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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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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

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Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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