As I mentioned last week, this past Sunday’s meetup of our Austin indie collective JUEGOS RANCHEROS featured the local debut of Hundreds, the next game from Canabalt developers Semi Secret along with Greg ‘aeiowu‘ Wohlwend — creator of the original Hundreds prototype and co-designer of games like Solipskier — and local-favorite musician Loscil.
If you haven’t seen Hundreds before, it’s a fantastically austere & ambient action/puzzle game which I described at greater length a month back, and which — I predict — will likely be one of the next big App Store hits. That’s not just a hunch, as mentioned in my last Hundreds post, there hasn’t been a single person who I’ve seen casually start to play that hasn’t become instantly, deeply hooked.
And so, presented here is the full 30 minute talk Saltsman gave the assembled crowd (an abbreviated version of his overseas debut of Hundreds at GameCity) that goes into both the genesis of the project and the long, arduous task of taking such a simple and refined idea to its deepest logical conclusions, and paring down on all the ideas that creep in in the meantime and initially seem worthwhile but ultimately prove to be unnecessary complications and distractions.
After Adam’s talk, you also get to hear — remotely, via Skype — from Wolhwend, who takes questions not just on Hundreds and its cryptic narrative, but of his more recent game, Gasketball, and what the future holds for Mikengreg, his collaborative company with developer Mike ‘fucrate‘ Boxleiter.
As a bonus, and because I haven’t managed to edit them more cleanly into the video, below the fold are a number of Saltsman’s slides that show his early design sketches for Hundreds and early art tests from Wolhwend, to refer to directly, rather than squinting at the clip.
It feels like high time to revive the ‘Weekend Watching’ feature I set forth back in late 2008/early 2009 (as Netflix were debuting their new ‘streaming’ service to Xbox 360, remember before then?), this time with an additional relaxation of my unofficial rule to keep relatively mum about fan-subtitled releases of my real actual favorite TV show, Game Center CX.
This latest fan-subbed installment of GCCX seems slightly more fair game, as it’s a 15 minute installment of Nintendo’s brilliant Iwata Asks series featuring the banana-beholder himself visiting the show for a cross-interview chat, and a mini-challenge where GCCX’s Arino takes on Balloon Fight, the first game Iwata programmed and designed for Nintendo in 1984.
It seems like as perfect an introduction to the series as any, and a good segue to remind you that the previously-featured DVD box set, released stateside as ‘Retro Game Master’ with 14 full-length episodes, has now officially been released and is 100% the best way you can spend a quiet weekend at home.
It’s been too long since our last round of Netflix Instant Watching picks, so let’s rectify that now, with the help of the as-usual invaluable instantwatcher.com, alongside a bonus non-Netflix essential to follow (which, hit the jump for the rest of those). Be sure to let us know what you’ve dug up and been digging via the comments, and don’t miss our two previous / discussions for past recommendations from everyone.
A quick aside: with the preview version of the next round of Xbox 360 dashboard updates currently making the press rounds, it’s clear that the console’s Netflix functionality is about to become even more essential: I’m really looking forward to seeing its ‘party’ feature propagating outward and hopefully hosting and attending pre-scheduled mini-watching-parties, and having the ability to browse new releases from the 360 itself is far more useful than I expected (even if I’m not positive yet that it’s tailoring suggestions specifically to me). But enough about that:
The first and most enthusiastic pick is Jared and Brandon Blake’s debut feature Visioneers, filmed well before comedian Zach Galifanakis would break into mainstream consciousness with his appearance in The Hangover. While it’s not quite the typecast-reversing performance that Adam Sandler pulled off in P.T. Anderson’s Punch Drunk Love, it’s damned close.
The movie’s a dystopian narrative darkly satirizing all aspects of a not-entirely-unimaginable near-future: a metered, rationed oppressive culture of grey, windowless workplace bureaucracy, mass-market consumerism in bed with all levels of government, and marriages defined by network TV self-help twaddle.
The problem? Widespread outbreaks of explosions: people so overwhelmingly institutionally understimulated and underwhelmed that they literally explode, and we follow Galifanakis as George Washington Winsterhammerman as he himself tries to keep from following suit.
It’s a quieter and more subtle movie than I ever would have expected, but punctuated perfectly with the profane (see also, in this respect: the comics of Chris Ware), and more a love story than you’d imagine, with all actors involved (including Judy Greer, who you remember as Arrested Development’s Kitty) pulling off incredible performances within their individual, soul-sapped restraint (Galifanakis spends 70 percent of the movie not saying a word and simply quietly attempting to keep all emotions in strict check).
And it’s got Polyphonic Spree’s Tim DeLaughter working the score, and it’s as hilarious as it is touching, and it’s one of the best films I’ll see this year.
I linked a preview version of this earlier in the week, but thanks to commenter ‘littlebugger’ for letting us know that he’d uploaded the full hour-long episode of Passage creator Jason Rohrer and design vet Chris Crawford meeting on arts program Durch die Nacht mit (Into the Night with), which everyone seems to be agreeing is one of the best games design chats they’ve witnessed in a while.
As you’ve no doubt seen by now, no less than Google has given Alexey Pajitnov’s landmark game Tetris the official re-design nod in celebration of the game’s 25th anniversary. In celebration of our own, I figured it’d be as apt a time as ever to give mention to BBC4 documentary From Russia With Love — still the most complete and directly resourced (though admittedly occasionally heavy handed with its Soviet melodrama) re-telling of the story of Tetris‘ birth and rise to ubiquitous acclaim.
I don’t think many people still know just what a fascinating story it was, between the iron-curtain drama and international business intrigue, and just how shrewdly major players were acting behind the scenes to all get a four-block piece of the action, creating a whirlwind with Pajitnov — here portrayed as someone who just, quite simply, was happy to have created an appealing game — at its center. [Though he would later tell me, with a sly smile, that he didn't necessarily go without taking at least some advantage of the situation.]
Since the complete documentary has been stripped from Google Video’s archive (and still, bafflingly, hasn’t been released on DVD), it’s presented here in six YouTube chunks (with the remaining five after the jump): make your way through it while you still can.
If you only know NYC devs Area/Code from their phenomenal iPhone game Drop7 — and even if you feel like you know a bit more — give co-founder Kevin Slavin’s presentation at the recent 5D Immersive Design Conference a half hour of your weekend.
Originally linked by Bruce Sterling over at his Wired blog, Slavin covers not only the history and background of the studio (and their fantastic and still too-unknown location/real-world based games like Tokyo’s Print Club sticker popularity contest, Superstar and Facebook’s Parking Wars) and more on Chain Factor/Drop7 than even I knew, but — speaking as he was on the future of TV — makes his strongest point at the end, contending that ‘any screen without a mouse ships “broken”‘.
It’s been a few months since we last gave each other recommendations for Netflix on 360 weekend watching, and with things popping up and down on the service weekly, I think it’s high time for an update, particularly for this extended three-day blowout.
Here’s my quick rundown of the top things that shouldn’t be missed:
Let the Right One In: Tomas Alfredson’s take on John Ajvide Lindqvist’s novel of the (basically) same name skyrocketed itself to one of my top movies of 2008 (landing it square next to Kaufman’s Synecdoche, New York) for making a vampire horror movie that isn’t a vampire horror movie (despite what its stateside trailer may tell you), one that I watched four times in the first two months after its release.
It’s a coming of age story, it’s a story of isolation (on everyone’s part) and of broken, dependent relationships, that ends on a note of indistinguishably mixed hope and resolute sadness when you carry the story forward in your mind. It’s also gawpingly gorgeous, and everyone’s got good hair and wicked style. Do not miss this.
Party Down: With the first season coming to a close Friday night, you now have no excuse to not sit down and watch what I’m going to call right now as the first, best new American comedy series since.. maybe Curb Your Enthusiasm? It’s not just the cast, though that helps, a lineup which includes former State member Ken Marino, Adam Scott (who you remember as the guy who saved it with his solo in the best part of Step Brothers), Freaks and Geeks/Adventureland’s Martin Starr, and Lizzy Caplan (aka My Hollywood Girlfriend; you know her from Cloverfield and as The Only Real Reason To Watch True Blood).
The premise: each episode is a separate LA occasion worked by the titular catering service Party Down, staffed by former/fallen/would-be actors, which sounds like a perfect setup for easy hijinks, and often is, but is always very smartly tempered with an undercurrent of life-reflection — taking the easy, low road after being knocked down. Actual pathos, the kind that the American Office has been managing to scrape together each week since that brutally, Who’s-Afraid-Of-Virgina-Woolf-ishly dark Dinner Party episode. But, also, it’s very, very funny.
Those are my two top, but there’s also, of course, the first season of Graham Linehan’s IT Crowd (which I have intended to talk more about on Offworld for months, let’s do that soon), Søren Larsen’s documentary Lynch, which won’t sell you on David Lynch if you’re already a skeptic, but is an essential peek behind the transcendental curtain if you’re a fanatic, and the Short Films from his box set also recently reared their head on the service, too.
Also from around the network, BBG’s Joel has recommended this documentary on unsung music producer legend Tom Dowd and guest blogger Tiff Chow has had nothing but good things to say about CJ7, the Chinese ‘E.T.’ reimagining from Shaolin Soccer/Kung Fu Hustle director Stephen Chow.
Anyone else dug up any diamonds or have anything to recommend? Let us all know via the comments!
For this week’s Weekend Watching, I wanna know: what the hell are all of you people watching all the time on Netflix? Semi-related to the post below, though privacy issues stymie, I’d be thrilled if the Xbox 360′s NXE dashboard gave me at least a bit of a hint as to what lies beneath those alluringly sealed-off red boxes on my friends list, or even a data feed that gave me recommendations based on my friends’ preferences.
It was the NXE itself that sold me on finally subscribing to the service (more honestly, in tricking me into never canceling my trial account), but since then I’ve been at a constant loss to find anything truly amazing that I hadn’t already seen, and have instead relented to picking through every b-list movie I’d been meaning to watch for ages, and finally getting through that “Thirty-Rocks” show I keep hearing so much about.
So, in the spirit of CrownDozen’s recent blog post digging up some of Netflix’s hidden gems, Microsoft’s announcement that there’s now over a million of you on the service, and the launch of the brilliant new instantwatcher.com service that’s about a quadrillion times easier to browse than Netflix’s own site, I put it to all of you to find us all something good to watch on our Xbox 360 this weekend.
My quickie recommendation list looks a lot like CrownDozen’s (and probably the playlist of any given film-school geek): anything by David Lynch or the Coen Bros, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly and Persepolis, typography porn docu Helvetica, comic/outsider art nerd docus Crumb and In the Realms of the Unreal (don’t miss the latter!), effortlessly charming spelling bee doc Spellbound, the unanimously loved Man on Wire, and Errol Morris’s oddball Fast Cheap & Out of Control.
What else are we missing?
Working for a little weekend watching? Motion graphics designer and illustrator Rex Crowle has just unveiled the site for Grip Wrench, his 10-part animated series for MTV Italy’s QOOB. Crowle, on top of doing fantastic ad work like Orange’s GoodThingsShouldNeverEnd website, is also the man behind much of LittleBigPlanet‘s striking visual design: you’ll instantly recognize his style in every little CMYK flourish you noticed around the game’s various worlds.
In this episode of Grip Wrench, the titular star (described as “Hollywood hard man, troubled veteran, reckless patriot”) “attempts to atone for previous disasters by taking part in a road safety film. But his easily distracted childlike mind chooses to focus more on playing videogames than saving lives, and as the bodycount rises so does the mayhem.”
It’s just ever so cutely on the NSFW side, but my favorite of the bunch and obviously a good fit for the Offworld crew, and it’s very likely you’re going to be seeing more of Crowle around the site in the near future.