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“Infamous 2” transforms user-generated content into the new fan-fiction

“Infamous 2” transforms user-generated content into the new fan-fiction (photo)

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Cole McGrath doesn’t wear a cape or tights but, make no mistake, he’s a superhero. He had an origin story unfold in 2008’s “Infamous,” getting electrical powers after an explosion that also ruined his hometown of Empire City. The most compelling thing about “Infamous” was the symbiotic relationship had with Empire City. You got more powerful as you brought chunks of the electrical grid back online and could choose to use those powers to either help or subjugate the people who survived the disaster. There was a plot about an evil cadre led by a mysterious supervillain, but it was really the things you could do outside the scripted narrative that enchanted me.

Infamous 2” came out two weeks ago and the sequel’s opening leaves Empire City totally destroyed at the hands of the Beast, an entity of mass destruction foretold at the end of the first game. Cole heads south to New Marais, in search of ways of boosting his power to defeat the malevolent super-being. From there, the game fleshes out its conspiracy backstory, adds two female partners for Cole to choose from and offers new powers and new enemies. But, as with its predecessor, the most intriguing feature of “Infamous 2” isn’t what developer Sucker Punch designed to happen.

That’s because the Seattle-based dev studio’s built in a toolset that lets players make their own missions. I’ve been playing user-generated content (UGC) missions ever since finishing the main story arc and they remind me of nothing so much as the wildly divergent fan-fiction that crops up around superhero and other genre franchises. These amateur re-imaginings have been around almost as long as comics themselves, and fanfic exists to do things with characters that the their gatekeepers can’t or won’t. So, it’s been a place where Superman and Wonder Woman hook up, Batman finally kills the Joker or Spider-Man wins a Nobel Peace Prize. The internet’s been fertile ground for fanfic, with message boards and website where writers and artists share their work. If you’ve ever had a passing “what if” scenario involving “Star Wars,” “Star Trek” or “G.I. Joe” float through your head, rest assured a 20-part epic on the very same topic probably exists somewhere.

Games, of course are different than writing. The know-how to make a video game level is rarefied knowledge but, in the console space, Sony’s been a leader in terms of giving players the means to create content and pass it along. That ethos is the raison d’etre for the “LittleBigPlanet” games and kart racer “ModNation Racers” followed in its footsteps, letting players crafts tracks and cars. In ModNation,” the drivers were avatars inspired by vinyl collectibles like the Munny. The UGC in “Infamous 2” marks a departure in that the game’s a hardcore action title, free of any of the cuteness that characterizes “LBP” or “MNR.” Plus, “Infamous 2” is story-driven and character-driven, so players don’t just get to mess around with the play mechanics; they also get to tweak the way characters get understood.

Thus, many of the thematic pillars of fanfic can found in the UGC missions. For example, several UGC missions recast Elvis-inflected sidekick Zeke and Cole as enemies. It’s a classic fed-up-with-tagalong scenario, a favorite of Robin-hating Batman fans who want their tortured hero to ditch the Boy Wonder. So, in “Duel,” Cole and Zeke stand at ten paces “High Noon”-style and you only get one shot to take out your former friend. Another UGC adventure tasks you with annihilating an army of Zekes, only to declare it was just “Cole’s Satisfying Dream.” No reason needs to be given; it’s understood that he’s just so much dramatic cannon fodder.

You can even find an alternate origin, too. In “How Cole REALLY Got His Powers,” you need to send a depowered McGrath to the cathedral in New Marais, prompted to “Ascend to Heaven and receive God’s blessing.” After a quick bit of parkour, you’re climbing a massive ramp and plucking a glowing globe that grants Cole the powers you know and love. He goes plummeting back to Earth with a new objective to destroy demons. The demons in this case are the swamp monster characters that already exist in the game, recontextualized to quasi-religious purpose. This mission plays so straight that I couldn’t be sure if it wasn’t a earnest attempt by some God-fearing gamer somehere to leave the mark of his beliefs inside “Infamous 2.” That ambiguity made me love “How Cole REALLY Got His Powers” even more.

Homages to other franchises are a given when you let players build stuff in a gameworld, and creations like a “Grand Theft Auto” pastiche or a Space Invaders tribute are par for the course. Hell, one UGC mission is simply titled, “Old-School Platforming” and has you jumping from floating block to floating block with enemies shooting at you all the way. It’s almost like a modern-day “Mega Man” game. These levels speak to a weird mix of nostalgia and fascination with technological iteration that’s endemic to video games. Long-running franchises like “The Legend of Zelda” and “Resident Evil” always get re-invented with new hardware. The impulse to think “I wonder what Mario would look like inside Minecraft” comes as second nature, then. One UGC standout in this area was a “Metal Gear Solid” tribute called “Electric Gear Solid.” Because water means painful short-circuiting and eventual death for Cole, it’s left to Zeke defuse a bomb threat in the sewer. Cole has to cover Zeke from the thugs who want to take him out, but must be careful not to zap Zeke. If Zeke dies, Cole scream out “ZEEEKE!” in homage to Metal Gear’s classic “Snaaaake?!”

Some of the UGC missions in “Infamous 2” are just larks, clever experiments with the game’s physics that are free of the brooding of the main game. “Car Bowling” sets up enemies as tenpins and has you using Cole’s electromagnetic levitation ability to hurl cars at them. And it should surprise no one up on current video game trends that there’s a UGC mission called “Zombie Apocalypse.” It’s clever, though, with a tiered structure and a tricky, self-sacrifice denouement that makes you think you’ve lost.

All the UGC in “Infamous 2” harbors a remix sensibility, where familiar elements of a character’s mythos get scrambled to create something new and unfamiliar, even as it lives in a space full of recognizable trappings. So, while the action takes place in New Marais, each UGC creates its own little alternate reality. It’s telling that you can earn points for upgrades in these missions but what you do in them doesn’t affect the karma alignment that makes you a hero or an antihero. Been playing as a saint, but really want to rack up civilian collateral damage? Go crazy in a UGC mission. It’s almost a given that Sucker Punch will be creating additional downloadable content for “Infamous 2.” But, as long as other users keep making playable, off-model fanfic for Cole McGrath, I don’t know that I’ll ever need to go back to the ‘real’ New Marais ever again.

If you’ve played any UGC missions in “Infamous 2,” what are your favorites? Let us know in the comments below or on Facebook or Twitter.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.