Archive for Places and Events

Ahhhcade at the San Francisco MOMA

Two of the best events at this year’s Game Developers Conference were, technically, not GDC events at all.

First there was Lost Levels, a rotating, three-ring speaking engagement held one afternoon in the Yerba Buena Gardens. That event was exciting in a punk-rock “this is our happening!” way. And except for I quickly discovered I suffer from serious allergies—the venue was mostly shorn lawn, and more than one person wondered aloud why I was apparently crying—Lost Levels’s freeform “microtalks” were among the GDC’s very best.

Then there was Ahhhcade, an interactive games gallery held on the first floor of the SF MOMA. It was similar to Lost Levels and in multiple ways: it was a one-day event; it was open and free to the public; it was also maybe poorly documented. (GDC panels and talks are usually filmed and stuffed into “the Vault,” which is to say, though the conference itself can be inaccessible for some, the talks are generally available.)

Ahhhcade, curated by Sarah Brin and Babycastles, was wonderful. Anthony Carboni, tireless friend to Indies, will explain:

For my own part, I was so excited to finally play Ian Bogost’s Guru Meditation as it was meant to be played! (I own the iOS version of that game, knowing full well it is a flimsy facsimile of the original Atari 2600 software.) I am a great fan of 2600 homebrew as it is; meanwhile, Professor Bogost’s software gamifies my favorite pastime, which is sitting still. I decided—in hopes of being the first person in the world to try this, actually—to play the iOS and 2600 versions simultaneously. To do it, I seated myself on the balance board and opened the game on my iPhone.

My hands were trembling. The experiment was a total failure. Still, Professor Bogost encouraged me, and my good friend Brian Taylor captured it:

Jenn Frank plays two versions of Guru Meditation simultaneously

Professor Bogost does what he can to help

The real reason I attended Ahhhcade, though, was to experience Doug Wilson’s latest collaboration, Marvelous Melodies of Mutazione.

And the reason I decided to attend GDC itself was to co-host the ordinarily-London-based radio program One Life Left! It’s really the only radio program or podcast to which you ever need to listen, and what an honor and pleasure to participate!

In our final GDC episode, fellow host Ann Scantlebury and I excitedly flip out on poor Doug (14:44). I loved my Mutazione experience, and I kind of get lost in explaining why. Ah! I am the worst interviewer in the world.

Incidentally, I do not at all remember recording the first episode of One Life Left’s GDC series, which is incredibly funny because, in it, I clearly state that my goals for the week include “remember an evening after it happens.”


Nerd Notes: game-shopping with Brian Taylor

Solstice: NES title screen

My friend and colleague Brian Taylor visited Chicago over the weekend, and I tell you, I barely got to drag him all over town the way I’d planned. In another life we might’ve gone to Three Aces, Grange Hall Burger Bar, and all the other places the foodies have not yet discovered and ruined. We did visit Myopic, but there wasn’t time enough to go around the corner to Quimby’s. (We did hit up the Paramount Room, even though I warned the burgers aren’t as good as advertised, and then my hamburger was ridiculously delicious, and then I felt foolish in a really nice way.)

Mr. Taylor and I went directly from the airport to Videogames Then & Now, which is this fantastic store out in Norridge. If you are ever in Chicago, do yourself a favor, rent a Zipcar, and make the drive.

We ought to have recorded ourselves talking in there, because we were hilarious. As a matter of fact, the gentleman behind the counter thanked us for being such lively loiterers, and I admitted to him that ordinarily I am very in-and-out of that store, all business. This time I was excitable, even a little bit twerpy; I’ve seldom had so much fun in public.

BT and I spent a long time among the stacks of NES cartridges. We are both great fans of the MacVenture games and their NES ports, and I found Shadowgate pretty easily. Brian wanted his own copy of Déjà Vu, and I located that pretty nimbly, too. I also snatched up the NES Gyruss—that “tube shooter” is only the greatest arcade machine ever—while Brian, who is even more into hardboiled crime fiction than I could ever aspire, picked up a bizarre little game called Nightshade. I hope he decides to write about it.

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Linksplosion: Martin Amis, ‘Minecraft,’ and Emporium Bar Arcade

Hello and hi. I collected a couple links a couple days ago, but I hadn’t yet posted them—until now! Lucky you!

  • Joystiq – Minecraft building blocks (via Metafilter.

    The correct reaction is “what the—”

  • Eater – Emporium Arcade Bar Opening in March

    A Barcade-style barcade is coming to Chicago, and everyone is freaking out:

    Expect a focus on Midwestern and local beer with half of the beer on tap always being from the Midwest. The plan is to rotate their selection often, so there will always be new brews to try. There will also be a large whiskey list, with a selection of standard and upscale varieties. A full bar will be available as well and there may be more specialty cocktails down the line.

  • Writer Martin Amis once penned a video-game near-classic, Invasion of the Space Invaders. The Millions has a review of the book (via Slate).

    Photo: Martin Amis's 'Space Invaders'

    Since the book is impossible to buy used, some Good Samaritan is publishing Amis’s book’s very best lines as a Twitter feed.


Quotables: artist Tyler Coey does Sega

Sonic the Hedgehog, reenvisioned by Tyler Coey

“Growing up you were either a ‘Sega kid’ or a ‘Nintendo kid.’ I was a Sega kid!”

—Artist Tyler Coey on Sonic the Hedgehog. His piece appears in the upcoming Super Button Mashers: a Gamer Tribute at OhNo!Doom, opening February 11.


Super Button Mashers: a Gamer Tribute at OhNo!ARCADE

Super Button Mashers postcard front

This could well be the first-ever ALL GAMES-THEMED exhibit to ever open in Chicago.

“Super Button Mashers,” opening February 11, 2012, features an incredible roster of artists:

Aya Kakeda, Alex Willan, Ben Spencer, Blütt, Brandon Garrison, Brain Killer, Brian Stuhr, Brian Walline, Brianne Drouhard, CHema Skandal!, Cory Benhatzel, CZR PRZ, David Palumbo, David Rettker, Eric Broers, Glen Brogan, Isaac Bidwell, James Liu, Jason Castillo, Jenny Frison, Jeremiah Ketner, J.Shea, Joey D, Jordan Elise, Lana Crooks, Leeanna Butcher, Luisa Castellanos, Martin Hsu, Matt Hawkins, Matthew Ryan Sharp, Max Bare, Melissa Sue Stanley, Mike Budai, Mike Graves, Mr. Walters, Natalie Blue Phillips, Nathan West, Sean Dove, Shawn Smith, Shayne Labadie, Steff Bomb, Steph Laberis, Tyler Coey, Yosiell Lorenzo, Zoë Bare, and Plush Team

Super Button Mashers postcard back

What an all-star cast! I am so damn thrilled I don’t know what to do with myself.

And one more thing: curator Max Bare somehow convinced Chicago’s own Jake Elliott to submit an arcade game to the exhibit! It is an all-new game, and it will be playable at the show.

Super Button Mashers Mega Opening
February 11, 6:00 PM-10:00 PM
1800 N. Milwaukee
Chicago IL 60647
Tuesday and Thursday 4:00 PM-10:00 PM
Saturday 12:00 PM-7:00 PM

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Chicago! Gear up for next month

Super Button Mashers: a gallery exhibit at OhNo!Doom

Strap in! I’m not sure how much I can—or want!—to tell you about this gallery show, but know this: it opens on February 11, and there will be art. Details forthcoming.


The Kinn of Fighters: Neo Geo, FNG, and a Detroit gaming legend

After what seemed like ages The King of Fighters XIII has finally come out to consoles, bringing a gameplay style and aesthetic practically lost to the modern clump of fighting games. Gorgeous hand-drawn 2D spritework with a combat system that values smart gameplay and skill over comeback mechanisms, it is exactly what I’ve been wanting in a fighting game for a long time, and hopefully heralds SNK’s big break back into the US fighting game market. Sadly, the man who really brought me into the Neo Geo gaming fold, the man who was a die-hard fan of SNK’s games in general and the KOF series in particular, passed away a year ago, on October 16, 2010.

That man, Kinn (also known by his handle “Robotron,” or by his real name, Kim) was more than just another guy who played video games in the Metro Detroit area. He was a patriarch to the gaming scene who worked to foster a sense of community, and whose breadth of classic gaming knowledge made him nigh-unstoppable in games such as Mr. Do, Burgertime, and Zanac. An old school player through and through, Kinn grew up in the heyday of arcades in the late 70s through the 80s, 90s, and early 2000s. He worked in arcades, won local tournaments in games like Robotron: 2084 (leading to his handle) and generally enjoyed gaming as a pastime on par with fishing, comic books, and cheesy science fiction featuring robots. Naturally he picked up the consoles of the day as well, and even started importing Japanese games in the early 90s once catalogs became available to purchase them through.

After a grievous injury on the job, Kinn lost his left leg, limiting his chances to take part in his more active hobbies and exacerbating preexisting health problems he already had to deal with, and so he spent more of his time with games and movies at home. While he did not entirely eschew modern gaming systems and genres, from the Dreamcast era on he focused his new purchases on arcade-style shooters (shmups, STGs, whatever you want to call them), multiplayer games such as Mario Kart, classic games, and of course, fighting games. Due to this fairly small trickle of new content he was picking up –- both domestically and imported –- he was able to focus much of his new-game budget on the newest releases for his favorite console, the Neo Geo, right up until the end of the console’s run, topping off at over 60 games before he ultimately sold the whole thing. In context, these were all critical components to a weekly event he held at his house off of 8 Mile since the 90s, known as Friday Night Gaming, or FNG.

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Doki Doki Picnic

'Shy Guys' by Nicole Gustafsson for I Am 8-Bit

Nicole Gustafsson’s Shy Guys, completed just in time for the SUPER iam8bit exhibit, which opens August 11 in Los Angeles. (It’s nice to see somebody exploring the softer side of “shy.”)

I am pretty sure I have mentioned this every summer for the last several summers, but my birthday is actually that very—oh, never mind. Twenty-three was the last birthday I celebrated, anyway. I know, I know.


Darling new paintings by Martin Hsu

Illustrator Martin Hsu’s latest solo show, CRAKENS, opened at Chicago’s Rotofugi Gallery late last week. The LA-based artist was in attendance, and he is every bit as charming, friendly, and animated as his paintings are.

At least two of the cutest pieces in the exhibit are video games -themed, and of course I am totally in love with both of them.

Here’s one of Hsu’s recurring characters, Snappy Pig, playing his 360. He appears to be losing to the little fox-rodent on the left:

And here’s another recurring character, Sea Monkee, playing his brand new 3DS in a tree.

Giclee prints of each, signed and numbered by the artist, are available in limited runs of 30 (US$120 framed, $70 unframed). The prints are very nearly the same size as the originals, which is nice.

And at the time of this writing, the originals themselves are unsold—Snappy Pig Xbox can be yours for a piddling $325, while Sea Monkee 3DS is just $350.

CRAKENS runs through June 26, so if you are in the Chicagoland area, stop by Rotofugi Gallery. As always, there is no admission fee.

You can read more about the show’s opening reception at Hsu’s blog.

Rotofugi Gallery
2780 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago
(773) 868-3308


Jude Buffum slices, dices, quarters, and vivisects your favorite game characters

Jude Buffum is great. His meticulous, deliberate paintings, each one an entire mosaic of pixels, are much too charming to come off as labored. His work for the ongoing cult series curated by Gallery 1988 in Los Angeles—including Crazy 4 Cult, the 3G show, Under the Influence, and Idiot Box, to name a handful—reappropriates pop culture, often recasting familiar faces, places, and subplots as video game battles.

And now for something a little different:


“For the upcoming show Pixel Pushers, sponsored by Scion and curated by Giant Robot,” Buffum writes, “I decided to explore the carnivorous side of the world of video games.” And sure enough, each of Buffum’s 6 macabre works is styled after the beef chart.

Here, Mario’s nemesis Koopa is drawn and divvied into mouthwatering steaks, while Zelda’s Ganon, with his porcine snout, can be turned into bacon, sausage, and ham. The Final Fantasy chocobo is hacked into like a chicken, as is Mario’s stalwart companion Yoshi—he can lay eggs, after all. But best of all, Bloopers and Cheep Cheep fish (they’re the two adversaries from Super Mario Bros’ obnoxious underwater levels) finally get a chilling comeuppance, served with a side of wasabi. So gruesome!

Eric Nakamura of Giant Robot curated the show, which runs from November 13 through December 11 at Scion Installation Gallery LA. The opening reception will be held on the evening of November 13, 7:00-10:00 PST.

Pixel Pushers: An Exploration of 8-Bit Digital Media
November 13 – December 11, 2010
Scion Installation Gallery
3521 Helms Avenue, Culver City 90232
(310) 815-8840


Learn to Play’s digital and analog game art

note: Umm, this finished draft is dated 09/14. Sorry I didn’t post it earlier.

Learn to Play, a gallery exhibit slated to open at Cupertino’s Euphrat Museum of Art, promises challenging, playable game art for its attendees. Some of the digital installations will ring familiar: there’s Jonatan Söderström (Cactus); Mark Essen (messhof); Superbrothers; and more.

Chicago’s own Jake Elliott’s playable piece will interest vintage Sierra fans, as it’s essentially Roberta Williams’ Mystery House, transformed into an unhappy, domestic drama.

The Learn to Play exhibit runs proper from October 4 through November 24, but rubberneckers can catch its preview September 17-18.

Learn to Play
Euphrat Museum of Art
De Anza College
21250 Stevens Creek Boulevard
Cupertino, CA 95014-5793


Heartwarming cosplay from Otakon

Geekadelpha’s Dan Tabor attended the Otakon anime convention in Baltimore a couple weeks ago, and today he uploaded his photographs to Flickr! And while I am ordinarily unmoved by cosplay, for some reason, all of these earnest, grinning kids really sell it for me (especially cleanly-shaven, babyfaced Gordon Freeman).

Check out Dan’s set! You’re sure to fall in love all over again with Samus Aran, Mega Man, Magnet Man, Astro Boy, the Companion Cube, Silent Hill nurses, Oregon Trail, Waldo, Zombie Waldo, obligatory Leeloo, Ryu, Ken, and Akuma, adorably unthreatening Zangief, Okami’s Amaterasu (?!), Sub-Zero vs. Scorpion, Pedobear, “Paper” Shredder, Big Trouble in Little China, Inspector Gadget, Lady Gaga, Flo, the Progressive car insurance employee, a lawn gnome, and many, many more.

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3G Show at Gallery 1988 LA promises Jude Buffum goodness

Everything Jude Buffum does and makes is inspired, but these 3 pieces for the upcoming 3G Show (Gremlins, Goonies, Ghostbusters) at LA’s Gallery 1988 absolutely take the, uh, the Zuul.

Each of Buffum’s movies-as-8-bit-video-game has already been making the rounds on Tumblr and Reddit today—although, to be fair, I first saw these at .tiff—but they are well worth reposting. So here they are again!

“I wanted to pick a pivotal moment in each film,” Buffum writes, “a scene where one of the characters makes a crucial discovery (or error).”

I especially like the direction Buffum took in his rendering of Gremlins as a 2D platformer: as in the movie, Kate is holding the gremlin threat at bay with flash photography. It’s very Fatal Frame, isn’t it? I would totally play that 8-bit game!

If you happen to be in Los Angeles this fall, I definitely recommend that you pick up some of Buffum’s limited-edition prints and, you know, mail them to me. The exhibit opens September 3rd and runs through the 22nd.

Also, if you happen to be in San Francisco right now, I definitely recommend the current solo show at Gallery 1988 SF, as it is all collage work by the Chicago artist who moonlights as Rotofugi Gallery’s curator. I think I’m obligated by law to mention that.

The 3G Show
Friday, September 3, 7-10pm
Gallery 1988
7020 Melrose Ave, Los Angeles


Daily Linksplosion: Tuesday, July 13, 2010

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Awesome custom Samus at LA’s Toy Art Gallery

That incredible Samus Aran figurine (with LIGHT-UP HELMET and CANNON ARM) is, bafflingly, a customized Celsius vinyl toy, executed by artist Dave Quiles. Look at the details on her Varia suit!

This lovely bounty hunter is just one custom vinyl toy at the Ganmettal Celsius Custom Show, which opened July 10 at LA’s Toy Art Gallery.

The show also featured at least one Mega Man custom (well, duh, right?).


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