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E3 2011: Indie Smash Minecraft Comes To Xbox 360

E3 2011: Indie Smash Minecraft Comes To Xbox 360  (photo)

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Microsoft’s press conference opened the week of video game oversaturation at E3 2011 and the makers of the Xbox trumpeted their successes early and often. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 kicked things off with a war-porn playthrough of a level that started with an underwater squad swimming past car-trapped corpses in the Holland Tunnel that connects New York and New Jersey. After planting explosives on a Russian sub, things proceeded to a gunfight on said sub and moved to a boat chase scene against the backdrop of downtown Manhattan being bombed by Russian fighter jets.

But, the biggest surprise wasn’t this playthrough of what will be one of the biggest games of the year. Microsoft made other announcements–like Xbox Live TV, which will let users stream live TV to the console–but none startled attendees so much as the reveal that indie sensation “Minecraft will be coming to the Xbox 360. Mojang’s hit architectural sandbox became wildly successful last year despite the fact that it’s not even in beta yet. Creator Markus “Notch” Persson gave players a game that lets them build just about anything they can imagine and the things that they’ve built run the gamut from old-school game tributes to pop cultural landmarks like the Starship Enterprise. The wonky premise of the game–build a shelter to keep out nocturnal invaders–gets married to a retro-influenced look and results in a devilishly addictive cycle of endless creation.

What makes the “Minecraft” on Xbox news especially surprising is that Mojang’s game is built for a keyboard and mouse interface. But, Microsoft’s Phil Spencer specifically spoke of “Minecraft” in the context of Kinect and it makes more sense to think of the blocky materials being manipulated by gestures rather than controllers. It’s easy to picture players having to heft the digital bricks with lifting motions and arranging furniture in a “Three’s Company” Minecraft recreation with a swipe of their hand. People have deeply personal relationships to the stuff they make in “Minecraft” and the Kinect interface–with its motion capture play and voice recognition–should serve to make those connections even more intimate. No date’s been announced yet for the Xbox 360 version of “Minecraft” but it’s a safe guess that it might appear when the PC version goes into beat this fall.

“Minecraft” fans, do you feel like this news is a big win for “Notch” and “Minecraft” or has Mojang sold out to Microsoft? Let us know in the comments below or on Facebook or Twitter.

Soap tv show

As the Spoof Turns

15 Hilarious Soap Opera Parodies

Catch the classic sitcom Soap Saturday mornings on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures Television

The soap opera is the indestructible core of television fandom. We celebrate modern series like The Wire and Breaking Bad with their ongoing storylines, but soap operas have been tangling more plot threads than a quilt for decades. Which is why pop culture enjoys parodying them so much.

Check out some of the funniest soap opera parodies below, and be sure to catch Soap Saturday mornings on IFC.

1. Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman

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Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman was a cult hit soap parody from the mind of Norman Lear that poked daily fun at the genre with epic twists and WTF moments. The first season culminated in a perfect satire of ratings stunts, with Mary being both confined to a psychiatric facility and chosen to be part of a Nielsen ratings family.


2. IKEA Heights

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IKEA Heights proves that the soap opera is alive and well, even if it has to be filmed undercover at a ready-to-assemble furniture store totally unaware of what’s happening. This unique webseries brought the classic formula to a new medium. Even IKEA saw the funny side — but has asked that future filmmakers apply through proper channels.


3. Fresno

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When you’re parodying ’80s nighttime soaps like Dallas and Dynasty , everything about your show has to equally sumptuous. The 1986 CBS miniseries Fresno delivered with a high-powered cast (Carol Burnett, Teri Garr and more in haute couture clothes!) locked in the struggle for the survival of a raisin cartel.


4. Soap

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Soap was the nighttime response to daytime soap operas: a primetime skewering of everything both silly and satisfying about the source material. Plots including demonic possession and alien abduction made it a cult favorite, and necessitated the first televised “viewer discretion” disclaimer. It also broke ground for featuring one of the first gay characters on television in the form of Billy Crystal’s Jodie Dallas. Revisit (or discover for the first time) this classic sitcom every Saturday morning on IFC.


5. Too Many Cooks

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Possibly the most perfect viral video ever made, Too Many Cooks distilled almost every style of television in a single intro sequence. The soap opera elements are maybe the most hilarious, with more characters and sudden shocking twists in an intro than most TV scribes manage in an entire season.


6. Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace

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Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace was more mockery than any one medium could handle. The endless complications of Darkplace Hospital are presented as an ongoing horror soap opera with behind-the-scenes anecdotes from writer, director, star, and self-described “dreamweaver visionary” Garth Marenghi and astoundingly incompetent actor/producer Dean Learner.


7. “Attitudes and Feelings, Both Desirable and Sometimes Secretive,” MadTV

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Soap opera connoisseurs know that the most melodramatic plots are found in Korea. MADtv‘s parody Tae Do  (translation: Attitudes and Feelings, Both Desirable and Sometimes Secretive) features the struggles of mild-mannered characters with far more feelings than their souls, or subtitles, could ever cope with.


8. Twin Peaks

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Twin Peaks, the twisted parody of small town soaps like Peyton Place whose own creator repeatedly insists is not a parody, has endured through pop culture since it changed television forever when it debuted in 1990. The show even had it’s own soap within in a soap called…


9. “Invitation to Love,” Twin Peaks

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Twin Peaks didn’t just parody soap operas — it parodied itself parodying soap operas with the in-universe show Invitation to Love. That’s more layers of deceit and drama than most televised love triangles.


10. “As The Stomach Turns,” The Carol Burnett Show

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The Carol Burnett Show poked fun at soaps with this enduring take on As The World Turns. In a case of life imitating art, one story involving demonic possession would go on to happen for “real” on Days of Our Lives.


11. Days of our Lives (Friends Edition)

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Still airing today, Days of Our Lives is one of the most famous soap operas of all time. They’re also excellent sports, as they allowed Friends star Joey Tribbiani to star as Dr Drake Ramoray, the only doctor to date his own stalker (while pretending to be his own evil twin). And then return after a brain-transplant.

And let’s not forget the greatest soap opera parody line ever written: “Come on Joey, you’re going up against a guy who survived his own cremation!”


12. Acorn Antiques

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First appearing on the BBC sketch comedy series Victoria Wood As Seen on TV, Acorn Antiques combines almost every low-budget soap opera trope into one amazing whole. The staff of a small town antique store suffer a disproportional number of amnesiac love-triangles, while entire storylines suddenly appear and disappear without warning or resolution. Acorn Antiques was so popular, it went on to become a hit West End musical.


13. “Point Place,” That 70s Show

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In a memorable That ’70s Show episode, an unemployed Red is reduced to watching soaps all day. He becomes obsessed despite the usual Red common-sense objections (like complaining that it’s impossible to fall in love with someone in a coma). His dreams render his own life as Point Place, a melodramatic nightmare where Kitty leaves him because he’s unemployed. (Click here to see all airings of That ’70s Show on IFC.)


14. The Spoils of Babylon

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Bursting from the minds of Will Ferrell and creators Andrew Steele and Matt Piedmont, The Spoils of Babylon was a spectacular parody of soap operas and epic mini-series like The Thorn Birds. Taking the parody even further, Ferrell himself played Eric Jonrosh, the author of the book on which the series was based. Jonrosh returned in The Spoils Before Dying, a jazzy murder mystery with its own share of soapy twists and turns.

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15. All My Children Finale, SNL

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SNL‘s final celebration of one of the biggest soaps of all time is interrupted by a relentless series of revelations from stage managers, lighting designers, make-up artists, and more. All of whom seem to have been married to or murdered by (or both) each other.

Catwoman Scratches Her Way Into “Batman: Arkham City”

Catwoman Scratches Her Way Into “Batman: Arkham City”  (photo)

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We’ve already seen how Batman’s next video game adventure takes place in a gigantic super-prison carved out of half of Gotham City. But one criminal goes into the rechristened Arkham City of her own accord. Things wind up badly for Catwoman and one of the early mission previewed for press had Batman saving her from schizophrenic former ally Two-Face. But, it turns out that Catwoman doesn’t do damsel-in-distress very well. The slinky super-thief’s going to be playable in the follow-up to “Batman: Arkham Asylum,” with a style all her own.

Selina Kyle’s mischievous alter ego doesn’t wear a cape (anymore) and so has to get around the sprawling environs in a different way. Using her whip as a grapple, players will be able to execute timed swings to fling yourself around the city.. the better your timing, the faster you travel. She’ll also had the equivalent of Batman’s Detective Vision ability, only her Thief Vision shows valuables littered through the environment. Part of her missions with require thievery and you’ll need to stick to the shadows and use stealth in much the same way as when playing with Batman himself. Seeing as how publisher Warner Bros and developer Rocksteady Studios have been adamant about saying “B:AC” will be a solo experience, the Catwoman reveal comes as a welcome surprise.

Are you hopeful that there will be other playable characters in “Batman: Arkham City”? Let us know in the comments below or on Facebook or Twitter.

J.J. Abrams’ “Star Trek” Continues In Upcoming Game

J.J. Abrams’ “Star Trek” Continues In Upcoming Game (photo)

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Our man on the video game beat, Evan Narcisse sent along this tip because he seems to think I’m a huge nerd who likes “Star Trek” and video games (he is correct, by the way). Earlier today Paramount Digital announced they’ll be formally unveiling a new “Star Trek” game at next week’s annual E3 video game expo. And not just any “Star Trek” game. This title’s notable for two big reasons: it’s the first co-op action game in the “Star Trek” universe, meaning nerds like me will finally get to play as both Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock, and it’s also set in the continuity established by J.J. Abrams terrific kinda-sorta-reboot. Even better, the game features a story written in collaboration with Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, screenwriters of said Abrams’ “Star Trek” movie, along with his “Mission: Impossible III” and many episodes of the great TV series “Alias” (allegedly, they also wrote the first two “Transformers” movies, but I think that’s just an Internet urban legend).

From Paramount’s press release:

“‘Star Trek’ challenges the boundaries of co-op gameplay with a galactic adventure that gamers and fans have never experienced,” said Tom Lesinski, President of Paramount Digital Entertainment. “Working closely with the ‘Star Trek’ filmmaking team throughout development, the game is sure to deliver AAA production values, a wide variety of gameplay and all the action you would expect from the hit franchise. This will be the definitive ‘Star Trek’ gaming experience.”

Let’s hope so; the bar for good “Star Trek” gaming experiences is not set very high. As a young “Star Trek” dork, I lost way too many hours to the old “Star Trek” Nintendo game, which was, shall we say, a less than satisfying experience. A quick scan of the rest ofthe world of “Star Trek” video games doesn’t reveal a whole lot of memorable experiences. There have been a ton of good “Star Wars” games (“X-Wing,” “TIE Fighter,” “Super Star Wars,” “Rogue Squadron,” “Lego Star Wars” and more), but “Trek” gamers haven’t had much to hang their Tribble fur hats on. I guess my favorite “Trek” game is “Star Trek: Voyager – The Arcade Game”, where you sit inside the cabinet with a phaser and shoot the hell out of wave after wave of Borg baddies. Not exactly the most faithful replication of the “Star Trek” viewing experience, but damn satisfying after a long day of work at a dead-end retail job (he says, with a weary sigh, from experience).

This new “Star Trek” game comes from up-and-coming developer Digital Extremes, who made the “Bioshock 2″ multiplayer as well as the upcoming “The Darkness II.” No word yet whether Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto will be voicing their respective characters; maybe we’ll find that out at E3. Regardless, you’ll be able to set your phaser to stun on PS3, Xbox 360, and Windows PC some time next summer.

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