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How I Voted For “The Art of Video Games,” Part 5.2

How I Voted For “The Art of Video Games,” Part 5.2 (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. Part four is here. The first part of Part Five is here. Today, I finish off by talking about my picks from the last decade or so.

Era 5: Next Generation, continued

GameCube
Adventure Genre
“Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door”

Even though there’s a “Zelda” in the category–“The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker,” to be specific–I voted for “Paper Mario” because of localization. There’s a tricky art to the practice of taking the in-jokes and idioms of a game made in Japanese and making them work in other territories. It’s led to unintentionally funny bad Engrish translations before in video games: the All Your Base meme of the early 2000s came from botched localization. So, it’s a triumph that fans all over the world get to see how “Paper Mario” games poke fun at their titular hero and the lore that accrued around the super-successful character. These games also expand our understanding of what the iconic character can be and how his universe can be understood.

Action Genre
“Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time”

It was a tough fight between this and “Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem.” I’ve written about “Prince of Persia” and my love for it before. “Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem” is a time-hopping, Lovecraftian horror game. Aside from the creepy atmosphere of the gameplay experience, it found ways to scare players that crept into the real world. At one point, the game tells you that your save data’s been corrupted and that you’ll have to start over. Tons of gamers panicked that what they saw onscreen was actually true, but it was just a supreme mindf**k on the part of “Eternal Darkness.” However, ” PoP” looked backwards and forwards simultaneously. Reaching back to 1989, it revived Jordan Mechner’s iconic indie game with a modern take and more mature sensibilities. Then, it changed the way that platformer game mechanics looked and felt. The first time that I saw the Prince run across a wall, I did a double take. And the first time I saw him rewind time, my jaw dropped. Most compellingly, “PoP: SoT” develops its lead character even as gameplay is happening and glorifies storytelling in a way that’s fitting for a title that acknowledges a debt to 1,001 Arabian Nights. It felt, played and looked a bit of digital folklore, something from the past re-envisioned for the now. The Prince will probably enchant us in some form or another for decades to come.

Wii
Target Genre
“Boom Blox”

So far the only game to come out of EA’s partnership with Steven Spielberg, “Boom Blox” plops players into a wobbly, block-built universe populated with cartoony, cute cube-shaped critters. Players are tasked to either harvest magical gems by knocking them to the ground. The game mechanics combine aspects of dominoes, Legos and Jenga; the main modes of interaction involve dislodging the onscreen blocks by throwing a virtual ball at the screen). I loved how the EA game made the Wii’s then-new motion controls feel infectious and natural. Even as the

Action Genre
“Super Mario Galaxy 2”

I’ll just repeat what I said when I included “Super Mario Galaxy 2” in the Best Games of 2010:

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.

Combat/Strategy Genre
“Zack and Wiki: Quest for Barbaros’ Treasure”

I loved that this under-appreciated and clever puzzle game from Capcom made the nomination list. Done in a wild over-the-top manga art style, “Zack and Wiki” made players rethink the Wii remote’s relation to physical space by having them turn it this way and that to solve riddles. It’s a brainier implementation of the gestural controls available through the Wii, making the glut of waggle-centric games that clogged the console look simple by comparison.

PlayStation 2
Adventure Genre
“Okami”

The Smithsonian exhibit’s focusing on the artistic aspect of video game creation, so it makes sense that “Okami” is on the list of nominees. The 2006 release dedicated itself to visual beauty in a way that few other games have. Playing as Japanese sun goddess Amaterasu in lupine form, you purge demons from a mythological, feudal Japan blighted into drabness and reintroduce color into the world. From the mystical powers you invoke by drawing symbols to the little bursts of flowers that spring up at Amaterasu’s feet, “Okami” created a feast for the eye. After playing it only once five years ago, I still remember how vivdly the world vibrated as I played.

Action Genre
“Shadow of the Colossus”

The work of Fumito Ueda and his colleagues at Team Ico does away with many video game design clichés, leaving players with unique and beautiful experiences Ueda’s an artist/designer led the team responsible for another Playstation 2 classic called “Ico.” “Ico” and “Shadow” share the same spare, haunted visual language, as if a vast storybook universe were abandoned and players come upon it eons after the glory faded. In “Colossus,” players control a young man trying to bring a dead love to life. To do so, he must kill the 16 colossi scattered all over the world. The quiet and enigmatic Colossi could be the lovechildren of Ray Harryhausen and Maurice Sendak, and are among the most memorable creations ever to appear in a video game. Yet, while it looks amazing, “Shadow of the Colossus” uses it’s impressive looks and sharp design to deliver an unforgettable emotional impact.

PlayStation 3
Target Genre
“Flower”

Call “Flower” a tone poem, a small slice of pure feeling. You control a solitary petal borne aloft on the wind making other flowers bloom. Designer Jenova Chen and cohorts at dev studio ThatGameCompany built a game moves from leafy exhiliration to urban gloom to an eventual truce between the two opposites. And your heart moves along with it. “Flower” doesn’t use any words (or even human characters) to tell its story but its sublime interactivity results in a experience that anyone can appreciate.

Adventure Genre
“Heavy Rain”

Here’s where an exhibit like the Art of Video Games can early shine: by taking a genre (or specific franchise) and charting how it’s evolved through out the ages. It’s likely that there will be more than one “Mario” or “Legend of Zelda” game on the final list and attendees will be able to see how innovations like 3D rendering affect the look and design of the familiar characters. In the case of “Heavy Rain,” it’s the mostly dormant adventure genre that finds unexpected resurrection in Quantic Dream’s cinematic thriller. The same mechanics as were found in “Grim Fandango” show up in “Heavy Rain”: find people, seek out objects in the environment and suss out the embedded connections. The eerie realism in “Heavy Rain” adds weight and mood and its divergent story branching up the ante from what adventure games used to be and point them forward in a tantalizing new direction.

Action Genre
“LittleBigPlanet 2”

Another face-off between three standout nominees. “Uncharted 2: Among Thieves” stands as the pinnacle of a certain game type: the balls-out, bullets-and-wisecracks derring-do formula and “Call of Duty: Black Ops” is the latest outgrowth of a hypercompetitive multiplayer culture that breeds its own intricate strands of strategic, twitch-reflex DNA. But, simply, “LittleBigPlanet 2” (and a very few games like it) encourage you to create and disseminate. It looks like a lovingly, hand-crafted world It gives back to the medium that spawned it. I’ll bet money that the game designers of 20 years hence will say they first caught the itch when playing “LBP2.”

Epilogue:
Man, if you stuck with me through this whole long mess, it’s duly appreciated. The Smithsonian will be revealing the games that people voted for next week, so we’ll see just how many of my personal picks will be shown in Washington, D.C. when “The Art of Video Games” opens next year.

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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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