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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.”

DOS/Windows
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
“Rez”

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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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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