Greg Hunter

Author Archive

Collectibles: The Ultimate 50’s Rockin’ Sci-Fi Disc

In Generic Culture, Music on November 11, 2009 at 9:14 PM

The+Ultimate+50's+Rockin'+Sci-Fi+Disc+-+front-1Though an occasional “Stacey’s Mom” or “Pretty Fly (For a White Guy)” makes its way into the mainstream, today’s novelty song market is decidedly small. That’s arguably (well, probably) a good thing, but listening to the Ultimate 50’s Rockin’ Sci-Fi Disc makes me wonder, nonetheless, when and why rock and roll stopped being fun.

It’s a shortsighted question based on mostly personal observations, but think about it: how many contemporary pop-rock bands can you think of that sound like they’re having any fun on record? Cutting loose, goofing off, writing songs about aliens? I’m not about to knock anyone for taking rock music seriously–hell, we here at THE GUTTER take video games and comics pretty seriously–but where’s all the youthful exuberance gone? The joy of creation, even unremittingly goofy creation? Read the rest of this entry »

Game Review: Dangerous High School Girls in Trouble!

In Games on October 5, 2009 at 8:24 PM

headerDangerous High School Girls in Trouble! purports to be a lot of things–a board game, a role-playing game, a morality play. More than any of those things, though, it stands out as one of those rare works that doesn’t just defy such classifications; it redefines them. It’s influences are numerous and easy to spot, yet it never plays like any other game, or unfolds like any other story. It’s a portrait of a bygone era, a celebration of female power, and a condemnation of the societal forces that try to cork that power. Oh, and it’s really, really good.

At its heart, DHSGIT is a Scoob n’ the Gang coming of age story along the lines of Harry Potter or Buffy the Vampire Slayer. At the beginning of the game, the player selects a primary avatar, or “queen”, from a list of available characters, and is plopped down in 1920’s-era Brighton High School to build up her “gang” of henchwomen. The school seems dysfunctional enough, but Brighton’s problems run much deeper, and extend much farther, than the girls (or the player) could possibly expect. As the girls leave the schoolyard, mysteries of malfunctioning bleachers give way to malfunctioning police forces, marriages, and social mores. It’s a dark and sordid tale, for sure, (one online retailer even refused to carry it due to its content) but the game’s winning sense of humor cuts through all the black. Like all the best comedies, DHSGIT frees author and audience to stare down some seriously ugly demons, and laugh. Read the rest of this entry »

Game Review: The Shivah

In Games on September 15, 2009 at 9:00 PM

_resizeThere are a lot of reasons I’ve been playing mostly adventure games, lately (and I’m going to save most of them for a later post) but one of the more practical reasons is that there are a lot of them are either free or very cheap. Since the heyday of the genre ended about ten years ago, and demand is low, even new games are inexpensive compared to the latest Rockstar release. Also, thanks to the freeware Adventure Games Studio, anyone with enough time and basic coding knowledge can develop his/her own point-and-click adventure and post it on the AGS website, usually for free.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been poking around AGS forums looking for the best of the best. Among these games, two developers’ names come up often, Ben Croshaw, author of the Trilby survival-horror series, and Dave Gilbert, founder of indie adventure label WadjetEye Games. Both are very good, but in my opinion, Gilbert, one of the few AGS devs to charge money for his games, is the best.

Gilbert’s most famous game, The Shivah, is a mainstay in the ongoing discussion of “games as art” and mature gaming in general. Said discussion is mostly useless, in my opinion, and “art-gamers”, as they like to call themselves, have a bad habit of putting heavy-handed writing and high-mindedness before fun, but The Shivah really is something special. Rarely have a well-written, thoughtful story and immersive gameplay been combined so effectively. Read the rest of this entry »

Great Games You Can Play For Free: Ben There, Dan That!

In Games on September 9, 2009 at 5:27 AM

Ben There Dan That 1It’s no coincidence that the second installment in GGYCPFF is, like the first, a send-up to a bygone age of gaming. For the past few years, nostalgia has fueled a lot of young developers’ early projects. Necessity is no doubt an inspiration for these kinds of projects–“retro” is cheaper and easier to code–but a deep, abiding love for the games of the past resides at the heart of all of them, good or bad.

Unlike games like Cave Story, whose retro facades cover more sophisticated designs, Ben There, Dan That! wears its heart on its sleeve. It is, unabashedly, little more than a LucasArts adventure game tribute. And that’s totally okay, because at its best, it’s every bit as novel and entertaining as classics like The Secret of Monkey Island and Day of the Tentacle.

In keeping with these classics, the games’s premise is casually absurd. After being struck by lighting trying to tune into the latest rerun of Magnum P.I., Ben and Dan (avatars for the game’s real-life designers, Ben and Dan), are abducted by aliens and imprisoned in a hallway full of doors to other dimensions. Much adventuring ensues. Read the rest of this entry »

Quick Play: Canabalt

In Games on September 4, 2009 at 10:22 PM
500x_canabalt

No Kung-Fu, just jumping

TIGSource friend and solo developer Adam Atomic has put together a great one-button flash game called Canabalt, in which the protagonist, a mysterious man in black with Matrix-esque running and jumping capabilities, attempts a daring escape from some sort of urban dystopian disaster site. He runs, you hit the jump button. Mesmerizing, really.

WSJ on the Rise of the Gutter

In Books on August 31, 2009 at 3:41 AM

From good old Lev Grossman’s “Good Novels Don’t Have to Be Hard Work”:

The revolution is under way. The novel is getting entertaining again. Writers like Michael Chabon, Jonathan Lethem, Donna Tartt, Kelly Link, Audrey Niffenegger, Richard Price, Kate Atkinson, Neil Gaiman, and Susanna Clarke, to name just a few, are busily grafting the sophisticated, intensely aware literary language of Modernism onto the sturdy narrative roots of genre fiction: fantasy, science fiction, detective fiction, romance. They’re forging connections between literary spheres that have been hermetically sealed off from one another for a century. Look at Cormac McCarthy, who for years appeared to be the oldest living Modernist in captivity, but who has inaugurated his late period with a serial-killer novel followed by a work of apocalyptic science fiction. Look at Thomas Pynchon—in “Inherent Vice” he has swapped his usual cumbersome verbal calisthenics for the more maneuverable chassis of a hard-boiled detective novel….

…In fact the true postmodern novel is here, hiding in plain sight. We just haven’t noticed it because we’re looking in the wrong aisle. We were trained—by the Modernists, who else—to expect a literary revolution to be a revolution of the avant-garde: typographically altered, grammatically shattered, rhetorically obscure. Difficult, in a word. This is different. It’s a revolution from below, up from the supermarket racks.

I would recommend checking the whole column out. It’s not quite a revelation (the above-referenced Michael Chabon’s been writing about and exemplifying these basic ideas for a while), but Grossman does a good job of paying “popular” fiction its due, without sliding into the common/easy rant against literary elitism. What do you guys think? Are we on the doorstep of the “true postmodern” era? Is that era going to be dominated by taut plot lines and genre fiction? I could handle that.

The Illustrious Archives of Dragon Magazine

In Games on August 26, 2009 at 1:27 AM

Want: ice-breathing robo steed (I have no idea why this caption keeps appearing at the top of my post)

Definitely imagined doing this four or five times.
I never subscribed to Dragon–at the peak of my Dungeons & Dragons mania, I was a year or so out from my first real job, and needed that $14.95 for essentials like the Epic Level Handbook and the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting, books that cost roughly quadruple that–but every once in a while, I picked up an issue to fill the gaps between bigger purchases. Still, even such minimal contact with the magazine ranks high on my list of nerdiest acts of nerddom, mostly because the magazine was so bad. Reading Dragon was never informative, indeed it was rarely even enjoyable as most magazines are meant to be. It was a stopgap, a quick fix, an excuse for thinking about D&D when I couldn’t actually play it–it was RPG porn.

Needless to say, I was ecstatic to find a few old issues at a local flea market, dating from 1989-1991. (For anyone who doesn’t know, flea markets are home to some of the greatest concentrations of early nerd artifacts anywhere.) Along with a timely review of the recently re-released Curse of Monkey Island (original retail: $69.95 with VGA graphics upgrade), I found a few pages I thought were worth sharing. More, including a *Free Printable Crossword Puzzle!*, after the jump. Read the rest of this entry »

Great Games You Can Play For Free: Cave Story

In Games on August 17, 2009 at 6:56 PM

Cave Story is really the perfect game to inagurate GGYCPFF with. Considered by some to be the greatest freeware game of all time, it’s ridiculously fun, it’s accessible, and, most importantly, it’s %100 FREE*.

cavestory

And so it begins...

Before I dig into the game itself, a brief historical aside: Cave Story is a very important game. Released in 2004, the game is the product of five years of work by a single developer, Daisuke Amaya. (In a move that partially explains why games and their developers don’t get their due in pop culture, Amaya published the game under the art-name “Pixel”.) To an industry long-dominated by big game studios and development teams, Cave Story was a breath of fresh air, both a return to game development’s basement  roots, and a testament to the possibilities of independent game production. It wasn’t a smash, and it certainly didn’t make Amaya any money*, but it was an undisputed classic, nonetheless, and it paved the way for the success of games like Johnathan Blow’s Braid, a solo project that was released (and roundly praised) last year for the Xbox 360. Read the rest of this entry »

Attention: DO NOT Read ANYTHING about ‘District 9’

In Film and Television on August 15, 2009 at 12:17 AM

large_District-9-Peter-Jackson-Sharlto-copley-neil-Blomkamp-alien-x-filesI just got back from a matinee showing of Peter Jackson’s sci-fi apartheid fable, District 9, and the only thing I feel comfortable spoiling is that it is the best film I’ve seen this summer. (I’m going to see The Hurt Locker later, which I’m pretty sure is its only competition.) Love, redemption, badass lightening guns–this one’s got it all.

One of the most impressive things about the movie (which is saying a lot) is that its marketing campaign gave away so little–the major plot arc of the film feels like a plot twist in and of itself. A meta-plot twist. Yeah. Really, though, if you haven’t already had the plot given away to you, do yourself a favor: watch the preview, and then go in cold. And then call me when you get out.

Welcome!/Thank you, Lawrence Weschler

In Games on August 10, 2009 at 8:51 PM

I was reading this book, called Everything That Rises by Lawrence Weschler, the other day, about a few of the many uncanny connections between art and life. It’s a great book, one that I could probably go on at length about on some other blog, but here, I’m skipping to one of my favorite parts. In a piece titled “How Suddenly It Can All Just End”, Weschler comments on the presidency of Mikhail Gorbachev with a (to me, at least) very cool analogy:

Tetris was designed by a Soviet programmer named Alexey Pazhitnov and is the first Soviet computer game to enter the United States market. It’s not hard to guess where Mr. Pazhitnov came up with the idea. This past week marked the fifth year of Mikhail Gorbachev’s tenure as the head of the Soviet Union, and in retrospect his entire term might be likened to an epic game of Tetris.

Read the rest of this entry »