Latest Blog Posts

by Rob Horning

2 Apr 2008

I’m generally skeptical of social networks—they seem to me primarily ways to commercialize and monetize one’s presumable bevy of friends and get competitive over how social you are—but I find this trend (via Marginal Revolution) toward using them to play games heartening. It makes me understand for the first time why people bother to sign up for them. (I don’t understand why so many people play Scrabble on them though, a game I find to be no fun and very nearly antisocial.)

Games have become some of the most popular applications to be introduced. While some programs have quickly flamed out, games have drawn repeat users who keep coming back for more. And games have steadily amassed new recruits as players invite their friends.
Unlike traditional online casual games, users playing inside a social network aren’t competing against strangers who happen to be online at the same time, but against their friends. It’s a significant distinction: Segal said he had tried playing backgammon online in the past, but didn’t have a good experience. If he played well, his opponents sometimes would just abandon the game and disappear. That doesn’t happen among his friends.
Social gaming has become yet another means to keep in touch.
“It delivers the message, ‘I’m thinking about you’ without having to think of something to say,” said Jeremy Liew, a general partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners, who has blogged extensively about social gaming. “You can’t always instant message (your friends) or write to them, but playing games with them is one way of expressing that they’re important to you.”

I completely relate to that last part. I used to play bridge (wished I still was playing bridge, actually) and part of the pleasure was definitely the structured social activity, which allowed conversation to be subordinate, and fill in the gaps naturally. It’s very hard to make an activity out of “keeping in touch”—it ends up feeling forced and off-putting; there’s just no context for knowing what a friend who is not integrated into your everyday life would want to hear about. How I went to the hardware store to get screens for my windows? How I spent hours combing over fantasy baseball news? These were among the big personal events for me recently. But a game obviates the need for pretexts, lets a connection exist without contrived chitchat.

I don’t quite get this though:

San Francisco startup Serious Business, founded by 23-year-old Alexander Le and 24-year-old Siqi Chen, believes that a new genre of games could be mined from tapping into social networks.
In November, the duo created Friends for Sale, now one of Facebook’s most popular games with nearly 700,000 daily players. Users buy, sell and own their friends, as though their friends were pets or stocks. Owners can control their acquisitions, forcing them to do or say things, as well as sell them and turn a profit. Those being bought and sold are also part of the game, going up and down in value.

This sounds like Slave Trade, the home game.

by Bill Gibron

1 Apr 2008

As a director, he continues to grow. He style has stayed basically the same, yet he still finds new ways to incorporate inventive ideas and social satire into the madcap mix. As a writer, his work has become polished and professional. Gone (well…almost) are the rude rants, the sexually explicit diatribes meant to shock as much as satisfy. In their place is a considered concentration on character, a desire to explore more mature aspects of humor while never quite leaving the confines of filth. Yet perhaps the most amazing thing about Low Budget Productions guru Chris Seaver and his 16 years of independent moviemaking is his consistency. Few if any mainstream auteurs have the track record that he’s developed, from his earliest experiments to his latest - and some may argue, greatest - work of genius.

In this second part of a two day overview, we will look at Seaver’s latest unreleased epics, including a John Woo style shoot ‘em up featuring everyone’s favorite amorous monkey, and an homage to Michael J. Fox, winter sports, and genealogical shape shifting. Both efforts confirm that Seaver is one of the few filmmakers who can successfully mine their past while preparing the way for their soon to be famous future. It’s also clear that nearly two decades behind the lens has left him capable of creating the kind of cult camp classic that will have generations jonesing for more.

Wet Heat

When Teenape is tapped for being a pedophilic perv, the government gives him an option. The President of Entertainment has been kidnapped by a crazy drag queen wannabe Rocky Horror fame whore, and it’s up to our groovy gorilla to rescue him. Of course, he’ll have some help, and meet a few “Escape from…” style characters along the way. One thing’s for sure - guns and monkey nuts will be blazin’.

For all his love of gore, Chris Seaver has never been a student of violence. The only film in his oeuvre to touch the Tarantino-esque trend still skirting the edges of modern cinema was an actual spoof of said video store savant - a brazen bite at Kill Bill called Mulva 2: Kill TeenApe. But Wet Heat changes all that. It’s a magnificent maelstrom of anarchic ammo goodness, a baffling bullet ballet with CGI blood spray for added action. Clearly influenced by the growing collection of over the touch gunplay grooves - Crank, Smokin’ Aces, old spy flicks, any number of Hong Kong titles - there is also a tasty throwback feel to the mid ‘80s, a time that’s very close to Seaver. Considering he was born at the end of the Me Decade, these films formed the foundation of his very aesthetic. But while others strive to emulate their heroes, this director is out to demolish them. Indeed, he takes the parts he likes and links them together with his own loony LBP universe and spawns something spastically special. In fact, it’s one of the many elements that make his movies so madcap and magical.

Again, the acting is excellent here, with standouts like Meredith Host as Scooter, affecting a perfect ambiguously asexual mercenary persona. There’s a wonderful sequence in which our main villain, the appropriately named LaFemme LaDouche taunts the President in an almost flawless Frankenfurter frenzy. Billy Gaeberina is stellar in the role. There are in-jokes a plenty, lots of scatological slams, and just enough whimsy to make you wonder where Seaver gets his ideas. By the time we reach the finale, where forces of good and evil are ready to face off in one final hail of Smith and Wesson wildness, Wet Heat‘s promise definitely pays off. This is another notch in Seaver’s sizable belt, a literal blast that strives to be more than your standard fart jokes and toilet takes. As part of his amazing maturation, we recognize the casting off of certain cinematic crutches. While continuing to embrace his love of pop culture, Seaver is surveying his career, and making the moves necessary to increase his production profile.

Ski Wolf

When Scotty Bateman visits his reclusive Uncle Billy at the family ski resort, he learns two awful truths. First, a lowlife rich prick named Ralston Zabka is trying to buy the place. Apparently, profits are low and the park is going under. Even worse, there is an unusual Bateman curse. Seems the males become werewolves under pressure. When Zabka puts the screws to his relative, Scotty responds…as a slopes-slaloming lycanthrope!

Here it is - Chris Seaver’s great leap into masterful mainstream comedy. Copping as many moves as he can from the entire Greed Decade dynamic of high school/college competition hilarity, and working in a few familiar LBP riffs along the way, Ski Wolf is a wicked, watershed moment. It’s every lowbrow high concept crapfest Hollywood ever hocked up spun into a sputum snow cone and served slushy.  Featuring a fantastic cast including Trent Hagga, Billy Gaberina, Casey Bowker and porn princess Alix Lakehurst, Seaver savors every single second of this effort’s outsized scope. He uses the wonderful Rochester, NY location to its very best, and gets the most out of his crazy company of like minded miscreants. Those worried that somehow catering to the mediocrity demanding masses would blunt Seaver’s sex and scum based satire needn’t fret. He’s just as foul, albeit in a familiar, Farrelly Brothers manner. There are situations and circumstances that recall the best - and sometimes, the wanton worst - of the already DOA genre. Truth be told, if anyone could resuscitate that kind of crude humor, it would be Seaver. Thankfully, he appears to have bigger funny business fish to fry.

All the ‘80s beats are present and accounted for - the horndog histrionics, the cheese ball musical moments, the random nudity, the occasional lapses into gross out gagging - and thanks to the talent involved, it all works wonderfully. Special mention also needs to go to Casey Bowker. For several years he’s been stuck inside Teenape’s mask, reduced to playing a groin-driven dastard with more spiel than Ron Popeil. Here, he actually gets to give two totally distinct performances. His Scotty is your typical awkward adolescent, face carrying a couple of youth tagging blemishes as part of the performance. Naturally, once the wolf appears, Bowker’s uncanny ability to channel old school seediness comes through loud and crystal clear. He is matched perfectly by Hagga, who seems permanently unable to break out into the bigs. He’s the kind of recognizable type - cad, crook, kook - who could find dozens of character roles in La-La Land. When you consider the source, and the troubles behind the camera, Ski Wolf shouldn’t be this glorious. It should deliver, but only in tiny trickles. Instead, Seaver solidifies his already ripe resume, arguing for his continued success in a business that has been blind to his talents for far too long.

Never one to rest on his lengthy laurels, the rest of 2008 looks to be a banner year for this tireless artist. What’s even more astonishing is that Seaver continues to create. A quick trip over to his website indicates the starting dates for two more films, as well as ideas for future projects. Not bad for a 30 year old who struggled in anonymity for years before DVD delivered his insane cinema to a wanting world. Even a change in personal status (he’s married, with a newborn baby) refuses to dampen his filmic fervor. And we can all thank the motion picture gods for that.

by PopMatters Staff

1 Apr 2008

Barry Adamson
(all tracks from Back to the Cat released 31 March)
Spend a Little Time [MP3]

Shadow of Death Hotel [MP3]

Psycho_Sexual [MP3]

Buy at Rhapsody

The Black Angels
Doves [MP3] (from Directions to See a Ghost releasing 13 May)

Ghislain Poirier
Blazin [Video]

Kanye West
Homecoming [Video]

The Old Haunts
Volatile [MP3]

New Bloods
Oh, Deadly Nightshade [MP3] (from The Secret Life releasing 8 April)

J. Spaceman and Sun City Girls
Mr. Lonely Viola [MP3]

Los Campesinos!
My Year in Lists [Video]

by Mike Schiller

1 Apr 2008

For a good portion of the ‘80s and ‘90s, a major (major!) part of developing for the home console market was wrapped up in translations of arcade games.  This is an art that has slowly dwindled over the course of the last decade, as arcades have slowly but surely dwindled in popularity.

For an arcade port to succeed, it must do at least one of two things: It can either be incredibly faithful to the original, à la the console translations of Street Fighter II, which may not have been quite as powerfully in a graphical sense as their arcade counterparts, but actually managed to retain the spirit, the tight control, and the full set of characters and moves from the coin-op.  To a point, the Mortal Kombat ports were the same way (at least, the ones that retained the blood), and if you go back to the Atari 2600, Asteroids, Defender, and even Pong were games that were faithfully reproduced to varying extents, but it was truly their similarity to their arcade counterparts that led to their high amounts of commercial success.

In certain cases, however, a strict port of the arcade experience just won’t cut it—Gyruss, one of the more underappreciated NES experiences, is one of those cases.  For one thing, the arcade version of Gyruss had been around for a solid five years before the Nintendo version was released.  A port had even been released for the 2600 some four years before the NES version.  The fact that it was even a candidate for a port is a testament to just how popular the Famicom/NES was at that point in its life, as publishers scrounged up just about any property they had lying around to put out on the uberpopular system.  Given its already well established history, then, it made sense that a new version, five years late to the party, would have to be souped up a bit to appeal to an audience that may well already have tried three versions of the thing.

For those who have never seen it or heard of it, Gyruss is a “tube shooter”—think Tempest, or Space Giraffe if you’re a Jeff Minter fan.  Basically, you have a 360-degree range of motion, as you fly around in strict circles shooting at whatever shows up.  The enemies in Gyruss appear in Galaga-like patterns, swirling onto the screen before taking their spots in the distant center.  The point of a tube shooter like Gyruss is that it’s a way to give the player a three-dimensional combat experience using sprites; theoretically, objects closer to the outer circumference of the screen are “closer” to the player, while those in the center are further away.  It’s a play mechanic that takes some getting used to as you acquaint yourself to the perspective.

Still, once you do that, the thing’s a blast.  HRdK0rE shmup players won’t have too much trouble with it, as it’s probably one of the easiest shooters the NES has to offer, but those just looking for a good time blasting away some spaceships will find much to enjoy.

Thanks to the arcade version’s re-release via the Xbox Live Arcade, I was able to see just how much of the game had changed from the original arcade version.  Perhaps most notable are the boss fights—the Nintendo version has bosses that must be tackled before reaching each of the planets of the solar system, bosses that range from stupefyingly easy to oddly random and frustrating.  Thankfully, there’s another new addition to the NES Gyruss arsenal, that being the use of super shot bomb things that do a heck of a lot more damage than your typical pea-shooter.  There are a few other subtle changes like the order of the stages and the types of sprites used, but mostly, it’s the bosses that set this game apart.

It doesn’t seem like much of a change, really, but it actually does enhance the sense of accomplishment one gets from beating these levels and making it to the various planets.  Being able to modify the control scheme is nice, too, and even a little bit ahead of its time.

The NES Gyruss, sadly, has not yet made its way to the Wii’s Virtual Console service, and it’s a shame, as there’s certainly an audience for this sort of game; heck, non-popularity hasn’t stopped them from putting out a metric ton of Turbografx-16 shmups.  As such, hidden treasures like Gyruss are why God invented Ebay, and why any connoiseur of retro games needs an actual console in their living room.  Gyruss will never get your heart pounding with snazzy graphics or anything approximating true innovation (even for its time), but as far as don’t-blink arcade-style shooter experiences go, it’s one of the best the old-school has to offer.

by Terry Sawyer

1 Apr 2008

Founding Father and Santo Gold Inspiration

Founding Father and Santogold Inspiration

For starters, Santogold will be blowing up in iPod near you by the time you finished reading this. Though some may dismiss her as an M.I.A. dilution, I think she’s got every bit the defiance and skill of Ms. Arulpragasam, even if she has a more narrowly niched sense of hip-hop gone global. In this video, I think she plays with a lot of artistic mythology in setting up a persona of wise disconnection and power. 

I can’t personally comment on the connection between women and horses, though I do find it interesting that there’s an entire magazine and an apparently vibrant subculture devoted to the subject. I understand why people would be inclined to use them for all the mythical weight they bring to bear. I like that Santogold seems to be reconfiguring the artist in embattled but victorious terms. The positioning in the video suggests military portraiture. In fact, the first thing the opening image evoked for me, was painting of George Washington on horseback, with all the implied mastery of human over nature that comes from a majestic and gorgeous animal holding steady for a regal pose. Of course, the militancy of the video’s image is buttressed by two stiff dancers in the margin whose movements have more in common with martial parades than they do back-up dancing.

I guess I’m a stone cold sucker for images of artistic power, especially those that boldly suggest transcendence or flirt with the supernatural. The song is about the sacrifices people make in order to make art and the tortures of having a private world made public.  But throughout the bright and graphic scenes of dismemberment, vomit, and projectile goblin blood, Santogold never breaks a catwalk stride. She emerges from the fog nonplussed. Okay, maybe she should have stopped the stranger playing with the neon Play-Doh intestines, but I’m personally so enthralled by her triumphalism, that I tend to sweep away all the nicking moral niceties.

//Mixed media

'Wanted' Is a Spaghetti Western That Will Leave You Wanting

// Short Ends and Leader

"The charisma of Giuliano Gemma and some stellar action sequences can't save this sub-par spaghetti western.

READ the article