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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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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.