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by Nick Dinicola

14 Aug 2009

Parodies by their very nature give us a different perspective on things. Whether it be a plot, genre, or game mechanic, we see a different side of things when they’re viewed through the lens of humor. There are two recent flash games in particular that, while making fun of popular game mechanics, give us a unique look at the roots of those mechanics and why they’re so popular.

Upgrade Complete is a game that makes you upgrade everything. To begin the game, we have to buy a shop menu screen, but since we don’t have any money in the beginning we have to accept a loan from the developer. Then we have to buy the preloader to actually load the game and menu buttons to actually play it. The game itself is a 2-D top-down flying shooter. We can buy missiles and lasers and guns (all upgradeable of course) to help against the waves of enemies, or we can use the money we earn to buy and upgrade a logo, copyright info, the graphics, or a game over screen.

Achievement Unlocked is game that’s all about unlocking achievements. The game itself is mostly a platformer: there’s a single screen filled with blocks, jump pads, and spikes, all traditionally found in some form or another in platformers. But Achievement Unlocked is really more of a puzzle game, since our only goal is to figure out how to get all 99 achievements. It begins easily enough, giving us achievements for preloading the game, watching the sponsor screen, and pretty much rewarding every other simple action we could make: moving left, moving right, jumping, dying, etc. Everything nets us an achievement; we’re even given infinite lives so the game doesn’t end until we either give up or get every achievement.

Some time ago, Mitch Krpata from Insult Swordfighting tried to come up with new ways to describe gamers’ play styles, rather than use the inadequate “casual” and “hardcore.” One such descriptor was the Completist gamer: “A Completist may be less interested in maximizing his ability to play a game, and more interested in making sure he doesn’t miss anything…The reward is having no mountains left to climb.”

The Completist gamer is just a subset of the larger category of Skill Players according to Krpata, but given the popularity of achievements, I wonder just how “sub” that subset is. Gamers are completist by nature; we’ve been trained to be that way and are continually encouraged to keep it up. Whether it be finding all the collectibles in a game or just trying to beat it, both actions require us to complete a game to a certain degree. Especially in this day of constant hype for new releases, we’re encouraged even more to complete one game so that we can hurry to the next.

In a broader sense, Upgrade Complete and Achievement Unlocked are not just parodies of the mechanics that they’re named after but of our attitudes towards games. These are collect-a-thons in their purest form. Achievements and upgrades are just an evolution of the stars in Super Mario 64 or the puzzle pieces in Banjo-Kazooie. Achievement Unlocked is, arguably, the better parody because it portrays achievements as the old-school collectible they are, while also embracing those roots. When we play it, we’re having fun collecting even as we realize we’re the butt of the joke. Upgrade Complete on the other hand has a message at the end telling us to rate a game more on how fun it is than how complex its upgrade system is. Yet the game is fun solely because of its absurdly comprehensive upgrade system. It undermines its own message. The best parodies embrace what they make fun of, and Achievement Unlocked plays straight to our completist, collectible-loving nature. The fact that I used a FAQ to make sure that I collected all the achievements says it all.

by Jason Gross

13 Aug 2009

Even if you’re not an Aerosmith fan (I happen to like ‘em), you have to feel for a band that’s had such bad luck on their recent tour, or rather, they’ve fallen victim to a common condition for classic rockers now—it’s called age and it ain’t always pretty, especially for a set of heroes who are supposed to be forever young (but can’t be).

It started recently when singer Steve Tyler took an accidental fall off of a stage (not a stage dive, mind you).  The poor guy had to go home to recuperate and the news that slowly dribbled out included show cancellations and the threat the rest of their recent tour could be scrapped.

And this wasn’t even the start of the recent health problems that the band’s had on this tour. Read the list of ailments from the last link above and you’ll see a leg injury, knee infection and surgery, head injury and ‘non-invasive surgery’, not to mention throat cancer and hepatitis C bouts in the last few years. So far only drummer Joey Kramer has escaped maladies recently.

by John Bohannon

13 Aug 2009

Opiate Sun
(Caldo Verde)
Releasing: 27 October (US)

With bands like the Angelic Process, Alcest, and now Phil Elverum (aka Mount Eerie), a whole new world has opened up for heavy music, large in part because of Jesu mastermind Justin Broadrick’s tireless effort to not settle for the conventional sounds of metal. The effort has become to make this loud, abrasive music become melodic and sentimental—something Jesu’s latest track, “Deflated” is somewhat the pinnacle of. Its drop-tuned doom riffage is buried into a swarm of melodic guitar melodies and quite possibly one of the best vocal performances of Broadrick’s career. The track builds beautifully behind slightly atonal sustained chords into a stoner shoegaze haze while Broadrick chants, “You give me reason.” How’s that for hardcore.

Oddly enough, it somehow makes sense that Opiate Sun, the EP on which this track is contained, will be released on Caldo Verde Records, Red House Painters/Sun Kil Moon songsmith Mark Kozelek’s imprint. Hands down, this is the heaviest thing Kozelek has ever released (and he is doing so after being duly impressed by a Jesu show in 2007), but he is no stranger to spastic guitar passages –- something he experimented with earlier in his career. Opiate Sun is due out October 27th, and info on what formats it will be released on is TBD.

01 Losing Streak
02 Opiate Sun
03 Deflated
04 Morning Light

“Deflated” [MP3]

by Mehan Jayasuriya

13 Aug 2009

Let it not be said that the members of Radiohead don’t know how to employ the element of surprise. Just a few short days after loosing uncharacteristic new track “Harry Patch (In Memory Of)”, the band made headlines again when frontman Thom Yorke told the Believer that, “None of us want to go into that creative hoo-ha of a long-play record again.” This quote was, of course, quickly spun out of context, with blog commenters the world over fearfully predicting that there would be no new material from Radiohead for the foreseeable future. In fact, Yorke was hinting that the opposite was true: by leveraging their direct-to-fan distribution platform, the band hoped to release music in fits and spurts, in the form of EPs and singles. If anything, Yorke seemed to suggest that we would be seeing new music from the band very soon indeed. 
It’s curious, then, that just a few days later, we should happen upon this: “These Are My Twisted Words,” an allegedly “leaked” MP3 that sounds an awful lot like a new Radiohead song. The track surfaced on the At Ease fan messageboard yesterday, accompanied by little more than a title. On peer-to-peer networks, however, the lone MP3 was flanked by an “nfo” file, containing a cryptic, Yorke-esque rant hinting at an August 17th release date.

And what of the song itself? It’s a guitar-heavy number, awash with seasick, cascading arpeggios yet firmly-rooted by a syncopated drum line and a deep bass groove. The vocals don’t kick in until just past the 2:30 mark but when they do, the sound of Yorke’s cheerless moan is nigh unmistakable. For all its mystery, the track would feel right at home among the back-to-basics numbers of Hail to the Thief.

So is this a new Radiohead song or not? While all signs seem to point toward ‘yes’, as of yet, there’s no confirmation from the band or their management. In the meantime, why not decide for yourself?

by Bill Gibron

13 Aug 2009

It is still the quest of many a young naïve dreamer - take your talent (no matter how major or marginal), pack up a bag, leave your wholesome hometown in the dust, and head out to Hollywood. There, set yourself up in some fleabag rat trap, spend your days pounding the pavement and your nights waiting tables, resolute in your desire to “make it big”. Sure, there are pitfalls along the way - conmen and casting couches, phony film insiders and experts in exploitation (personal or otherwise) - but you believe you have the goods. You’re convinced you’ll make it. Of course, when you don’t, it’s the end of the world and a true sense of desperation takes over. And as the incredible new comedy Attack of the Slime People proves, when you’re needy, you’ll do anything - including a few things that aren’t quite legal.

Former filmmaking hotshot Buddy Flavinoid is having a bad day. Actually, it’s been a horrible couple of years. Believing himself to be the best director in Tinseltown (and he has the homemade shrine to prove it) his last production, The Attack of the Atomic Reptiles, tanked. The reason? Buddy hated the original actor hired to play the lead, so he bludgeoned him to death and recast the part. Though he got away with it, the crime has haunted him ever since. Now a mysterious backer wants to finance his latest film - Attack of the Slime People - and Buddy is having the same problem. He wants the Elvis-like Tadd Bentley to star. But producer Dick Goldberg and his saucy assistant Shelia think that stalker/obsessive Sydney Point would be a much better choice. Up against the wall once again, Buddy has no choice but to break out the old Louisville slugger and start solving his problems.

Imagine David Lynch’s demented sitcom On the Air retrofitted for the ‘50s b-movie biz mixed with a hilariously healthy dose of baseball bat wielding spree killing and you have some idea of the unsane madness that is Attack of the Slime People. It is safe to say that there has probably been no greater illustration of Hollywood’s dehumanizing effect on talent than this clever, quirky bit of burlesque. With a terrific tour de force performance by co-writer/co-producer Robert Tiffi and spot on era-appropriate direction from Martin King, what could have been artificial and phony becomes arch and very, very funny. This is the kind of quirky exercise where character traits are amplified to running gag perfection, where our leads ever-present smile turns from inviting to insidious at the drop of a dime novel. When combined with a terrific set of side personalities, a viscous Chihuahua, and a snarky sense of satire, the results are truly memorable.

King conceives this entire project as a clever bit of space age bachelor padding. The retro feel is so ripe you can almost smell the sour gin sweat of Flavinoid’s favorite local dive bar. In the lead, Tiffi is terrific, never once playing the role as realistic. Instead, this is one flailing filmmaker who comes across as a combination of Tex Avery’s cartoon and a walking insurance ad. Flavinoid is so clueless, and Tiffi is so brilliant at portraying this disconnect, that we’re amazed when he manages to do anything other than walk aimlessly in circles. This over-the-top tool has his drawbacks, meaning we never really sympathize with his production plight, but King keeps things in check. This is even true of ancillary characters like the slyly psycho Sydney Point or Flavinoid’s elephantine assistant Marge.

Indeed, while Tiffi gets all the close-ups and the cast gets to play period piece dress up, our director handles it all expertly, keeping things light and breezy. This is the kind of mannered material that could get easily bogged down in its desire to be purposefully kitschy and/or camp (read: the lame Lost Skeleton of Cadavera). But thanks to some excellent restraint on King’s part and the exceptional casting overall, what could be tedious instead comes across as electric. Even better, Attack of the Slime People has a subtle statement to make about selling out for the sake of proposed stardom - the title even gives it away. In the irritated ingénue Allison Hayes, a wistful young thing who just can’t believe she has to sleep her way into schlock cinema irrelevance, we get all kinds of well-honed warnings. She often sounds like the voice of the filmmakers speaking directly to an audience of wannabe indie actors and auteurs.

What’s really great about Attack of the Slime People, outside of the expert way it handles its hilarity, is that King and Tiffi are fearless in their desire to entertain. They inject all kinds of mayhem into this movie, from goofy fake names (just try and pronounce police detective Bacon’s moniker - I dare you) to Flavinoid’s issue with dogs. The insider jabs, like namedropping and referencing, also work well, as do the times when King just holds the camera on his star and lets those slightly smoke-stained pearly whites do the talking. From his frequent hooker show/slap downs to the spastic way he carries himself, Buddy Flavinoid is a crazy cult creation - and a surefire cinema superstar. Even if Ed Wood truly could direct rings around this stilted human statue, he’d never have our hero’s flair for flopsweat.

In a realm which regularly congratulates itself for being better and more artistically in touch with its source inspiration than the audience it caters to, it’s nice to see a clever collaboration like Attack of the Slime People. While budgetary reasons keep us from ever witnessing a frame of Flavinoid’s failed oeuvre (it would be super sweet to check out some Atomic Reptile sequences, though), we really don’t need the added illustration. It’s clear from their approach and attention to detail that King and Tiffi totally understand this filmic failure. If he isn’t Hollywood hope perverted, he’s definitely the dream deferred. It’s easy to see why so many Tinseltown types move from a night of 1000 stars to a day with the locusts. Attack of the Slime People may sound like another typical bit of Bert I. Gordon ‘50s falderal. Instead, it’s an outsider send-up that’s as cheeky as it is clever. 

//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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