I'm Danl. My twitter is @DanlHaas. I'm not planning on using this here blog for too terribly much (post-con picture dumps, primarily), since I write for DualShockers, but I hang around here a lot for the forums, Dtoid Midwest (which I run with the very sexy Jon Bloodspray), and The Alcoholocast, the community podcast Allen Park and I run.
So while just about damn everyone was out getting their faces melted by what was evidently the best PAX ever, there were some people who couldn't be there. Some people who were left behind. But cry not for us, gentle readers, for our absence was, in fact, for the good of all mankind.
For you see, we were too sexy for PAX.
So what did we do? Pretty much what you'd expect. We recorded a podcast. Over two hours with a great cast and a variety of topics ranging from grandmothers' funerals to black amputee toilet hardware handjob porn, we've got it all.
Sexy guest list:
Hot Chocolate- You Sexy Thing
Harold Faltermeyer- Axel F
They Might Be Giants- S-E-X-X-Y
Anamanaguchi- Rock Club
Armcannon- I'm a Real American Sexy Boy
Listen. I know you're tired of this. I am too. I'm going to try to make this as easy for you as I can. In fact, I'm going to do you a favor and tell you why you're free to not think about it anymore. I'm not actually here to make any original arguments on the matter or even contribute much of anything meaningful to the debate. A few people have been throwing logs on that fire very recently, and you can expect fresh debate to be had in the near future. The arguments will be had by very intelligent people, and at this juncture, I've nothing to add to them. Instead, I'm going to do two things: first, I will tell you precisely why I am much, much more qualified to come to a conclusion on this debate than you are. Then, with the absolute bare minimum of explanation or qualification, I will inform you of my conclusion
My reasoning is thus:
I am a gamer.
I'm guessing I don't have to try very hard to convince you guys of this. I love videogames. There was an NES in my house when I was born. I was watching the original Super Mario Bros. before I learned to talk. I learned everything I know about football from watching my older brother play Tecmo Super Bowl. I spend much more of my spare time than I care to admit playing, discussing, or just thinking about videogames. Considering I am a member of this community, this should really come as no surprise. I don't bring all this up so that I can claim I know more about videogames than you do, dear reader. Rather, I do so simply to indicate to you that I'm speaking as a connoisseur of the medium, and as someone who is acutely aware of what it is capable of showing and expressing. I am not some jackoff film critic who tries to make claims about what games can and cannot do based solely on personal prejudice and conjecture.
I am an artist.
I understand that the term 'artist' is fairly broad these days, so let me clarify: I don't just mean that I can draw, or that I know Photoshop really well, or that I got A's in all my art classes in high school. It's not just that I put more thought into every font choice in my poster design than a prom queen puts into her choice of dress, or that I have piles of sketchbooks filled to the brim with my drawings and designs. Though all those things may be true, I take the definition of 'artist' much more seriously. When I paint, or when I draw, or when I design, or create any kind of art object, I do so thoughtfully. When I want to create a piece of art, it's something with real expressive power, a vehicle for my thoughts or ideas or emotions and must be treated with the utmost care. I understand the creation of art in the broader context of the art world.
In addition to the creation of art, I also study art academically.
I've spent days and weeks of my life studying the history of art. I've examined the birth of Modernism; Impressionism through Abstract Expressionism through Pop and Minimalism and onward; those movements that forced the entire art establishment to re-examine its own assumptions about the nature of artistic expression. I've done lengthy research projects into those really bizarre movements that most average folks probably still have trouble identifying as art, like Dada and Fluxus. I think people like On Kawara and Chuck Close and George Maciunas are total badasses. And though they may be my specialty, I don't mean to imply I only study modern art. Oh no. I spent a month studying Renaissance and Baroque art in Rome last year. I saw the masterworks of Raphael, Michaelangelo, Caravaggio, and Bernini up close. I've put nearly seven hundred years of art history through a fine-toothed fucking comb. No major movement, medium, artist, or idea has escaped my ravenous appetite for the study of art.
I am a gamer. I am an artist. And I am telling you: Videogames are art.
Nerd rap extraordinaire MC Frontalot's new album, Zero Day dropped this week, and naturally, I picked up a copy at my earliest convenience. I've listened through the thing quite a few times now, and feel comfortable reporting my thoughts to you here, should you be considering making a purchase. I'm fairly new to the music review thing, so let's just jump into it, shall we?
Album: Zero Day
Artist: MC Frontalot
Label: Level Up Records & Tapes
Released: April 6, 2010
Genre: Nerdcore Hip Hop
As a longtime MC Frontalot fan, it didn't take long for me to see that the new album doesn't stray from from its predecessors. All the signature elements are here: insanely geeky raps executed with unmatched precision, great guests from the nerd rap world (as well as the broader nerd world), a few hilarious skits, a few reworked old favorites, songs on some very obscure, nerdy subjects as well as some slightly more 'current events' sorts of topics, a few theme songs for some of Front's favorite nerd world figures and institutions, and plenty of discussion on the Front himself. It's all stuff we've seen before from Frontalot, and he's got it down to a science. In short, it's the Frontalot formula I know and love.
If I have one complaint, it's that it sometimes becomes too formulaic. Two tracks in particular on Zero Day, Disaster and Spoiler Alert, appear to follow a nearly identical pattern. They're both ostensibly about film, and they both have a female guest vocalist in tow to sing the sort-of-funny-the-first-time-but-not-the-tenth chorus, on which Front joins towards the end. The only real difference is that guest rappers are present on Disaster. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy both tracks, I just think they they may be a little too similar for their own good. Front also seems very fond of the 'record scratch of old recordings of people talking' trick, which is used to essentially identical effect on both 80085 and Front The Most.
Other than that, though, the formula shines bright. The three skits are his best to date, and are still hilarious after numerous listenings. Zero Day also sports the most impressive list of guest contributions yet, including guest rappers Int80, ytcracker, Beefy, and Shaffer the Darklord, beloved humorist John Hodgman, former Soul Coughing front man Mike Doughty, and some cameos by Jonathan Coulton and the XKCD guy, Randall Munroe. Oh, and the album art was created by Jhonen Vasquez of Invader Zim fame.
From a production standpoint, this is definitely the best MC Frontalot has ever sounded. At this point, Front has a considerable suite of excellent musicians at his disposal. The endlessly talented beatsmith Baddd Spellah is back, providing ludicrously thick beats that are guaranteed to be stuck in your head for days. His touring band, Gminor7, Blak Lotus, and The Sturgenius are all present to provide their expertise on keyboard, bass, and live drums (respectively). Frontalot also takes a few more chances with the instrumentation this time around, which pays off in a huge way, keeping the aforementioned formula sounding fresh. For instance, the track Better At Rapping features ukulele, trumpet, and kazoo(!!), and Jacquelyn Hyde uses a djembe as its principle percussive instrument.
fuck yeah kazoo
Zero Day also features some of Frontalot's very best lyricism. His rhymes and flow have simply never been better. Tracks Your Friend Wil and The Council of Loathing are essentially theme songs for two of Front's favorite geek establishments: our Secretary of Geek Affairs Wil Wheaton, and classic stick figure-based multi-user online game Kingdom of Loathing. Charisma Potion is probably the best song I've ever heard about Dungeons and Dragons (and if you think it's the only one I've listened to, man, you haven't seen my iTunes library). Personally, though, I love Front's more introspective tracks: A Little Bit Broad and Better At Rapping. To me, these prove his nerd cred even more than most overtly nerdy songs. His ability to mix hip-hop swagger and braggadocio with the kind of genuine doubt and self-loathing that are unique to our particular subculture has always been one of my favorite qualities about him, and that recipe has been perfected with these two songs. The very last line of A Little Bit Broad sums it up perfectly: "Titanic ego, low self esteem."
If you've ever enjoyed listening to MC Frontalot, Zero Day provides much, much more of what you love. On the other hand, if nerdcore rap has never been your thing, this album probably won't change your mind. If you're brand new to the scene, I'd encourage you to give this one a listen; this isn't just great Nerdcore Hip-Hop, it's great music.
Oh, and if anyone manages to figure out how to decode the secret track, let me know. It's torturing me.
Allow me to set the stage for you: It was Sunday morning, the last day of PAX East. I arrived at the convention center alone, ready to wander about until I run into the inevitable Dtoider or find something fun to do. After picking up a bacon sandwich and glancing over my schedule, I noticed that the second Penny Arcade panel was set to start in an hour and a half. Being as popular a panel as it is, I figured I might as well head to the main theater and camp out, eat, and pictochat until Gabe and Tycho appeared. What I didn't realize is that, moments after I arrived in the main theater, the PAX East "Pitch Your Game Idea" panel was set to start. I've got no idea how I missed that on the schedule, but I was extremely pleased. There I was. Nothing else to do. The line wasn't too long. The mic was just down the aisle from me. What did I have to lose?
Okay, now rewind to Saturday. Whilst palling around with some Dtoid bros, (and no matter how much I wrack my brain, I cannot remember which ones, so sorry! Comment if it was you.) we develop a most excellent idea for a game. We decided that, if given the chance to pitch a game idea, all you'd have say is 'Lady Gaga Moonwalker', and immediately, you'd be awarded first place.
In practice, it was a bit more complicated than that. I approached the mic and said that the idea I was about to pitch was created over the course of the past few days while hanging out with the the crew from Destructoid (my "represent" was met with a rather depressing silence. Where the hell were you guys?). "So basically," I said, "my idea is like Michael Jackson's classic Genesis game, Moonwalker, except instead of Michael Jackson, it's Lady Gaga." HUGE laugh from the crowd. The panelists found it extremely entertaining, asked me a few clarifying questions, and gave me a 'yes'.
The panel itself worked like this: Each participant was given an itial 45 seconds to deliver their game pitch. Some games did not require this much time, most notably Just The Tip, See How It Feels, which required only the name of the game. At the conclusion of this time, they were given a yes or no, signifying whether or not they should return for round two. Round two consisted of a few more detailed questions from the panelists (Including Scott Kurtz of PvP) to flesh out your idea a bit more, and after all of these were finished, the top three games were chosen.
I should probably admit at this point that I was probably the least qualified person to make this pitch. I know effectively nothing about Lady Gaga, and what I do do know is enough to tell me that she's the sort of thing I typically try to avoid learning more about. If you're a fan, I apologize, but she's just not my thing. So when I went back to the mic for the second part of my pitch, I really didn't know what to say. "Yeah... I mean, y'know how crazy her videos are? I... I guess it would look like that? Probably it's a downloadable title... sidescrolling beat 'em up, maybe." It was brief, and didn't really provide the judges with anything substantial or new. The sad part, they said, was that if this thing were made, it would make serious money. Of course, after I sat down, I cobbled together a few more ideas for game mechanics based on my scant Gaga knowledge, including a ridiculous costume changing mechanic, and a mechanic utilizing the PlayStation Eye to read the player's "p-p-p-poker face", but I digress. Despite my somewhat inept pitching, the game idea stood on its own well enough to earn me, and Destructoid, third place.
Last weekend was, without a doubt, one of the best weekends of my life. I can't even begin to find the words to express my gratitude towards everyone and everything that made it so great. My sentiments in this regard are not wholly unique; the c-blogs this week have already begun to swell with the love this festival creates on a now semi-annual basis. Part of me is content to just show you those blogs and tell you that, yes, this is how it is. Destructoid has the best community, they made me feel at home the way no one else could, and I'm truly thankful to be able to call myself a part of it. The rest of this blog will probably not give you much more than my beloved compatriots have already generously provided. No, I'm afraid my reasons for writing are, perhaps, a bit more selfish than that. This is a personal reflection of sorts. I want to have this blog to go back to in the future, to remind myself what PAX East was like for me. I'm sharing it with you because you are the community that made it all possible. And for that, I truly cannot thank you enough.
First off, I want to tell you something just a little bit uncomfortable. The story of how horrifyingly close I came to not attending PAX East. Were I a Texan tenth grader, I might tell you that this is a story about a time I was inspired to keep going, despite circumstances that suggested the opposite. If you've been following my cblog at all, you may have noticed that in one of my pre-PAX hype blogs, I noted that I was not planning on attending the convention alone. No, at that time, my girlfriend was to join me. Well, it doesn't take a genius to figure out what happened: we broke up. And I was devastated. I lost my friend group and about a month's worth of sanity to that breakup, and very nearly dropped out of school. We had made all of our PAX plans together, and without her, I wondered why I would even bother attending. And yet, nearly everyday, I would receive messages in my inbox reminding me that there was this group of people, none of whom I'd ever met, many of whom had never met each other, that were constantly preparing and making plans and finding places to stay together and getting ready to have the time of their lives together in Boston. Of course, I'd seen the love produced over the years, as PAX transformed Seattle into a Mecca of geeky love and joy. Every day I read the DtoidPAXMeetup email and tried to make a decision. I read the blogs, I read the forum threads... and eventually, it was this community that won out. You helped me overcome my fear of traveling completely alone to a place I'd never been to spend time with people I'd never met. Destructoid made me a promise that I'd feel welcome and safe as a member of the community, and it did not disappoint. It far surpassed even my most optimistic of expectations. Every single person I met was so amazingly warm and fun to be around, so easy to talk to. Our shared history as gamers and Dtoiders created a commonality between all of us that we never even had to discuss, it simply allowed us all to be ourselves. This is something I've not had the opportunity to do in months, and again, words can hardly express my gratitude.
Here are some of the things Dtoid made possible for me this weekend:
The Thursday night meet-up at Unos, as Funktastic produced gifts from his magical swag bag and Analoge sang obscure JRPG theme songs. Also, JASON
Jogging through the queue line on Friday afternoon with Chewie, Volkarin, and Nikmonroe, as we desperately tried to get (x)JASON!! to appear on the shoutboard.
Waiting in the queue room for Friday's concerts with Greks, as an obviously rather inebriated man asked us what our favorite videogames were, and being absolutely sure that we had missed The Protomen's set.
At the Friday night concerts, rocking out to The Protomen with Volkarin, screaming "THERE WILL BE LIGHT" and "WHAT WAS HER NAME" together, right on cue, in the way that only die-hard nerd-rock-opera fans could.
During the very next set, going totally insane with HeyRicochet to Anamanaguchi.
Eating leftover PB Winterbottom pie on the floor, courtesy of megaStryke.
Going on an extended hunt for Starcraft II Beta keys with Jose.
Completely ignoring Adam Sessler during his panel to instead draw dicks over Pictochat.
Watching a head-to-head MegaMan 2 speedrun competition in classic freeplay with Nikmonroe, complete with live commentary and a Street Fighter-style crowd to provide oohs and ahhs.
An incredibly traumatic food court experience with Chewie, Volkarin, and Analoge.
Drawing endless dicks, Beedogs, and other Dtoid inside jokes on Pictochat, while we sat in one of the nicest bars in Fenway. It's okay, kauza, I know it was supposed to be your avatar with a huge boner. I just wanted to hear you explain it.
I know there's an absolute shitload of amazing things I've left out here; just suffice it to say that PAX was amazing, and it's because of you. Yes, YOU. I know I've already said it a lot, even though it never seems like enough, but thanks, Dtoid. Thank you.
So, last Thursday night, the Game Developers' Choice awards were once again held in sunny San Fransisco. This was the first time I've actually sat down and watched the thing, and I really enjoyed myself. If you missed it, you can find some great coverage of the whole thing over on Joystiq. The event really got me thinking about how the industry gives out honors and how the VGA's are shit, and so I thought I'd share some of my thoughts here, in easily digestible list form.
First, we'll start out with some of the things I didn't like.
- In many instances, the production values were rather poor. The camerawork on the Gamespot stream was iffy; there were times when we were left with a rotating logo from the display screen feed while the person we were supposed to be looking at provided voice over. It was particularly problematic during Newell's and Carmack's presentations, in which stream viewers were totally unable to see the slides on the screen behind them. Oh, and the teleprompter placement was just awful. There were also a few technical gaffs, most notably right at the end when the stream decided to cut off Warren Spector mid-sentence, just before he revealed the new Deus Ex 3 trailer. Awesome job on that one, guys.
- It seemed like no one could agree on how to dress. The host, Mr. Spector, was in a full tuxedo with tails and a bright red bow tie, which looked great as an homage to Mickey Mouse, but as the night went on, it was pretty clear he was extremely overdressed. Conversely, there were quite a few award winners who seemed extremely under dressed. John Smedly from Sony looked like he was wearing a bed sheet. The guy accepting the award for Batman: Arkham Asylum and the dude from the Farmville team also stood out as pretty poorly prepared to show up on stage.
- Speaking of that Farmville douche, man, there were some bad speeches. I mean, I know that's true of any award show, but seriously, Farmville guy? Is this really the best time to be asking for applicants to your company? It made you look like an enormous toolbag. As if we didn't already think you were a tool just from having worked on goddamn Farmville. And are you seriously wearing a shirt to advertise your own shitty game? Stay classy, Zynga. Not that he was the only one, of course. The guy from 5th Cell gave some pretty bad speeches, too.
Okay, let's move on to the things I really did like about this thing, and in particular, what makes it so, so much better than the Spike VGA's.
+ Everyone who got on that stage was someone who is legitimately involved in the games industry. There were no bullshit comedians or Hollywood celebrities showing up just to make the event seem more like an "award show". It proved extremely well that we don't need some jackass like Jack Black to host our award shows. Warren Spector has been a game developer for decades, has no professional acting experience, and guess what? He made a damn good host. He did an excellent job. We heard speeches from people that gamers actually give a shit about, like Gabe Newell and John Carmack. We didn't need shitty little skits every fifteen minutes (Mega64 notwithstanding). We didn't need to have Doogie Howser shoot anyone. Everything was about the games and the people that make them. Basically, the GDC awards are not ashamed to be about videogames.
+ I liked that it was very candid, very personal, and very uncensored. These people weren't talking through some kind of PR filter, they were speaking to their peers. Gabe and Tycho were allowed to swear (they also, unsurprisingly, had the best acceptance speech of the night. I highly recommend watching the video if you can find it). Everyone seemed pretty comfortable, speakers made jokes that only developers could understand, and they got laughs. There's no way they'd let something like that happen on SpikeTV.
+ All the commercial aspects that bog down the VGA's are blessedly absent here. Basically, no one was out to make money on this thing. Therefore, it didn't have all that crap that we as gamers do not need in our award show. We don't have to tease new games from tired franchises every fifteen minutes. We don't need categories that are sponsored by Doritos. We don't need overly extravagant sets featuring supermodels in body paint suspended from the ceiling in golden hoops. We want videogames and we want to honor the people responsible for them. And that's what we got.
+ Also related to my previous point is the fact that it was on the internet. Most of the reason that the VGA's are packed full of all that trash I just mentioned is because it's on a fairly major cable station. The show needs to make money. Basically, if you don't want to stuff Dorito's ads into your awards show, you can't put it on the air. GDC's solution? Don't put it on the air. The VGA's (and the people who support an award show of that sort for videogames) seem to be under the impression that in order for the ceremony to have legitimacy the way, say, the Oscars do, is to put it on television. I disagree. Going the streaming route is, I'd argue, preferable to the majority of gamers, and would solve many of the problems that exist with the VGA's as they exist today.
That's about it. Basically, after watching the GDC awards, I really have a hard time understanding why we ever thought we needed to turn to Spike to make the 'Videogame Industry's Oscars'. We already have them here. We just need to touch up the production values a bit and get better coverage of the event and it would be absolutely perfect.