DID YOU READ

Insert Credit: “From Dust”

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Insert Credit endeavors to suss out where you should be allotting your video game allowance, sifting out a single title from many and crowning it as The One Game You Need to Get This Week. Don’t consider these reviews, gentle reader. Rather, think of Insert Credit as a mix of hands-on time, informed opinion and intuition.

For the week of July 25, 2011, you should insert credit into: “From Dust.”

The newest downloadable Xbox 360 release in Microsoft’s Summer of Arcade promotion is, in a nutshell, SimCity as filtered through an aboriginal lens. This visionary game comes from Eric Chahi, the pioneering indie developer who made the classic “Another World.”

In “From Dust,” players get to embody a Higher Power known as the Breath, summoned by a wandering tribe of brown folk to shepherd them on a journey to reconnect with the legacy of the Ancients. The Breath earns the ability to manipulate the elements, with knowledge of such transmitted through music. So, you have to unlock songs to create various feats of wonder like creating a force field that shields villages from giant tsunami waves.

From Dust box art.jpg You’re essentially creating a series of homelands for the people in “From Dust” and you do that by gaining and wielding power over the elements. So, you’ll move massive mounds of earth to bridge chasms, redirect the flow of water for irrigation or control the spread of fire to raze hostile vegetation. It’s heady being this virtually powerful but you never feel omnipotent. Whether it’s creating seawalls out of molten lava or evaporating all the water on a huge map, there’s too much to do in any given level.

The controls can feel sketchy, and “From Dust” is practically screaming out for the precision of a mouse-&-keyboard set-up. God games made their marl in the earlier waves of PC gaming and “From Dust” feels like it still wants that style of control. But the game’s puzzle-like structure will keep you playing despite the idiosyncrasies of input.

Despite being made with and playable on cutting-edge technology, Chahi’s latest work still manages to feel folkloric in tone. There’s touchy-feely, New Age-isms all over the place but, those aside, “From Dust” feels both fun and profound in totally unique ways.

If you’re playing or played “From Dust,” what do you think of it? 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.

Freddy Krueger coming to “Mortal Kombat”

Freddy Krueger coming to “Mortal Kombat”  (photo)

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If fighting games are good for one thing–aside from illogically bouncing boobs–it’s throwing in wildly unrelated characters into their to-the-death tournaments. Memorable examples can be found in the very existence of the “Marvel vs. Capcom” series and the “King of Fighters” franchise, which lumps together brawlers from several disparate arcade titles in games that often don’t even feature story. Recent moves in the same vein include the canon-breaking appearances of Darth Vader, Yoda and latter-day Jedi Starkiller in Namco’s “SoulCalibur IV” and the “Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe” game put out by the now-defunct Midway a few years back. That game came out just before the Chicago-based publisher’s bankruptcy and featured Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman in bloody battle with Scorpion, Sub-Zero and the rest of the mystical martial artists from the MK-verse.

Apparently, the appearance of interlopers tickles the collective fancy of Netherrealm, the developers behind the reinvigorated Mortal Kombat. In this year’s relaunch of the notoriously gory fighting game, the PlayStation 3 version let players fight with that console’s Kratos character, best known for the Greco-Roman mythological action series And now, just announced at Comic-Con is the impending arrival of Freddy Krueger, the metal-taloned boogeyman of Wes Craven’s classic “A Nightmare on Elm Street.” The fedora-wearing man-monster will be available as a DLC character beginning on August 9th and will cost 400 Microsoft Points ($4.99). The playable version of the dreamscape’s predator looks to be based on the 2010 “Nightmare” reboot instead of the classic look originated by Robert Englund (who stars in the zombie-centric DLC for Call of Duty: Black Ops).

The trailer above looks to make Freddy a formidable foe for the warriors of Earthrealm and Outworld. Freddy’s apparently got beef with big MK bad guy Shao Khan over a soul-stealing dispute but, let’s be honest, none of that matters. All fans want to see is who’s got the sharper blades between Freddy and monstrous enforcer Baraka. And that Fatality move with the furnace shows that Netherealm’s done their research, paying a nice homage to Freddy’s preferred method of getting rid of victims. You’ll get your chance to slice things up with Mr. Krueger in a few weeks.

What do you think about the addition of Freddy to the roster of “Mortal Kombat” characters? Let us know in the comments below or on Facebook or Twitter.

Insert Credit: “Bastion”

Insert Credit: “Bastion” (photo)

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Insert Credit endeavors to suss out where you should be allotting your video game allowance, sifting out a single title from many and crowning it as The One Game You Need to Get This Week. Don’t consider these reviews, gentle reader. Rather, think of Insert Credit as a mix of hands-on time, informed opinion and intuition.

For the week of July 18, 2011, you should insert credit into: “Bastion.”

At first glance, “Bastion” looks like yet another homage to the games of yesteryear, specifically the Super Nintendo era. It uses the same isometric camera angle as “Super Mario RPG,” and features an artistic sensibility and design mechanics influenced by Japanese RPG games like “Final Fantasy VI.” There’s more than a little retro to it.

What “Bastion” really is, though, is a ballad, in the antiquarian sense of the word. A long poem that tells a history or an adventure. The legend being told here is that of The Kid, a young hero who wakes to find the world of Caelondia destroyed and disappeared.

“Bastion” takes the old RPG convention of the plucky young lad setting forth in the world to find his greater destiny and turns it on its ear. Yes, there’s shooting, slashing and spell-like powers, complete with the collect-and-improve loot mechanics of most RPGs. But, it comes with a main character who’s prematurely world-weary. And that grand destiny? It’s picking up the pieces of a shattered world. There are no goofy comic relief types to meet, no boon companions to add to your party of merry adventurers. The Kid moves through the world alone, as one ultimately does through grief. People can help you remember and move through it, but really you’re the one who decides what to do with the fragments of loss.

Scouring the web-like paths of his broken world for the remnants that will let it rebuild, The Kid comes across the shadowy remains of deceased friends. You can either smash these dark holograms to bits or just walk on by, but either way you have to move on. The Kid makes his way to the Bastion, a sanctuary where he can rebuild the world.

If you steer him wrong, the Kid drops into the world unceremoniously every time he falls off of a precipice, faceplanting as if just finger-flicked out of the hereafter. It’s a signifier that you’re playing a character that just can’t catch a break. The gravelly voiced narrator-winningly played by Logan Cunningham-talks up almost every in-game move you make. Fall of the edge of the world and he’ll quip “Been meaning to put up guardrails.” Deflect a bullet back at an enemy and he’ll say “The Kid responded in kind.” Bastion’s populated with micro-challenges based around specific feats to earn bigger clumps of XP, but they also memorialize the culture that’s in shambles. So, when you master the War Hammer, for example, and you’ll hear about how it was used to tame the Wild Lands. The stellar writing permeates every aspect of the game so that, no matter what you’re doing, you’re almost always getting story.

Bastion_Boxart.jpgThe game’s Who Knows Where missions show off how well-integrated the intertwining of story and gameplay are. These side battles follow the popular Horde template where you must defeat advancing waves of enemies but, while you get to restock health and super-attacks in between rounds, you also get dollops of backstory. And that’s what keeps you playing. Who Knows Where represents the only chance you’ll get to hear about the Kid’s parents and pre-history before the game starts. It’s not the glory of achievement that drives you to survive the 20 cycles of aggression; it’s the need to know.

There’s a lonesome country-western feeling that hovers around “Bastion” which belies the cuteness of artist Jen Zee’s gorgeous chibi manga stylings. One bit of text pops up when you erect a Memorial in the Bastion: “A necessary testament to the Calamity. By paying tribute to the past, one may better prepare for the future.” As a game, “Bastion” does this and still manages to be its own heartfelt touchstone for an all-new generation of gamers.

“Bastion” can be downloaded from Xbox Live for $15 (1200 Microsoft points).

If you’re playing or played “Bastion,” what do you think of it? Let us know in the comments below or on Facebook or Twitter.

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