Archive: February, 2014

Keynote: RoboCop—half-man, half-machine, all Detroit

I’ve been linking lately to several of these Dissolve “keynotes”, where a movie of the week gets dissected and kicked off with an extended essay on the film’s themes and impact. And for good reason; the writing is uniformly excellent, and every so often there’s a selection that I’m already a huge fan of. Case in point, 1987’s violent, lurid action/social satire RoboCop:

The dualities of RoboCop are also reflected in the movie itself, a sleek hybrid of genres, creators, motives, and influences: hyper-violent 1980s action and dystopian science fiction, two American writers and a Dutch director, commercial savvy and artistic ambition, real-world blight and comic-book cartoonishness. Like RoboCop himself, the film is a complex organism that’s made to seem stark and simple, and it makes other Hollywood action movies look like ED-209—big, lumbering machines that look fearsome, but sputter, pop, and break down with alarming frequency.

Indie studios, not corporate giants, are the future of videogames

Excellent opinion piece from Wired’s Chris Kohler on the indie game resurgence in quality and risk taking:

The question used to be, could independently produced games compete with the big studios? Now I think the question should be, can the big-studio model continue to exist? Right now, indie games are serving niche audiences that were left behind by big studios. What happens when small teams start to make shooters that can pull audiences away from Titanfall? Football games that are more fun than Madden?

For players, it really doesn’t matter where the great game experiences are coming from, as long as they’re coming from somewhere.

True Detective, season 1: “Seeing Things”

True Detective is getting an incredible amount of buzz, from the lead actors to the dark, Twin Peaks like storyline and high end cinematography. I’m not quite onboard yet with all the high praise; the jury is out until we see where this eight episode season ends up. But one aspect is undeniable: Matthew McConaughey is doing amazing acting work and remains the most interesting aspect of the show. This LA Review of Books delves into the show, but really is most about McConaughey’s resurgence from romantic comedy punch line to A-list actor:

While McConaughey certainly signed off on those roles [in many romantic comedies], it’s difficult to blame him for what was, in essence, the work of the contemporary star machine, with its imperative to find charisma, cast it in a blockbuster, flatten it out, and relegate it to B-pictures when the concept, not the star, fails to catch hold.  McConaughey was never a bad actor: he was just a bad Hollywood actor.

He was bad, in other words, at playing the annoying manchild who “grows up” to be a bourgeois provider, bad at playing supporting actor to a CGI franchise, and bad at being a palatable white guy who stands in for the audience.  Think back to Dazed and Confused: McConaughey isn’t either of the main dudes who earn our identification. He’s the weirdo in the peach-colored jeans hanging outside by himself and giving no fucks.

So money

Speaking of oral histories, Alex French and Howie Kahn over at Grantland put together an excellent history of how 90s indie cult classic Swingers came together. Almost all the major crew are interviewed: Jon Favreau, Ron Livington, Vince Vaughn and Doug Liman. The story where a pre-Bourne Doug Liman sneaks around state troopers illegally shooting a highway scene is a highlight.

Street Fighter 2: an oral history

Like many others who grew up hanging out in arcades in the 90s, Street Fighter 2 was a fixture, a game you agonized, fought, and obsessed over. I’ve got an indelible teenage memory of finally beating the game with E. Honda in the arcades. So naturally I can’t help but highly recommend this Polygon long read compiled by Matt Leone. Some really incredible, revealing interviews charting the game’s history.

And for web designers/developers there’s a special treat with that intro. It’s not only a clever recreation of the SF2 title screen, but there’s some smart HTML5 canvas and CSS treatment as well.

Why you should listen to the customer

Designer Brandon Kowitz:

It feels great to launch fast. But launching also makes future changes much harder. So if you can invest a little energy to learn early, and then fix problems before launch, it ends up saving you a tremendous amount of time later. It also reduces the risk that you’ll launch something truly bad and get stuck backpedaling for weeks.

So replace the startup dogma of “launch early and often” with “learn early and often.” For me, it opened my mind to all the different kinds of ways startups can learn, and how valuable user research can be to the core mission of any startup.

How much does it cost to make a big video game?

Superannuation over at Kotaku compiles data on what the realistic costs of a AAA game, which is almost never publicly discussed. The results are pretty shocking: $27 million for Beyond: Two Souls, $68 million for Watch Dogs, five to ten million for just the marketing on Dead Space 2. No wonder we’re seeing such a small budget indie resurgence lately; there’s no way to compete with budgets this high.

Retrospective: the films of Steven Soderbergh

I loved reading this look back where the Indiewire staff examine how each of Soderbergh’s films hold up today. The post is admittedly almost a year old (I stumbled on a link to it on a recent post) but still entirely relevant; the only film not yet covered on this piece was Side Effects, his latest and potentially last.

Shoptalk – with John Resig

jQuery creator and Khan Academy dean John Resig was a recent guest on the Shop Talk web design/development show. It’s a solid, smart listen. Pay special attention around the 46 minute mark, where John and usual hosts Chris and Dave discuss the lack of women in the web development community.

Edgar Wright explores the art of close-ups

David Chen, the host of the Slashfilmcast, has been venturing lately into video essays, especially for year end recaps from the best in film. They’ve been fairly well done, but this compilation of director Edgar Wright’s (Shawn of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) closeup work is standout. Pay attention to the discussion between Chen and Wright as the shots play out; I learned a lot.