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by Katharine Wray

9 Oct 2009

Here’s a new pop-candy video from the ever-hip Uffie. The song is not new (released in 2008), but the video is, as is the Mirwais remix. Full of sun-dappled polyester scenes and primary-colored legs in kaleidoscope, this video promises to please the masses.

Pop the Glock (Mirwais remix) [MP3]

by Nick Dinicola

9 Oct 2009

Over the past week on Moving Pixels,  L.B. Jeffries and G. Christopher William have written about system gank in games, a term that describes “a situation in which a player is still operating legitimately in the confines of the game but has broken the system.” They wrote mostly about the negative consequences of “breaking the game,” but I think ganking the game can be a good thing, at least in single player games.

On a purely semantic level, I disagree that cases of system ganking in single player games is really ganking as L.B. Jeffries defined it in his post. The hyper-production in an RTS, the abundance of health in an RPG, and the speedy financial growth in The Sims all strike me as very purposeful design choices, meant to encourage the player to play a certain way. Am I still ganking the game if the game itself allows, even encourages, me to do so?

When Final Fantasy X first came out a friend of mine played the utter hell out of it. He found the secret weapon for each character, all the secret Aeons (summoned creatures), and even a few secret items that disabled the 9999 damage limit for his characters. When he finally fought the final boss of the game, he defeated it in only two hits (now I admit that this memory may have gotten exaggerated over time, but I clearly remember us both being shocked and laughing for a good while at how short the fight was). Clearly he was overpowered, so much so that even the final boss was no challenge, but did he gank the system? The game allowed him to equip those items, to find those weapons, and it was his own strategic equipment layout that enabled him to become that powerful. He earned the ability to gank the system.

This is, of course, an extreme example, but I believe that ganking is often used as a reward for following the rules. Sometime it takes a long time to earn that reward, as in Final Fantasy X, and sometimes it doesn’t, as in The Sims. Whether that’s seen as a positive or negative depends on the individual and the game that they’re playing. As Christopher mentioned at the end of his post, some gamers prefer “play,” referring to freedom and the violation of rules, and some prefer “gaming,” referring to the challenge and competition that is represented by and generated by a system of rules. If a player enjoys a game for its challenge, then obviously when that challenge is removed, so is the fun. Earning the ability to gank the game ruins the game. But if a player enjoys a game for its freedom, then when that freedom is fully embraced (thanks to our ability to gank the system), the fun remains. 

Some games also encourage one play style over the other. I see nothing wrong with the get-rich-quick nature of The Sims, but then again, the last time that I played it I used a money cheat to build myself a mansion. I felt that the game was more fun when I embraced the freedom of experimentation that it offered. On the other hand, I wouldn’t approve of any cheat that makes it easier to earn gold medals in Trials HD. I feel that game is more fun when I embrace the challenge of the system of rules. Ganking one game makes it fun for me, ganking the other ruins it for me. It all depends on the specific experience that we want to have as players and that the game offers.

However, all that said, I agree with Christopher that better rules would fix most (perceived) ganking problems in single player games. To return to the Fallout 3 example, while having lots of health promotes exploration, it’s also in direct contrast to the game’s heavy themes of survivalism. Throughout the game, we see people struggling to survive and even the main story revolves around making life easier for humanity in the Capital Wasteland. Yet for the middle to high level player, walking through the wastes is like a walk in a park. Sure, the ants may be bigger, but they’re no more dangerous. A system that limits the number of stimpacks that we can carry would fix this discrepancy between the story and the experience. It could discourage exploration by making it harder, but I actually believe that such a fix would have the opposite effect. Exploration isn’t just about the discovery of something new; it’s about facing the dangers of the unknown, pushing ourselves beyond what we feel is safe, entering that dark cave even knowing that we’re ill equipped to handle what may be inside. Danger is exciting, and exploration is Fallout 3 is anything but dangerous. A better system of rules would change this for the better.

When dealing with ganking and its consequences in an MMO, the situation becomes far more complicated since one player’s desired experience might conflict with another player’s desired experience as in the Twixt situation that L.B. Brought up in his first post. But still, ganking is not always a negative thing; it can also be used as a makeshift workaround for a poor system of rules, like being forced to piggyback experience off higher level players in order to play with high-level friends in City of Heroes. In an MMO, since you’re now dealing with many players instead of one, it seems to me that me that the best that the developer can do is try and make the game’s experience as pleasant as possible for as many gamers as possible. Therefore, popular opinion rules. Popular opinion ruled that Twixt exploited the teleport power, that he ganked the game in a bad way, so the developers “broke” the teleport power. Popular opinion ruled it was too hard to level up in City of Heroes, and as a result, players ganked the game in a good way.  Thus, the developers changed the rules to better fit the needs of the people.

As L.B. said, need precedes game design.

This discussion began with Moving Pixels Plays Telephone Part 1: Considering “Ganking” the System in Video Games and continues in Moving Pixels Plays Telephone Part 2: “Ganking” Broken Systems in Video Games before concluding here.

by Dave MacIntyre

8 Oct 2009

After what seemed like an interminable wait for the sound check to complete, New York City rockers The Bravery took the stage to an anxiously waiting crowd at Toronto’s Opera House on Tuesday night.  It was well worth the wait.  The rich sound unleashed right from the get go was nothing short of monumental and worthy of a stadium-sized sound system.  Lead vocalist Sam Endicott strutted all over the stage sporting a white suit over a prison-stripe undershirt, completing the look with a white flower in his hair.  His voice was reminiscent of The Cure’s early era Robert Smith, a feature that complements the rock/electronica sound of the band.  It wasn’t until Endicott had half a dozen songs tucked away that he stopped to breathe and share with fans a story about the now-closed Brooklyn bar, Magnetic Field, a place the band once liked to frequent.  He added that their next song was about that place and launched into their hit “Believe” much to the delight of the wildly clapping crowd.  They kept the flow of songs steady and energetic for the rest of the set which included the current radio single “Slow Poison” as well as “Time Won’t Let Me Go”, and introduced some new material from their much anticipated upcoming album Stir The Blood.  An already great performance was capped off with a brilliant version of “Honest Mistake” and a short but sweet three-song encore.

by Bill Gibron

8 Oct 2009

No one likes getting cheated. It’s a double-edged sword. On the one hand, you hate yourself for being stupid enough, or gullible enough, to overlook some obvious manipulation. You can’t stand the fact that something you should have seen coming 800 miles away somehow tricked you into averting your attention, just so it could steamroll over you with its obviousness. And then there’s the public perception, the knowledge that others around you are falling for this calculated carnival barking, unaware that when they actually walk into the filmic freak show tent, they’re not getting genetic mutations, but pickling jars filled with low rent medical refuse gussied up to resemble two-headed horrors.

Ten years ago, The Blair Witch Project was touted as the most horrifying film ever, a motion picture experience that rivaled then recognized fright night champions as Psycho, The Exorcist, Dawn of the Dead, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Initially sold as a feature made out of real found footage (the actors were not allowed to do publicity during its initial festival run in order to further the “they really died” dynamic of the narrative), websites and Sci-Fi Channel specials pushed the boundaries of purposeful PR ballyhoo. By the time the movie arrived in general release during the Summer 1999, audiences were amped to see a compilation of scenes from a failed documentary, the filmmakers finding themselves way over their heads inside a particularly sinister local legend.

Of course, none of it was true. The stars sat back and laughed, eventually coming out to prove they were still “alive”, while the websites and TV shows that fed the furor over the reality of the Witch mythos also revealed their fictional foundation. By the time the movie hit video several months later, no one still believed that three kids disappeared in the Massachusetts woods looking for a fabled female devil. Even worse, the movie played like a passing fancy, effective initially before devolving into a Borat like case of overkill. Today, it gets half the respect it once earned. And then there were some, like yours truly, who walked into the cinema with expectations the size of Suspiria, only to have the next 90 minutes play out like a bad case of Blind Man’s Bluff. Indeed, when the final shot settled over the audience that warm July day, a voice in the very back shouted out “Is that it???” Truer words have never been blasted at a blank film screen before.

Now we’re facing a repeat of that ridiculous mega-hype, an artistic situation that threatens to turn this Halloween into another case of huckster hokum. For the last few weeks, Paramount and Dreamworks have been “sneaking” the spook show thriller Paranormal Activity to eager audiences ready to experience “the scariest movie of all time” (hmm…where have we heard that before?). Internet addresses geared specifically toward dread are heavily quoted in said advertisements, suggesting that a new kind of creepshow classic awaits those who dare to enter their local Bijou. Campaigns have requested that fans in places where the movie had yet to open “demand” it be brought to their town, and a recent Twitter/Facebook faced strategy had the studios releasing the movie “wide” if one million people signed up for said strategy.

Apparently, every generation needs one of these experiences to remind them that William Castle and Kroger Babb did it bigger and better half a century ago. Since we no longer live in an era where movies are “roadshowed” (show in selected areas for long engagements before moving on to the next market), it’s hard to build such a potent head of spectacle steam. Word of mouth is now instantaneous, not passed over the backyard fence. Besides, modern crowds just won’t cotton to having actresses dressed like nurses in the lobby, ready to administer “emergency treatment” should a movie patron actually pass out or be “frightened to death”. It’s the old carny con man trick - promise them one thing, deliver something quite different - and in this case, what Paranormal Activity pledges is almost impossible to provide, given the material that makes up the storyline.

We are introduced to a young couple who’ve decided to set up a camera in their bedroom, the better to document the strange goings on that have plagued their restless nights as of late. The woman is convinced that it is a reoccurrence of a “haunting” that happened to her when she was a child. The man is drawn to the possible notoriety and fame that might come from their documenting real live paranormal activity. Over the course of several nights witness strange noises and see unusual sights. By the end, the presence of something far more menacing has made itself known and our subjects are desperate to escape. But as we have learned throughout the course of this frequently unfocused film, rational human thought and the cinematic shell game can’t creatively co-exist. Naturally, logic loses out.

Because of its low budget trappings, so-so performances, and incredibly long slowburn set-up before anything remotely interesting happenings, some will have a hard time with this film. It’s an exercise in anticlimactic bait and switch that prepares for something it never plans of providing. Red herrings abound, from the entire exorcism angle (including mandatory webpage exposition), a psychic who’s too scared to stick around, and a creepy Ouija board sequence that draws some initial intrigue and then is simply tossed aside. The main scenes feature our couple sleeping as unseen footsteps plod along, doors open and close, lights flicker on and off, and other random noises disturb their slumber. There is a definite “seen one, seen them all” vibe to these night terror takes, a sense that given the small scale of the production, this was the best scares that could be achieved.

Others will feel like the riders on a shriek specked rollercoaster, their inexperience and quick ability to lapse into the contrivances of the narrative guaranteeing that the minute something minutely unusual happens, they’ll be losing their liquids in a quasi-cathartic recognition of the movie’s manipulative power. Director Oren Peli suffers from the constant camera movement shtick that more or less renders any attempt at suspense pointless, and the ending feels like a cop-out, an attempt to offer the patient viewer with the kind of slam bang selling point the rest of the movie lacks. Those long schooled in the ways of horror will see most of Paranormal Activity‘s gimmicks quite clearly. For others, this will be there monster movie war story for years to come.

Perhaps the saddest part of all the PR pandering is that we are so easily able to fall for it - AGAIN! It’s as if the Blair Witch never happened. Thirty years ago, people paying to see Last House on the Left were told to remind themselves “It was only a movie.” For many, that advertising tagline was more imaginative than the obvious exploitation effort on the screen. John Carpenter’s Thing was heavily promoted as a “double dare” title around specific adolescent demographics, a splatter showcase so nasty you were basically belittled into taking the potentially nauseating risk. When Witch was hailed as ‘the scariest movie ever’, it was doing so from a place of obvious novelty. Few films had used the POV perspective to tell their tale, and with the surrounding company gag order, many were still convinced the final film was actually real. Today, we see hundred of examples of this style.

No one will think Paranormal Activity is real. Even though it’s being sold that way (the film opens with the studio thanking the San Diego Police Department), it is an obvious ruse. The script doesn’t try to sound true to life. Instead, it follows the same haunted house elements that exasperate audiences who want the victims to wise up and get the Hell out of harms way. It’s funny to watch the studio sell it as a “group” experience, the hope being that by seeing it with a whole bunch of potential marks, a few of their jitters will rub off on you. Odd that they don’t use the same strategy for comedies or dramas (see “Precious” with someone whose shoulder you can cry on…). So the hyperbole’s been turned up to 11, pundit after macabre know-it-all arguing that William Friedkin’s Oscar nominated look at demonic possession is a fair comparison to this low rent clap trap. Right.

Of course, opinions are just judgments based on personal and collective outlook. But in a genre that’s more mocked than embraced, that sees so many shoddy examples of same that studios now longer screen them for cocksure critical cynics, Paranormal Activity is bucking the trend. It’s still being sold as a Mount Everest of eerie when its probably a Pike’s Peak of unfulfilled possibilities. Like the old cliché claims - fool me once, shame on me, fool me twice, shame on you. With the rare exception of the Spanish sensation [REC] , which actually used the fact that a patron actually soiled themselves watching the brilliant zombie effort, expectations rarely lead to realizations (it’s a great film - seek it out on DVD). Paranormal Activity will be the cause du jour for the next few weeks until Award Season proper kicks in. By the time Santa is sliding down the chimney, it will be in the same place The Blair Witch Project was post-release. Here’s betting that 10 years from now, something else will come along to render this cheat chuckle worthy. Until then, as Public Enemy would argue, don’t believe the hype.

by Tyler Gould

8 Oct 2009

Datarock’s new video for “The Pretender” (from Red) was inspired by John Carpenter’s 1988 Roddy Piper flick, They Live. If we’re lucky, the next one will be based on Big Trouble in Little China.

//Mixed media

Slowdive Sell Out Brooklyn and Release Bonus Song "30th June"

// Notes from the Road

"Although sound issues delayed their set on the second night, Slowdive put on an unforgettable show in Brooklyn, or rather two shows.

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