Archive for October, 2008

Infinite Lives: Halloween Round-up

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You already saw these, but hey, it’s Halloween

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Technophobia: 10 Cautionary Tales for Gamers

Your mother was right: those games will rot your brain.

Here are ten (?!) horror movies for gamers. Thanks to the combined efforts of reader comments and my own loathsome late-night cable TV habit, catalogued below are, count ‘em, ten—not seven—horrific parables about videogames and those who have the misfortune to play them.

Note: To everyone who linked to TV episodes, those were also great.

These movies are, almost uniformly and without rival, the absolute shittiest the horror genre has to offer. Enjoy.

How to Make a Monster, 2001

A made-for-TV movie based, however loosely, on the 1958 horror flick of the same name. In it, a team of game developers are pulling all-nighters, attempting to finish their next survival horror title. But when lightning strikes an AI chip…

Yeah, I can’t really recommend this movie. At all.

Verdict: No.

“Bishop of Battle,” Nightmares, 1983

Emilio Estevez stars as a teenaged arcade rat whose game obsession results in inevitable, supernatural comeuppance. This is pretty much the greatest, most archetypical videogame horror story ever written, set in that remote era back when Berzerk could kill a man.

Verdict: Perfection, crammed into 26 perfect minutes.

Stay Alive, 2006

For a movie that nobody watched, Stay Alive is weirdly watchable. And although the movie title is supposed to sound ominous, I’ve always been reminded instead of a popular disco tune.

Anyway, the plot. A bunch of twentysomethings get a preview copy of a PS2 game. Then they start dying. Honestly? I remember being surprised by how much I liked the cinematographer’s use of color.

Verdict: It isn’t Shakespeare, but it might be free on cable.

St. John’s Wort (Otogiriso), 2001

A videogame artist (J-horror staple Megumi Okina) and her producer decide, inexplicably, to explore a creepy old mansion. The plot unfolds like a survival horror adventure game—think Silent Hill or Fatal Frame—but without the scares.

In short, it’s the Japanese version of Stay Alive.

Verdict: A stylized clunker with a weird, tacked-on twist ending, but one that I own on DVD anyway.

Brainscan, 1994

Recommended by Chris Person, SpatulaOfDoom

“The ultimate experience in interactive terror!”

Just when you thought it was safe for CD-ROM gaming to finally take off, Eddie Furlong and his post-grunge bowl-cut go on a murder spree from inside the game. And this was well before anyone ever thought to call videogames “murder simulators”!

My favorite part of the trailer is when the puddle of computer-generated blood pools into the shape of a compact disc.

Verdict: Rad.

Ghost in the Machine, 1993

Recommended by SpatulaOfDoom, carpboy

“And then there’s the movie Ghost in the Machine, once again from the the early 90’s, and starring Karen Allen. Brainscan and Ghost in the Machine are at least watchable.” —SpatulaOfDoom

I just realized this entry isn’t technically about gaming, but because of its thematic strength I’ll give it a pass.

Verdict: Thanks to its comparatively high recommendations, this might be one to add to the ol’ Netflix queue.

Arcade, 1993

Recommended by SpatulaOfDoom

“There was a movie in the early 90’s called Arcade. It starred A Christmas Story’s Peter Billingsley.

Arcade looks about as childish as Spy Kids [3-D], but it did have enough violence and language to earn an R rating. It’s an awful fucking movie nonetheless. David S. Goyer (Dark City, Blade, Batman Begins) wrote the abomination.” —SpatulaOfDoom

In spite of Spatula’s derision, this movie trailer is, for me, pretty effective—probably because I am still infatuated with the VR machine they had in the mall movie theater in 1993.

Verdict: Peter Billingsley…!

HALLOWEEN BONUS: Thanks to Zort in the comments, as well as three belated recommendations from Chris Person, I am adding three more movies to the list—bringing the list from its initial seven to a nice, round TEN.

Which brings me to a brief editorial note: in our collective strain to think of ten whole movies, the genre definition of ‘horror,’ at this juncture, becomes rather lenient. Does sci-fi/dark fantasy/suspense/action/thriller count as Halloween horror? Sure!

eXistenZ, 1999

Recommended by Zort and Chris Person

Does eXistenZ count as straight-up horror? It sure counts as bizarre.

I actually don’t remember this movie very well, but here’s what I can type from memory: Jude Law is in it. Christopher Eccleston is in it. Cronenberg directed it. And, uh, to play the game inside the collective dream, they put their hands into an alien vagina. That’s how it went, right?

Just seeing the trailer makes me want to go screaming to a psychotherapist.

Verdict: Yep, it’s horrific.

The Dungeonmaster, 1985

Recommended by Chris Person

Notoriously bad fantasy flick with a cult following. In it, a computer gamer with muscular legs wakes up to find himself… See? You don’t even need me to continue.

In keeping with the established format of this blog, I should really post a trailer. But this pebble-in-the-rough is so obscure, it doesn’t seem to have a trailer. So, in lieu of a grainy VHS dub, here is crisp footage of a young man earnestly synopsizing The Dungeonmaster instead:

Verdict: Why do people love this movie so much? So you don’t have to.

Game Box 1.0, 2004

Recommended by Chris Person

Game Box 1.0 is styled after some of the earlier entries on this list, and it is a glorious mess. In it, a heroic game tester (the guy from “Sabrina, the Teenage Witch”) fights to avenge his dead girlfriend (the girl from “Boy Meets World”). Um. Here’s a trailer.

Verdict: Brain Scan 2.0.

There you have it: seven cautionary tales for gamers and three honorable mentions, each a story about the game becoming real; every one, a misguided masterpiece.

If you think of any more (and I’ll be pretty annoyed if you do), leave ‘em in the comments.

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LEGO Batman: The Videogame: The Cake

I swear to break myself of posting about baked goods. At the very least, I won’t do another toy or cake -related post this week.

Oh, who am I kidding!

It took cake designer Elisa Strauss and a team of people twelve days to make this 300 lb (~136 kg) cake. The LEGO Men (and Ladies) are handmade and edible.

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Day of the Tentacle tentacle cookies

I confess that I have recently avoided blogging about my favorite video game baking site, Snack or Die, because it seems unfair that I post whenever Jocelyn posts, stealing all her photographs.

But Jocelyn’s brilliant Day of the Tentacle sugar cookies simply cannot be ignored. Sugar cookies themselves seem especially autumnal. The icing itself should be a cinch to mix. Apple Jacks cereal O’s make for perfect Purple Tentacle and Green Tentacle suction cups. All in all, what a neat Halloween baking project for any fan of LucasArts adventure games.

Also—and this has nothing to do with baking—there is not much on YouTube in the way of the old Maniac Mansion TV show starring Joe Flaherty. That seems criminal!

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Castle Crashers custom vinyl toys

You probably already saw these on Kotaku and Vinyl Abuse, but because I love them, here they are again: CASTLE CRASHERS TOYS.

The artist decided to customize vinyl Teddy Troops figures. With the Troops’ faces smoothed over with Sculpey, they bear (hur!) an uncanny resemblance to the heroes of Castle Crashers. Aside from the Knights’ admirably strong brows, I think the renderings of the little pets are the best part.

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Lead: synesthesia homebrew for the 2600

I cannot wait for Lead to come out.

Granted, it’s already out. You can download the ROM (edit: no, no, download this one) and play it right now in a 2600 emulator like Stella. A warning: it’s tough.

Lead is a music shmup from programmer Simone Serra, designed for the Atari 2600. It boasts unforgiving gameplay and a catchy ‘glitch’ soundtrack.

As for the game’s music mechanics, freelancer/archivist/programming hobbyist Jess Ragan says, “Simone [Serra] has done what Tetsuya Mizuguchi could not: create a ‘synesthetic’ shooter that is not entirely dependent on pretty graphics and a pretentious art direction.” His review of an earlier build of Lead, below:

A little over a week ago, AtariAge announced the winner of the Lead Label Contest. The game will ship—with pretty labels on real Atari carts, as God intended!—this December.

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PST lunch hour: Super Bento Bros

You guys. This is maybe more amazing than the Tatooine bento.

Apparently, this work of Incredible Genius was made for Derek Lieu by his girlfriend. Sheez, nice lady. Lieu posted more detailed photographs, along with plenty of annotations, on his Flickr, here. (The Yoshi egg is an actual quail egg!)

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TGS 2008 – Phoenix Wright action figures

No more toys! I insisted to myself last week. I was miserable. My bedroom, once spotless, is now cluttered with lidless boxes, each one full of tiny gashapon. I’d simply shelve the toys, but my shelves are already unhappily stacked with boxes full of Toy Collection 2006.

Poorhouse, meet my total lack of resolve. Because here they are, folks: ridiculously articulated figures from the Gyakuten Saiban series (including Ema Skye and Trucy, both from Apollo Justice).

Ema is my favorite. Forensic science is rad, and look how detailed her satchel is.

I can’t wait to get my hands on these, but no word yet on when, where, or how.

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This Friday’s episode of ‘Ghost Whisperer’ is going to be awesome

I am not telling you this to depress you: I really like watching Numb3rs on Friday nights. Maybe you already knew that—I know I’ve mentioned it before—but here is my real secret. Every once in a while, I actually like to stay parked on the sofa and also catch the latest episode of Ghost Whisperer, starring Jennifer Love Hewitt. As the Ghost Whisperer, Hewitt helps ghosts confront their loose ends before the transition to the afterlife. The television show is perfectly sincere and humorlessly campy, a spectacular cross between Medium and Touched by an Angel.

Reasons to watch episodes of Ghost Whisperer with any interest whatsoever: Jay Mohr is good; there’s an amazing episode with Nikki Cox; I’m trying to think of one more reason to edit in, but I can’t. And for the first couple seasons, every scene was shot strategically so that Hewitt’s hips were never visible (there’s a drinking game in there somewhere).

But set your Tivos for this Friday’s October 17 episode, “Ghost in the Machine”!

In reading various synopses, I have gleaned that a “ghost” is luring girls to a gaming “social networking website”. The trouble all starts when the main character checks out “Virtual Life” on the computer and a ghost “avatar” flies out of the monitor. Later, during another visit to “Virtual Life,” the main character’s “avatar” gets into a physical fight with the ghost’s “avatar.” The main character begins her investigation, and she meets someone named Ned on “Virtual Life” to “play DDR.”

I cannot wait for this episode. I especially like the supernaturally-tinged Dateline plot, designed to confirm everything my mom believes about the internet. It all reminds me of the time I begged my friend, whose own mom was the head writer for a popular daytime soap opera, to tell someone to rewrite a script that boasted a “hacking into an email” “using a Virus” subplot.

If you enjoy “Ghost in the Machine,” you might also like other movies with similar horror themes of “help! The game is too real!” I recommend How to Make a Monster, Stay Alive, and St. John’s Wort, all of which are piss-poor. Then, of course, there’s always Emilio Estevez’s fine turn in the “Bishop of Battle” segment in 1983’s Nightmares.

Any other Halloween suggestions?

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Why aren’t you playing Multiwinia?

I thought we struck a deal, here, you guys. I’d periodically mention that Defcon is the greatest game ever made, and then when the time came, we’d all pick up copies of Multiwinia. Right? So why aren’t you playing Multiwinia?

Perhaps you are waiting for Darwinia+ to be released for XBLA later this year (edit: sometime next year)? Understandable! Perhaps you don’t have a PC to play Multiwinia on? I’m right there with you, cowboy. But maybe—no offense—you didn’t know the game had come out?

Kieron over at Rock, Paper, Shotgun chanced upon Chris Delay’s lengthy missive over at the Introversion forums. A big part of the problem, Delay notes, is a profound lack of coverage:

It’s been three weeks since we launched Multiwinia, and today Metacritic shows four reviews (the minimum required for a metacritic average) for the first time since game launch. By comparison, Defcon had nearly thirty metacritic reviews within a week of launch. Of the reviews we have arranged with websites and magazines, less than 20% of them have been published at this time. One british games magazine has declined to review Multiwinia at all—ever.

In the end, Delay urges a SAVE MULTIWINIA campaign. There’s only one way to get the word out, folks, and that is by getting the word out.

With that said, I made this hip and attention-getting banner. Do with it as you will.

The Multiwinia demo is available as a free PC download, here. Tell your friends!

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Casual edutainment from the Nobel Foundation

As of Monday, October 13, the 2008 Nobel prizewinners have all been named! I was surprised and delighted when, tonight, as I skimmed the Nobel Foundation’s official website, I spied an entire category dedicated to flash games. Totaling 16 in all, each game has been designed to both edutain and infotate (Sorry, Ray).

The subjects of chemistry, physics, medicine, literature, and peace offer three games each. There is also one game currently listed under “economics,” intended to teach the fundamentals of national and international trade. In playing the Lord of the Flies game, I realized that—despite its being my favorite allegory when I was 14—I was only able to match the character Piggy to his eyeglasses. Sigh.

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LTTP: a belated art round-up

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Memewatch: This is no place for politics!

...but I just couldn’t help myself.

(Your politics may vary.)

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My Favorite Edutainment Titles That Promote Literacy

Yesterday, GamePolitics pointed to an interesting blog-rant titled “Department of Bad Ideas: Teaching reading through video games,” written by one Miss Self-Important. (That’s her nom de blogge, by the way—no one is being snarky here.)

What follows is just one brick in the wall MSI posted yesterday:

So this brings us to video games as a means of encouraging reading. There is no logical connection between these two activities—in my experience, the only activity that video game playing encourages is more video game playing. This is not inherently evil (just mostly), but neither is it going to achieve the stated end. But! also! “some educational experts suggest that video games still stimulate reading in blogs and strategy guides for players.” And nothings instills lifelong literary habits like video game strategy guides. ... Again, I have to wonder—how excited should we about every line of text a child reads? Is it an achievement that a child can establish basic communication with his peers, which is essentially what a message board allows, and which is completely different from understanding literature? Are food labels the next big literary thing?

So I read this, and instinctively, I think this woman is kidding. After all, she wears glasses. Also, she identifies as a Chicagoan who now lives in a new city. Her punctuation is so Lewis Carroll. She is obviously very likable. She also belies, in her blogroll sidebar, an interest in casual gaming—how can I not assume that we are cut from the same cloth?

Moreover, she notes elsewhere that, just this September, she was reading Children’s Literature: A Reader’s History. Why, this summer, I was reading a different history of children’s literature, Minders of Make-Believe (thanks, Seth)! So while I would ordinarily pay this blog entry no further thought, I am, instead, helplessly furious.

I underscore MSI’s interest in children’s lit because, in her rant, she hints at having a broader suspicion of edutainment on the whole: she isn’t just skeptical of software targeted at youth, but also at mainstream children’s books and, I can only assume, various other media. And this is so frustrating, because we share a real interest—how best to cultivate children’s literacy and enthusiasm for learning—but, clearly, we approach this from completely opposing vantages.

Rather than deconstructing this blogger’s argument (which I assume she wrote for her own writerly satisfaction, and not to engage the entire GamePolitics readership), I will simply confront it with:

My Favorite Software and Edutainment Titles That Promote Literacy

Storybook Weaver (MECC, 1992)

It’s a computer game in which you seldom read, only write.

Maybe this is a strange place to begin a list about literacy, but alas, Storybook Weaver is the first game I played on our very first family computer. To be fair, this ‘game’ was nothing more than blank pages to type into, along with an enormous catalogue of clip art. But the clip art was populated with archetypes from folk- and fairy- tales, ready to be graphically remixed, mashed up, and ultimately, written about. Storybook Weaver was like magnetic poetry for elementary school kids. This was perhaps, in my quest to write the Great American Novel, my most prodigious era.

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