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E3 2011: Talking with Aaron Staton of Rockstar Games’ “L.A. Noire”

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E3 can be as random as an open-world sandbox game sometimes. In the decade or so I’ve been going, I’ve spotted celebrities that run the gamut from Steven Spielberg at EA and Spencer and Heidi of the “The Hills” just wandering the halls with a camera crew. Sometimes, these boldface names walk the sensory overload of E3 to promote projects and other times, they just love video games.

Aaron Staton falls into the latter category. When I was sitting down to take in the spectacle of Activision’s upcoming “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3,” Staton sat down right in front of me and watched rapt as Manhattan’s skyline got attacked by Russian fighter jets. After the demo, he was kind enough to answer a few questions. Read on to find out about how good Cole Phelps himself is at “L.A. Noire” and the Kinect game that he’s most excited about.

It was weird to see you in there, like a video game crossover. “What’s Cole Phelps doing in ‘Modern Warfare 3’?!” Are you involved with this “Call of Duty”?

No, but I’m a huge “Call of Duty” fan. This is the third E3 I’ve been to and the first one was where they premiered “[Call of Duty:]Modern Warfare 2.”

What’s been exciting for you this week so far?

First, I saw “Gears of War 3″ and that looks great, and that Star Wars game which was one of the early titles announced for Kinect.

Right, “Kinect Star Wars.”

Yeah. When they had the original presentation a year or so ago, that was a title where I was just excited to see it. And now, it’s here and playable. So that was fun.

So you’re a Star Wars fan too?

I love the movies and those great characters. But, you know, I have to admit that I’m not that dyed-in-the-wool guy who can quote all the dialogue. But, come on, this game lets you be a Jedi! To have a lightsaber and use the Force? Every kid wants to use the Force!

So what’s your prestige level in the “Call of Duty” games?

On “Modern Warfare 2″ or “Call of Duty 4″? I don’t remember my exact levels. But, “Call of Duty 4″–which was “Modern Warfare 1″–I think I logged a total of nine days, if you added up all the time I spent on it. Now I have an 11-month-old. So, with the current title “Call of Duty: Black Ops” coming out just as I’m getting used to being a dad, I’ve yet to even prestige at this point.

I just had a kid, too. They cut into the video game time. I actually thought that since I’m going to be up late, I’m going to play even more. Not happening.

Still, when you’re playing games, it’s work for you, though.

Yeah.

So you can use that as a defense, at least.

But my problem is I don’t always have time to finish anything. I’ve always got to jump onto the next thing. So, were you ultimately happy with “L.A. Noire?” I know it was like nothing you’d ever done before…

Yes, I really was happy with it. So much of it was done in pieces. All of the story was written and a lot of the world–all of the exteriors or the interiors and the city map–was done before we ever stepped in and became a part of the project. That was all completed. I worked on it for about a year and a half, I’d say, but even then there were two portions to that process. There was the motion capture for the bodies and then the facial capture.

So much of it was done over such a long period of time, so, to see it all put together, all of the elements, was a really cool thing. It just feels like a really cool thing to be a part of.

How are you at solving the cases? Did you remember everything when you sat down to play the final product?

Actually, I’m terrible. I’m a terrible interrogator. I’m really terrible at it. My wife is really good. We’ll play it. And she…

She has better instincts than you.

She does. And I’ll remember things. I’ll say, “Oh, I vaguely remember that there’s some matches that are important. I need to find matches.” So I’m combing the area for matches that I remember being an integral part of the case. But she’s actually able to pick out the lies and the evidence much better than me.

That’s really funny. So what else are you looking forward to before the week is out?

I’m really curious about the Wii U. I’ve read about it. I haven’t seen it. This is the second booth that we visited. Yeah, I’m looking forward to seeing that. Have you seen it?

Yeah. It’s interesting. I think there’s a lot of possibility to it. It all depends on how people design for it.

I was kind of reading that it lets you move the game video from the TV to the other screen. There’s a lot of question marks about everything else it can do, I think.

It’s potentially going to fundamentally change how you play with games. It all depends on how you design to it. So I think it’s going to be really, really interesting. So, do you get your wife to play anything with you besides “L.A Noire”?

She’ll play “Left 4 Dead.”

Wow. That is impressive! “Left 4 Dead” isn’t for newbies or sissies. Kudos! Impressive. That is a good getting ahead. Does she ever leave you in the dust to get killed the zombies?

No, I have to kind of stay with her and protect my lady. That’s a fun one, with all the different zombie types and when they come running at you. She’ll play that one and she’ll play some of the Wii games. But, again, we haven’t played anything in a long time. But let’s see, what else? She plays a lot of “Angry Birds.” What about you?

Right before I got to E3, I was playing “Infamous 2,” which I love.

Oh, really?

Yeah, it’s just out this week. Eric Ladin does the voice for the main guy now. He’s on “The Killing,” which just started with a U.S. version.

And he’s on “Mad Men,” as Betty Draper’s brother. He’s also in “LA Noire.”

Is he?

I can’t remember which character he plays, but he’s a person of interest in one of the cases. You know,I played the first “Infamous” and got through about three-quarters of the main story and I played it as a good guy but I never made it back to play through it as an evil Cole McGrath.

Do you have more game work coming up?

Only playing. Like I said, my son is 11 months old and, like you said, it’s hard to find time. But it’s weird because, when I do, you know, I find myself playing games on the phone more than anything.

Are you an addict of “Angry Birds” like Jon Hamm?

I am. I don’t have three stars on every level but you go back and try. I’m playing another mobile game now. Have you ever heard of “Tilt to Live”?

Yes. That’s a great game.

It’s a great game.

I imagine mobile games on the iPhone and stuff must be good for you guys because you’re on set, you’re between takes, and you’re like, “OK, I’ve got five minutes and I can bang out a couple of levels.”

That’s exactly right. My wife always says, “Are you playing Tilt to Live right now?”

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.

E3 2011: Nintendo’s New ‘Wii U’ Console Will Change How We Look at Video Games

E3 2011: Nintendo’s New ‘Wii U’ Console Will Change How We Look at Video Games (photo)

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Maybe you’ve had arguments with a roommate or significant other over who gets to control the living room television. Or, maybe you’ve played a game on a tablet and really wished that you had the precision of button inputs to make the experience that much better.

Well, Nintendo has heard your cry. Announced some weeks ago after months of rumors, the next home console from the Japanese game giant was revealed this week at the Electronic Entertainment Expo. Called Wii U, the console comes with a large, touchscreen controller that also houses the standard set of buttons, triggers and joysticks as on other systems’ controllers. Wii U’s backwards compatible, meaning that you’ll be able to use the current Wii’s controllers, games and accessories with the incoming system. It’s designed to be utilized for nearly any of the common control inputs used to play games today. The touchscreen isn’t multi-touch, though. Nevertheless, if developers want to make a game with finger-tapping, stylus sliding or button-mashing, the touchpad for the Wii accommodates their desires.

And it’s those desires that will really shape the future of not only this new console, but of video games, as well. Nintendo only offered a handful of conceptual demos that showed what the console could do, but they harbored interesting implementations that blazed new territory.

E3 2011: Nintendo Wii U – Official Nintendo DemonstrationDemo, Shield Pose

One demo called Chase Mii created a game of hide and seek where the player with the touchscreen ran from four pursuers, using the screen to see where they were in the gameworld. The other players–who used Wii remotes to control their characters–had to shout out at each other where they saw their prey. The simple concept became even more fun by virtue of the asymmetrical design. On its own, that asymmetry opens up gameplay ideas that single-screen gaming can’t offer. Using the touchscreen as a playbook for “Madden NFL,” a map for a “Legend of Zelda” game lets you have a clean, image on the TV screen that pulls you in even more. Or, the place-shifting capability of the console/controller combo lets you view an image on the touchscreen alone, letting you play a game without hogging the TV.

The Wii U represents a shift back towards the hardcore gamer demographic that the Wii alienated with its cutesy Mii avatars, underpowered graphics and sometimes goofy motion control. With a console that supports full HD graphics, online play and motion, touch and button-based gaming, the Wii U throws the floodgates open to a torrent of ideas. It’ll be interesting to see what game designers come up with when the Wii U arrives some time after April next year.

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E3 2011: DJ/Artist Baiyon Trances Out with PS3 Title “Pixeljunk Lifelike”

E3 2011: DJ/Artist Baiyon Trances Out with PS3 Title “Pixeljunk Lifelike”  (photo)

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The Electronic Entertainment Expo’s a loud, loud gathering. It’d be mean and inaccurate to say that it signifies nothing but it is nonetheless a true thing that the annual video game trade show is full of sound and fury. The big blockbuster games shown here usually get thrown up on giant screens with sound systems that would be welcome in any sports arena.

It’s harder for experimental work to find a home here at E3 but that’s exactly what Sony’s providing for “Pixeljunk Lifelike.” “Pixeljunk Lifelike” isn’t a game, per se; rather, it’s an interactive music creation experience driven by the PlayStation Move motion controller. In a darkened room above the din of the show floor, club DJ and visual artist Baiyon demonstrated how it works. Musically, “Pixeljunk Lifelike” is almost like a drum-and-bass theremin. Each of the four face buttons on the Move controller corresponds to a quadrant of sounds and manipulating the Move controller in 3D space either launches new fills, bends notes or tweaks tempo, depending on the user’s movements. You really need to see it in action to understand how it works and I recorded the bulk of the demo to show it off.

Yeah, the video’s dark but you can still see the illuminated tip of the Move wand and how the music changes sync with Baiyon’s movements. It reminded me of nothing so much as a Jackson Pollock canvas, but with music as the “paint.” You can also use a bluetooth headset as a vocoder for adding vocals. “Pixeljunk Lifelike” is the second collaboration between Baiyon and Dylan Cuthbert of indie dev studio Q-Games, with the first having been the awesomely trippy trance platformer “Pixeljunk Eden.” After the demo, Baiyon explained that making music with “Lifelike” feels just like playing a gig in a club, in terms of correlation of physical movement to the creation of sound. The visualizer graphics come from Baiyon’s own design work where he wanted to channel the look of amoebas and other single-celled organisms. Cuthbert joined Baiyon for some Q&A after the demo and said that “Lifelike ” will let players broadcast their sets to other PlayStation users and that other sound packs will roll out after release. No date’s set yet for the debut of “Pixeljunk Lifelike,” but it’ll be one of the more interesting experiences that people get to see at E3 this week.

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