ punched-out teeth or bullets floating in front of your face don’t fundamentally alter your engagement with the content. When 3D rendering came to games, exponential new possibilities came with it. “Super Mario 64” was the title that ushered in the third dimension. That’s fitting, since the outings of Nintendo’s most popular character exemplified the speed and verticality possible in the 2D platformer. With a 3D world, you could peer into vast landscapes or run into the horizon. That “Super Mario 64” sported the hallmark genius of Shigeru Miyamoto was just gravy. In short, it’s a game that changed everything that came after it. There’s no way this isn’t going into the exhibit.

Combat/Strategy Genre
“Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six”
Popularized tactical squad action, where telling other characters where to stand and who to shoot is as important, if not moreso, than where you stand and who you shoot.

Sega Saturn
“Tomb Raider”
Look, even non-gamers know that Lara Croft emerged as video game’s first sex symbol. A backwards glance at those pointy boobs and sex-doll facial features may make you how that eve camer about. But the real secret of Lara’s success is how it made the Indiana Jones Formula playable in a robust way. Other games before it had you playing adventurers and explorers but they failed in generating a sense of place. With “Tomb Raider,” you felt transported to exotic locales and into forgotten mythologies. I remember audibly gasping as I swam deep underwater and the light bloomed from below, revealing the architecture of lost Atlantis. The sense of globe-trotting wonder the game created in me was big. Much bigger than Lara’s boobs even.

Sega Dreamcast
Target Genre

Spearheaded by Tetsuya Mizuguchi, this sci-fi shooter became one of modern gaming’s cult hits. At one point, the hard-to-find disc was going for $200 on eBay, a 400% mark-up. Why the clamor? It’s because “Rez” drowns your senses in interactivity. You feel it, see it, hear it and play it so vividly that all the sensations blur together. Attacking the constructs in the virtual reality world you enter creating a sound that creates a burst of color that creates a vibration in the controller. That tripartite feedback loop changed how I perceive games. Like LSD, I have awesome flashbacks to the experience of playing “Rez.”

Sony Playstation
Adventure Genre
“Final Fantasy VII”
This breakthrough installment of the long-lived series introduced many to the idiosyncrasies of Japanese RPG design. But more than that, “FFVI” harbors an emotional moment that links a generation of gamers. It coupled the intrinsic desire to win with the far more elusive desire to feel, a potent combination that’s still the holy grail for a medium’s creators.

Action Genre
“Metal Gear Solid”
Solid Snake–the weary warrior around whom the Konami covert action series revolves–isn’t a revelation in character construction. Genre fans had seen his ilk before in movies, comics and TV show: the retired hero answers his nation’s call in their time of need. With Snake, it’s a giant robot that needs shutting down and he needs to sneak into a eadquartes No, what stood out from designer Hideo Kojima’s vision is the serendipitous intersection where the mechanics (stealth) dovetailed with the hero’s persona. It makes sense that a hero disgusted by the tactics of the government he works for would try not to be spotted. You can’t say that the combo’s accidental either, since Kojima’s gone on to produce more “Metal Gear” games. Each is more philosophical and grandiose than the last, leaving the loud, gung-ho antics to world-saving to gaming’s other protagonists.

Next time: The games of today and the-time-right-before-today, including my hardest vote ever.

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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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