A Haze of Bizarre Angles

A Visual Essay on Michael Mann's Manhunter (1986) In his 1986 review of Michael Mann's detective thriller Manhunter, Chicago Tribune critic Dave Kehr described the film as one 'in which government offices sport $900 designer lamps, every building is a masterpiece of post-modern design and an FBI agent, a reporter for a supermarket tabloid and a slobbering psycho-killer all display exactly the same impeccable taste in expensive European casual wear.' He continues: 'Unfortunately, Mann doesn`t restrict himself to dressing up his ...

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Walkthrough vs. Speedrun

On the spectrum of play between contemplation and corruption. While watching the E3 2014 coverage on Twitch this week, I restrained myself to a brief, six-tweet burst. As an Ubisoft employee demonstrated the latest Assassin's Creed sequel—now a yearly tradition—I mused about the 'genre' of the developer walkthrough. The gist is this: the developer walkthrough, I'd wager, is unlike most players' experience of a game. The walkthrough is precisely that, a walk through the game's spectacular elements, lingering over the ...

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J.E. Holmes and Fantasy Role Playing Games

I stumbled across an interesting find while browsing the game design section of the library yesterday. J. Eric Holmes, the writer/editor of the original 'blue box' basic Dungeons & Dragons set, published the book Fantasy Role Playing Games in 1981, just as role-playing was becoming a bona fide phenomenon. The book is an odd specimen. In 1981, role-playing games were less than a decade old, so Holmes makes no assumptions about player knowledge or genre conventions. Instead, he explains the ...

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Human-Car Affect in The Fast and the Furious

My first foray into Paul Walker studies. Via Twitter, Ian Bogost recently outlined criteria for the ideal 'airplane film,' i.e., a film that can help expedite time's passage while flying. While length plays an obvious factor in 'absorbing time,' as he said, Bogost also emphasized a 'lack of affect' as the most important property and highlighted the Fast and Furious franchise as perfect specimen. In lieu of quoting, I Storified the series below (along with an important concluding exchange): Note: if the ...

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Major League Baseball vs. Retro Criticism

Via Twitter, friend of the site Cameron Kunzelman recently introduced me to Eric Bailey, proprietor of Nintendo Legend, a site dedicated to reviewing every North American NES release. I am often pinged for NES-related sites like this, and there is certainly no lack of them online. The 'retro review' has become an active critical subgenre, primarily adopting the modern model of videogame reviews (a la Kotaku, Joystiq, GameInformer, et al.) and applying them to vintage games. Sites ...

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Rule Horizons

The Obstruction In a recent episode of the Giant Bomb podcast, co-host Drew Scanlon brought up a rather bizarre play that happened in Game 3 of the World Series. The game ended with a Cardinals win due to an obstruction call, a rare circumstance that results from a defensive player obstructing a base runner's path. Though I love and play sports, I don't actively follow any these days (no cable TV), so I had to search online to find the ...

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Prêt-à-Jouer and Videogame Couture

What happens when we stop thinking about videogames as cinema and instead think of them through other media, like fashion, dance, or architecture? Note: This paper was originally delivered at the No Show Conference on September 14, 2013. Video of the talk is available online (my bit starts around 20:00 in) if you prefer not to read. And don't just watch mine—there were many thoughtful, provocative talks given that weekend. We’re going to begin today with a video clip featuring ...

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Circuit Bending the Sears Tele-Games Pinball Breakaway

Voiding your Sears warranty from 1977. As a follow-up to yesterday's post about my newly-acquired Tele-Games console, I thought I'd make a short video demonstrating some of the console's circuit bending capabilities. I've only fooled around with toy keyboards before, but the same circuit bending 'rules' apply: open the machine, grab an insulated metal lead, and connect arbitrary points on the circuit board. And if possible try to avoid any power leads so you don't short-circuit ...

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Sears Tele-Games Pinball Breakaway

In my day, the console *was* the controller. As part of my 'Videogames and Procedural Media' course at VCU, I've been fortunate enough to have been allocated a modest budget to assemble a videogame 'lab' in the Kinetic Imaging department. As part of my videogame history unit, I wanted to find an early all-in-one console like Pong to demonstrate in class. These are hard to come by in the wild, but we lucked out and found a Sears Tele-Games Pinball Breakaway ...

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Yars’ Revenge as Microsport

Despite its weird sci-fi veneer, Atari 2600 shooter Yars' Revenge is one of the greatest sports videogames ever made. Sorry Pitfall, Adventure, and Defender. No offense, River Raid, Ms. Pac-Man, Combat, and Asteroids. Yars' Revenge is the Atari 2600's finest game and, for my money, one of the best-designed sports videogames of any generation. Yes, sports game. Let's break it down. The Basics Yars' playfield arrangement and basic mechanics are dead simple. The player pilots the Yar, a 'fly simulator under direct user ...

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