Games

Categorizing Video Game Reboots

What magic brings us successful reboots and restorations like Batman Begins, and what devilry haunts us with abominations like The Smurfs? Not all franchise facelifts are the same. By taking a look at film and television, we may stumble upon a taxonomy of reboots and help future videogame necromancers invigorate the forgotten.

We live in an age in which franchises long thought dead rise from the grave, their shambling corpses draped with the finery of modern popular culture to create the illusion of vitality. Some artistic sorcerers do manage to breathe life into the sleeping characters of our youth, reminding us of times past and refreshing our longing for their familiar faces. What magic brings us successful reboots and restorations like Batman Begins, and what devilry haunts us with abominations like The Smurfs? (That’s right. I’m calling it.). Not all franchise face lifts are the same. By taking a look at film and television, we may stumble upon a taxonomy of reboots and help future videogame necromancers invigorate the forgotten.

To briefly define my terms, I will liberally use the term “reboot” to encompass resurrecting franchises as well as deviations from the norm, be they forays into different genres or aesthetic re-branding projects. For example, I would include Kirby’s Dream Course in my definition of a “rebooted” or “refreshed” franchise because the creators were trying to maintain certain elements of the puff-ball’s appeal while simultaneously moving the character into a different genre context. The important feature unifying game “reboots” is the attempt by designers to maintain marketable familiarity during a time of significant transition.

Kirby’s Dream Course provides an excellent entry point into discussing aided transitions or what I call “centaur reboots.” The game takes the charm and morphing aspects of Kirby and inserts them into a simple golfing game. The mythical horse-men afford an accurate visualization of games like Dream Course that essentially splice themselves with different genres. While no film comes immediately to mind, the television show Community undergoes this process weekly. A comedy set in a community college, the show fits the same cast of characters and familiar hijinks into a new genre in nearly every episode. From Westerns to Hong Kong Action, the directors of Community manage to maintain their characters’ identities and plot arcs while joyfully playing with genre. The outcome is a show completely unique to television. Like the majestic centaur, never confused as just man or beast, Community maintains a sense of continuity and harmony despite its disparate components. One only need look at the diversity of the Mario franchise to see this approach succeed in videogames.

Similar to the centaur reboots seizure of other genre elements, “fashion reboots” play dress-up with the thematic elements of others. Whereas centaur reboots dramatically alter core content, fashion reboots maintain core elements but don new aesthetic and thematic trappings. Neither is more difficult or successful than the other, but both are unique. Incidentally, Nick Dinicola’s piece on Casino Royale offers keen insight into this transitional process. Unlike previous iterations of James Bond, as Dinicola states, Director Martin Campbell’s hero is “a mercilessly violent, nearly asexual secret agent” (Nick Dinicola, "The Perfect FPS Protagonist", PopMatters, 6 May 2011). Daniel Craig still drives a fast car, plays a mean game of poker, and has a license to kill, but his entire demeanor has changed into something new. Well, not entirely new. Casino Royale’s James Bond appears startling similar to Jason Bourne. Quite intentionally, Campbell refreshes Bond with the aesthetic and thematic trappings of the modern action film zeitgeist: gritty and grounded violence. If it wasn’t for Paul Greengrass’ Bourne series, Bond would not be the international man of mystery he is today.

What better video game example of the “fashion reboot” than Rocksteady’s Batman: Arkham Asylum? While superheroes fit comfortably in the action and brawler game genres, seldom has a comic book champion been so dark, menacing, and overwhelmingly brutal. In fact, Arkham’s Batman shares many similarities with Bourne. The game may owe some credit to its up-close and personal, even intimate, type of violence. Its rugged aesthetic and beefy character design seem to borrow liberally from Gears of War’s popular look and feel.While some of the core action conventions remain the same, the latest Batman freshened himself by dirtying up.

Of course, designers may aim to reboot a franchise using both methods. Centaur fashionistas do exist, however rare. Examples are fleeting across all mediums. I would argue Gremlins 2 became a dual reboot when it ventured wholeheartedly into the comedy genre. Far Cry 2 may count as a videogame version, having abandoned so many aspects of its predecessor as to appear as a different game entirely.

Other reboots may employ neither process, scarcely qualifying as reboots at all. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull fits this category, despite letting down legions of Indie fans in 2008. Many of the series’ elements remain consistent throughout all four films. Harrison Ford is older, but still captures Indy’s cavalier attitude and smooth wit. Although egregious, Shia LaBeouf’s simian trapeze stunt through the jungle shares its silliness with Indy’s use of an airplane escape-slide as a parachute. Even the ridiculous extraterrestrial plot device has commonalities with the paranormal and religious events in past films. Crystal Skull did not fail as a reboot, it failed as a recreation. The filmmakers failed in their execution. The idea of “rebooting” Indiana Jones may have been a good one -- at least in principle.

Armed with cleanly categorized reboot styles, one should still tread cautiously. None of these methods of refreshing a franchise equate instant success. Their intelligent use depends on an accurate assessment of what makes a series appealing in the first place. Additionally, the processes described in this article are often implemented by degrees. Perhaps we can have a one-eighth-centaur fashionista. In fact, I encourage you to explore games further and reboot these concepts according to your findings. The better equipped we are to analyze the art of reboots, the less likely our reincarnated videogame franchises will reek of death.

Author’s note: Significant inspiration for this article comes from a recent IGDA talk by David Gallagher of Crystal Dynamics. I owe Mr. Gallagher great thanks for sharing his thoughts on refreshing IP.

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.


In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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