DID YOU READ

“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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Hard Out

Comedy From The Closet

Janice and Jeffrey Available Now On IFC's Comedy Crib

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She’s been referred to as “the love child of Amy Sedaris and Tracy Ullman,” and he’s a self-described “Italian who knows how to cook a great spaghetti alla carbonara.” They’re Mollie Merkel and Matteo Lane, prolific indie comedians who blended their robust creative juices to bring us the new Comedy Crib series Janice and Jeffrey. Mollie and Matteo took time to answer our probing questions about their series and themselves. Here’s a taste.

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

Mollie & Matteo: Janice and Jeffrey is about a married couple experiencing intimacy issues but who don’t have a clue it’s because they are gay. Their oblivion makes them even more endearing.  Their total lack of awareness provides for a buffet of comedy.

IFC: What’s your origin story? How did you two people meet and how long have you been working together?

Mollie: We met at a dive bar in Wrigley Field Chicago. It was a show called Entertaining Julie… It was a cool variety scene with lots of talented people. I was doing Janice one night and Matteo was doing an impression of Liza Minnelli. We sort of just fell in love with each other’s… ACT! Matteo made the first move and told me how much he loved Janice and I drove home feeling like I just met someone really special.

IFC: How would Janice describe Jeffrey?

Mollie: “He can paint, cook homemade Bolognese, and sing Opera. Not to mention he has a great body. He makes me feel empowered and free. He doesn’t suffocate me with attention so our love has room to breath.”

IFC: How would Jeffrey describe Janice?

Matteo: “Like a Ford. Built to last.”

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

Mollie & Matteo: Our current political world is mirroring and reflecting this belief that homosexuality is wrong. So what better time for satire. Everyone is so pro gay and equal rights, which is of course what we want, too. But no one is looking at middle America and people actually in the closet. No one is saying, hey this is really painful and tragic, and sitting with that. Having compassion but providing the desperate relief of laughter…This seemed like the healthiest, best way to “fight” the gay rights “fight”.

IFC: Hummus is hilarious. Why is it so funny?

Mollie: It just seems like something people take really seriously, which is funny to me. I started to see it in a lot of lesbians’ refrigerators at a time. It’s like observing a lesbian in a comfortable shoe. It’s a language we speak. Pass the Hummus. Turn on the Indigo Girls would ya?

See the whole season of Janice and Jeffrey right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Die Hard Dads

Inspiration For Die Hard Dads

Die Hard is on IFC all Father's Day Long

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIPHY

Yippee ki-yay, everybody! It’s time to celebrate the those most literal of mother-effers: dads!

And just in case the title of this post left anything to the imagination, IFC is giving dads balls-to-the-wall ’80s treatment with a glorious marathon of action trailblazer Die Hard.

There are so many things we could say about Die Hard. We could talk about how it was comedian Bruce Willis’s first foray into action flicks, or Alan Rickman’s big screen debut. But dads don’t give a sh!t about that stuff.

No, dads just want to fantasize that they could be deathproof quip factory John McClane in their own mundane lives. So while you celebrate the fathers in your life, consider how John McClane would respond to these traditional “dad” moments…

Wedding Toasts

Dads always struggle to find the right words of welcome to extend to new family. John McClane, on the other hand, is the master of inclusivity.
Die Hard wedding

Using Public Restrooms

While nine out of ten dads would rather die than use a disgusting public bathroom, McClane isn’t bothered one bit. So long as he can fit a bloody foot in the sink, he’s G2G.
Die Hard restroom

Awkward Dancing

Because every dad needs a signature move.
Die Hard dance

Writing Thank You Notes

It can be hard for dads to express gratitude. Not only can McClane articulate his thanks, he makes it feel personal.
Die Hard thank you

Valentine’s Day

How would John McClane say “I heart you” in a way that ain’t cliche? The image speaks for itself.
Die Hard valentines

Shopping

The only thing most dads hate more than shopping is fielding eleventh-hour phone calls with additional items for the list. But does McClane throw a typical man-tantrum? Nope. He finds the words to express his feelings like a goddam adult.
Die Hard thank you

Last Minute Errands

John McClane knows when a fight isn’t worth fighting.
Die Hard errands

Sneaking Out Of The Office Early

What is this, high school? Make a real exit, dads.
Die Hard office

Think you or your dad could stand to be more like Bruce? Role model fodder abounds in the Die Hard marathon all Father’s Day long on IFC.

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Founding Farters

Know Your Nerd History

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs via Giphy

That we live in the heyday of nerds is no hot secret. Scientists are celebrities, musicians are robots and late night hosts can recite every word of the Silmarillion. It’s too easy to think that it’s always been this way. But the truth is we owe much to our nerd forebearers who toiled through the jock-filled ’80s so that we might take over the world.

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Our humble beginnings are perhaps best captured in iconic ’80s romp Revenge of the Nerds. Like the founding fathers of our Country, the titular nerds rose above their circumstances to culturally pave the way for every Colbert and deGrasse Tyson that we know and love today.

To make sure you’re in the know about our very important cultural roots, here’s a quick download of the vengeful nerds without whom our shameful stereotypes might never have evolved.

Lewis Skolnick

The George Washington of nerds whose unflappable optimism – even in the face of humiliating self-awareness – basically gave birth to the Geek Pride movement.

Gilbert Lowe

OK, this guy is wet blanket, but an important wet blanket. Think Aaron Burr to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. His glass-mostly-empty attitude is a galvanizing force for Lewis. Who knows if Lewis could have kept up his optimism without Lowe’s Debbie-Downer outlook?

Arnold Poindexter

A music nerd who, after a soft start (inside joke, you’ll get it later), came out of his shell and let his passion lead instead of his anxiety. If you played an instrument (specifically, electric violin), and you were a nerd, this was your patron saint.

Booger

A sex-loving, blunt-smoking, nose-picking guitar hero. If you don’t think he sounds like a classic nerd, you’re absolutely right. And that’s the whole point. Along with Lamar, he simultaneously expanded the definition of nerd and gave pre-existing nerds a twisted sort of cred by association.

Lamar Latrell

Black, gay, and a crazy good breakdancer. In other words, a total groundbreaker. He proved to the world that nerds don’t have a single mold, but are simply outcasts waiting for their moment.

Ogre

Exceedingly stupid, this dumbass was monumental because he (in a sequel) leaves the jocks to become a nerd. Totally unheard of back then. Now all jocks are basically nerds.

Well, there they are. Never forget that we stand on their shoulders.

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC all month long.

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