PAX 2011: Haunted Temple’s Jake Kazdal talks about “Skulls of the Shogun” and reviving a near-dead genre

PAX 2011: Haunted Temple’s Jake Kazdal talks about “Skulls of the Shogun” and reviving a near-dead genre (photo)

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One of the most buzzed-about games at this year’s PAX Prime was the innovative real-time strategy adventure “Skulls of the Shogun.” The debut title from Haunted Temple Studios updates the grid-based formula of RTS games like “Final Fantasy Tactics” and “Advance Wars” by letting players move freely and advance and retreat within a round. “SotS” plays more like an action title than other games in the tactics/RTS design lineage and it seems to be stirring up a legion of fans who’ve been quietly waiting for this style of game to move into the 21st Century.

I had a chance to speak to Jake Kazdal, the president and founder of Haunted Temple about his inspirations for “Skulls of the Shogun” and plans for future versions of the game.

Jake, you and the crew at Haunted Temple Studios are making “Skulls of the Shogun.” It’s a strategy game, which is a genre that has seen more popular days. What made you guys decide to go with this kind of game?
I love this genre. I loved “Advance Wars,” I love the old 16-bit stuff. Like “Shining Force,” “Fire Emblem”all those kind of things.. And that genre has just like withered lately. And I feel like part of the problem is that it became a real niche thing.

The most recent games of this type are only available through obscure Japanese DS titles. It’s just sort of disappeared and there’s really no good reason for it. One of the problems, though, is that it has not advanced as a genre. Which is funny when you say “Advance Wars”–generally thought of as the best example of the genre–because it’s the same formula as it was in the SNES days. So I wanted to take that core concept and mash that into a more modern, more relevant sort of vision that would make it easily accessible yet preserve what makes these games unique.

Explain the concept for people who aren’t familiar with the tactics genre.
So, it’s turn-based strategy games. The closest thing to compare to it would be literally chess. In this game in particular, the only goal is to take out the enemy general. He’s got a bunch of different types of units that have different types of strengths and weaknesses to protect him but he is the most powerful unit on the battlefield, and destroying the other generals is all that really matters.

Most games like this have been very menu-driven. They’re very slow, very methodical and very exact. You have a grid, and you can move an exact amount of units. And it’s a very slow process. I wanted to throw all of that out and take as much of the old school Japanese arcade, button-mashing, Capcom-style games of the ’90s and fuse the two together.

So that meant throwing away all of the grids. No menus. No micromanagement. Make it all as fast-paced as possible. To take as many lessons from the arcade experience as humanly possible and put them into into this strategy genre. It’s an unusual mix but it’s been a raging success. I think we achieved what we wanted to do.

That was always my issue with strategy as a genre. I’ve always thought it too slow. I really can’t be bothered to sift through menus and learn the quirks of movement. What kind of decisions did you guys make to make it faster and more attractive
Well, dropping the grid was huge. So many more people are like, “Oh, I’m not terrified of this genre,” all of a sudden. It’s one-to-one movement. You’ve got a button for every action, meaning you don’t need to spend any time in menus or anything. Literally, it’s almost an action game but it’s turn-based. You can imagine it’s like playing Fantasy Football or something like that. It’s almost real-time but it’s not.

You guys are going with digital distribution; what was the thought process behind that?
Well, we’re a three-man studio. We have no money. Basically manufacturing and going through a traditional publisher would be very cost- and time-prohibitive and really wasn’t even an option for us. We were willing to self-publish. Then, Microsoft saw it and enjoyed the game and decided to pick it up, and made our publishing across all three platforms. Yeah, we’ll be doing a phone version, Games for Windows PC version and the Xbox Live arcade version in January.

I didn’t know you guys were doing mobile as well.
Yeah. I think it will be a big hit. Because that mobile experience, where you might do one or two rounds of a battle during your commute… this is the perfect game for that.

Obviously, you guys can’t talk about the exclusivity.
No, we can’t. There’s an exclusive window but, obviously, we think we’ve crafted a really good game here that will have a wide audience. And we would like to do as many platforms as possible but we’re not able to really deal with that right now. Plus, there’s three of us. We’ve got three launches we’re looking at and we are completely slammed. We don’t have time to think about where else we’d like to wind up right now. We just need to get the versions of the game that we’ve been working on out the door. We don’t even know what we’re doing next.

So, I should just not ask that question, huh?
Come back in a few months and we might have an answer for you. [Laughs]

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Bro and Tell

BFFs And Night Court For Sports

Bromance and Comeuppance On Two New Comedy Crib Series

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“Silicon Valley meets Girls meets black male educators with lots of unrealized potential.”

That’s how Carl Foreman Jr. and Anthony Gaskins categorize their new series Frank and Lamar which joins Joe Schiappa’s Sport Court in the latest wave of new series available now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. To better acquaint you with the newbies, we went right to the creators for their candid POVs. And they did not disappoint. Here are snippets of their interviews:

Frank and Lamar


IFC: How would you describe Frank and Lamar to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?
Carl: Best bros from college live and work together teaching at a fancy Manhattan private school, valiantly trying to transition into a more mature phase of personal and professional life while clinging to their boyish ways.

IFC: And to a friend of a friend you met in a bar?
Carl: The same way, slightly less coherent.

Anthony: I’d probably speak about it with much louder volume, due to the bar which would probably be playing the new Kendrick Lamar album. I might also include additional jokes about Carl, or unrelated political tangents.

Carl: He really delights in randomly slandering me for no reason. I get him back though. Our rapport on the page, screen, and in real life, comes out of a lot of that back and forth.

IFC: In what way is Frank and Lamar a poignant series for this moment in time?
Carl: It tells a story I feel most people aren’t familiar with, having young black males teach in a very affluent white world, while never making it expressly about that either. Then in tackling their personal lives, we see these three-dimensional guys navigate a pivotal moment in time from a perspective I feel mainstream audiences tend not to see portrayed.

Anthony: I feel like Frank and Lamar continues to push the envelope within the genre by presenting interesting and non stereotypical content about people of color. The fact that this show brought together so many talented creative people, from the cast and crew to the producers, who believe in the project, makes the work that much more intentional and truthful. I also think it’s pretty incredible that we got to employ many of our friends!

Sport Court

Sport Court gavel

IFC: How would you describe Sport Court to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?
Joe: SPORT COURT follows Judge David Linda, a circuit court judge assigned to handle an ad hoc courtroom put together to prosecute rowdy fan behavior in the basement of the Hartford Ultradome. Think an updated Night Court.

IFC: How would you describe Sport Court to drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?
Joe: Remember when you put those firecrackers down that guy’s pants at the baseball game? It’s about a judge who works in a court in the stadium that puts you in jail right then and there. I know, you actually did spend the night in jail, but imagine you went to court right that second and didn’t have to get your brother to take off work from GameStop to take you to your hearing.

IFC: Is there a method to your madness when coming up with sports fan faux pas?
Joe: I just think of the worst things that would ruin a sporting event for everyone. Peeing in the slushy machine in open view of a crowd seemed like a good one.

IFC: Honestly now, how many of the fan transgressions are things you’ve done or thought about doing?
Joe: I’ve thought about ripping out a whole row of chairs at a theater or stadium, so I would have my own private space. I like to think of that really whenever I have to sit crammed next to lots of people. Imagine the leg room!

Check out the full seasons of Frank and Lamar and Sport Court now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Millennial Wisdom

Charles Speaks For Us All

Get to know Charles, the social media whiz of Brockmire.

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He may be an unlikely radio producer Brockmire, but Charles is #1 when it comes to delivering quips that tie a nice little bow on the absurdity of any given situation.

Charles also perfectly captures the jaded outlook of Millennials. Or at least Millennials as mythologized by marketers and news idiots. You know who you are.

Played superbly by Tyrel Jackson Williams, Charles’s quippy nuggets target just about any subject matter, from entry-level jobs in social media (“I plan on getting some experience here, then moving to New York to finally start my life.”) to the ramifications of fictional celebrity hookups (“Drake and Taylor Swift are dating! Albums y’all!”). But where he really nails the whole Millennial POV thing is when he comments on America’s second favorite past-time after type II diabetes: baseball.

Here are a few pearls.

On Baseball’s Lasting Cultural Relevance

“Baseball’s one of those old-timey things you don’t need anymore. Like cursive. Or email.”

On The Dramatic Value Of Double-Headers

“The only thing dumber than playing two boring-ass baseball games in one day is putting a two-hour delay between the boring-ass games.”

On Sartorial Tradition

“Is dressing badly just a thing for baseball, because that would explain his jacket.”

On Baseball, In A Nutshell

“Baseball is a f-cked up sport, and I want you to know it.”

Learn more about Charles in the behind-the-scenes video below.

And if you were born before the late ’80s and want to know what the kids think about Baseball, watch Brockmire Wednesdays at 10P on IFC.

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Crown Jules

Amanda Peet FTW on Brockmire

Amanda Peet brings it on Brockmire Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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GIFS via Giphy

On Brockmire, Jules is the unexpected yin to Jim Brockmire’s yang. Which is saying a lot, because Brockmire’s yang is way out there. Played by Amanda Peet, Jules is hard-drinking, truth-spewing, baseball-loving…everything Brockmire is, and perhaps what he never expected to encounter in another human.

“We’re the same level of functional alcoholic.”

But Jules takes that commonality and transforms it into something special: a new beginning. A new beginning for failing minor league baseball team “The Frackers”, who suddenly about-face into a winning streak; and a new beginning for Brockmire, whose life gets a jumpstart when Jules lures him back to baseball. As for herself, her unexpected connection with Brockmire gives her own life a surprising and much needed goose.

“You’re a Goddamn Disaster and you’re starting To look good to me.”

This palpable dynamic adds depth and complexity to the narrative and pushes the series far beyond expected comedy. See for yourself in this behind-the-scenes video (and brace yourself for a unforgettable description of Brockmire’s genitals)…

Want more about Amanda Peet? She’s all over the place, and has even penned a recent self-reflective piece in the New York Times.

And of course you can watch the Jim-Jules relationship hysterically unfold in new episodes of Brockmire, every Wednesday at 10PM on IFC.

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