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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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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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