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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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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

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Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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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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