With Fans Like These, Who Needs Kickstarter?

Broken Sword: Nico and George by ~isolde

Broken Sword 2.5 is a “fan interpretation” of the games with a distinct tone born of fandom and a distinct structure born of budgetary restraint.

Revolution Software recently started a Kickstarter to raise money to make a new Broken Sword game. It has been five years since the last official game, and as a relatively new fan of the series, I’m glad I didn’t have to wait those five years. But neither did any other fan, not really, not if you were dedicated/obsessed enough to find the fan-made Broken Sword 2.5.

Broken Sword 2.5: The Return of the Templars is a fan-made adventure game that came out in 2008 that explains what happened between the second and third games, and it’s easy to mistake this as an official game from Revolution Software. The project received the blessing of Revolution, and it actually reuses art from the first two games. But its semi-official nature is the least interesting part of Broken Sword 2.5. This game represents something far rarer than a “fan sequel” or “fan remake”: It’s a “fan interpretation,” a game that adheres to the style of the original game but also has a distinct tone born of fandom, and a distinct structure born of budgetary restraint.

The new tone stems from how this game handles the relationship between its protagonists, George and Nico. First, some background:

The official games are oddly wary of the relationship. The first game sets these two characters up as a typical adventure couple. They’re brought together by strange circumstances, work together to defeat the bad guys, and by the end, they’re dating on the Eiffel Tower. The second game ran with this established relationship, but it also seemed to downplay the idea that their relationship was in any way romantic or sexual (To my memory, the second game didn’t even mention that George and Nico were a couple. I just assumed it as fact and went from there). The third game begins with them no longer a couple, but when circumstances inevitably bring them together, they act like old friends meeting each other again for the first time in ages. There’s no animosity, no explanation for why they’re now working on opposite ends of the globe, and both of them refer to the other as “my dear friend” (or something to that effect) in their narration. Any possible mention of sex and romance is consigned to the most obscure of implications. In fact, the third game’s refusal to even acknowledge that there was a relationship and not just a friendship between the two makes me question if there ever was a romance to begin with.

Broken Sword 2.5 makes that romance explicit. When Nico goes missing, George tells everyone who will listen that he’s looking for his girlfriend. He’s actually distraught and worried, and Nico responds in kind when he’s the one in danger. She actually says “I love you” at the climax before George goes to confront The Big Bad Guy. It’s an inevitable part of any fan fiction, writing a couple together, but what makes this a special case is that the romance isn’t just a fan’s creation. The relationship between George and Nico exists, it’s always existed, but the developers never cared enough to make it central to the story or character arcs. What Broken Sword 2.5 proves, however, is that the fans care a great deal about this relationship. They wanted to make it unambiguous.

On a gameplay level, Broken Sword 2.5 is the perfect example of how to make a classic adventure game with a much lower budget. The reused art certainly helps make the game look professional, but it’s the slightly different puzzle design that’s the real success.

It’s only once you start playing that you begin to notice the smaller scope of things. Instead of screens being littered with tons of interactive objects, there are just a few items or people to click on. This makes sense, as less interactivity means less animation and less voice work, but it also has the benefit of forcing the developers to trim out all the fat in their design.

This kind of point-and-click adventure is built around item puzzles, but compared to the official games, Broken Sword 2.5 has fewer items to interact with, fewer items to carry, and fewer combinations of items that interact with each other. But there aren’t fewer puzzles. This is actually an impressively long game. Instead, the puzzles are usually confined to just one screen or two: If you find a locked door, the key (or, considering the genre, some kind of crudely fashioned lock pick) is probably nearby. This makes it easier to follow the logic of the puzzle, even when it wants you to combine two seemingly disparate objects. On the whole, you end up doing more critical thinking and less pixel hunting. The game becomes more about how you can interact with items, rather than what items you can interact with. It’s a subtle but noticeable shift in motivation, and it stems from the smaller budget and team. Rather than spread themselves too thin, the developer tightened the design to accommodate their smaller scale. The result is quality over quantity.

Broken Sword 2.5 is a great game in its own right, but I particularly love being able to see this franchise through a new filter. I wish more budding developers would take this approach with their favorite franchise rather than just remaking something in high definition (Black Mesa: Source) or modding one game’s style over another’s gameplay (Elysian Fields). It’s like what BioWare and Felicia Day did with Dragon Age: Mark of the Assassin. Less iteration, more reinterpretation.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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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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