The year of my birth produced some amazing, ground-breaking cinema. Here's a selection of watershed movies from the final year of the 70s, in no particular order:

i. The Muppet Movie
My parents rented a VHS copy of this, not long after I was old enough to sit through feature-length videos. Sure, my kid-self was spellbound by Jim Henson's madcap puppetry. But just as significantly, this epic cross-country road movie  -- from the Florida swamps to glittering Hollywood -- likely represents the start of my long-standing fascination with overland travel.

It was my first exposure to the misadventure-filled road trip -- all billboards, truck stops, and kitschy roadside attractions. The film laid out my earliest mental topography of the USA, connected via a network of flyovers and open highways. (This impression would later be corrupted by the likes of The Doom Generation, Natural Born Killers, and the other warped progeny of Bonnie and Clyde). 
Clearly, Jason Segel was similarly influenced, and it's evident in his script for the tongue-in-cheek, affectionately deconstructionist spiritual sequel, The Muppets (which easily ranks among my favorite movies of 2011).

ii. Manhattan
A tale of neurosis and infidelity among NYC's culturati, set to a lilting jazz score and some great examples of the titular scenery. Wry snapshot of the metropolitan intelligentsia, or ponderous, self-indulgent urbanite wank-fest? (I'm inclined to the former view.) Either way, Manhattan laid the groundwork for ever more youthful iterations of the same themes, often by equally self-obsessed auteur-y types (Whit Stillman and Lena Dunham being the first who come to mind).

iii. Star Trek: The Motion Picture
In a sense, Star Trek: The Motion Picture was a highwater mark for geek culture, as a whole. Whereas Star Wars emerged from whole cloth, two years prior, ST:TMP was the culmination of a dedicated cult fandom crossing over into the mainstream. (Note that The Original Series had long been in syndicated reruns, by this point.) It was the vindication of a niche interest, and kicked off a trend of Hollywood cannabilizing genre franchises from the recent past.

ST:TMP functions as a thematic counterpoint to Alien (discussed below); a reminder of the implicit wonders of space travel and discovery. The crew's focus on diplomacy and intel-gathering in dealing with the V'Ger threat frames space-faring as a noble and worthwhile pursuit, in contrast to Alien's cosmic-scale nihilism.  

iv. Monty Python's The Life of Brian
This English satire of the New Testament still resonates, in terms of both sheer entertainment value, and hilariously trenchant socio-religious critique. It takes potshots at colonization (via the Roman occupation of Judea) and fractious rebel groups, alongside the more obvious gags about the dangers of blind faith in organized religion. And it remains as quote-worthy as any other Monty Python film.

v. Alien
Alien effectively codified the modern sci-fi horror genre, writ large, and set the template for the abandoned-ship-rescue-gone-awry trope, in particular. In many ways, cult hits like Event Horizon and the Dead Space games owe their commercial existence to Alien's success.

Likewise, H.R. Giger's design for the xenomorph has influenced virtually every insectoid extra-terrestrial threat since, from X-men villains the Brood, to WH40k staples the Tyrranid, and Starcraft's iconic Zerg

[ read more ]


[This is an Indie Game Mixtape, based on the concept defined here by writer and game designer Zoe Quinn.]

The demonic invasion of earth has been a staple premise for video games, with pioneering first-person shooter Doom as the earliest lasting example. The prevalence of the trope makes sense because it uses familiar, recognizable iconography that plays off a nightmare doomsday scenario present in nearly all theist cultures -- the Norse Götterdämmerung, the Christian Tribulation, the descent of the Tzitzimimeh in Aztec mythology, among others. It’s been successfully codified in a variety of genres, from the obvious candidates (hack & slash in the Devil May Cry series; real-time strategy in Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos) to less intuitive uses, like Hell: A Cyberpunk Thriller, a point-and-click adventure starring Dennis Hopper, from the era of multi-disc “interactive film” adventure games.

Approaches may vary from merely averting the threat of a portal to hell -- the summoning of the Order’s eldritch God in Silent Hill being one prominent example -- to outright journeying through horrific post-infernal landscapes -- think Shin Megami Tensei. So it’s not surprising that independent devs want a piece of this concept -- budget constraints and limited resources notwithstanding. Here are five inventive examples of how to explore the Hell On Earth trope without AAA production support.

i. Apocalypse Later by Eric Weiss, Mladen Stambolija, and David Gallant
     (adventure - play online)
The only thing stopping the release of the infernal hordes is the laziness of an immature enfant terrible: your player character. 

ii. Candles by Mangy Gamez
     (survival horror - download)
It’s the demonic invasion at the most personal and intimate of settings: one’s own home. Light candles to ward off the threat of imps lurking in the shadows of your domestic haven.&nbsp

iii. Demonrift TD by Menara Games
     (tower defense - play online)
Ward off the hordes in this straightforward, effectively designed TD game from an up-and-coming Indonesian dev.

iv. Monster Detective by Pastel Games
     (adventure - play online)
Uncover the link between mysterious disappearances and a plot to unleash extra-dimensional horrors in a creepy urban point-and-click adventure.

v. Stygia by Kitty Horrorshow
     (interactive fiction - play online)
This Twine-based piece feels like a mashup of Beetlejuice and Mike Carey’s Lucifer. Wreak havoc on mortals, while negotiating the politics of the titular underworld.

BONUS: Will You Ever Return? by Jack Spinoza
(adventure - download parts 1 & 2)
This one isn't about Hell on Earth but it's worth noting for the infernal setting. A testament to the creative possibilities of the RPG Maker program, this adventure game features claymation characters and settings built from random objects d’art, in gorgeously brutal hellscape that draws as much inspiration from Discworld and Vertigo comics as it does from Dante and Paradise Lost.

[ read more ]


Introducing the focal point of my creative output for 2013: Emergent Players, a blog about geek culture in the developing world. 

If your media consumption is sourced mainly from torrents or "buccaneers",
due to jacked-up prices from local distribution channels....

If there's never been an X-man or Avenger who shares part of your cultural background...

If you've ever been frustrated by a lack of official console network support in your region....

If you've wanted to see a protagonist from your home country who isn't an ascetic Zen warrior-poet,
a sagely mystical negro, or a green-skinned, electrified savage...

If you're hella fond of geek culture, in spite of all its lapses with regards to geography and trans/cultural identities...

This blog is for you.

[ read more ]


W00t! So THIS is what's been keeping me busy for the last couple of weeks.  My humble game-making debut. Any kind of feedback would be much welcome!

Escape from Cluster Zeta

You are the newest Ensign aboard the Invisible Hand, an official commercial vessel of the Laissez-Faire Trade Federation. Can you help the crew repair a broken FTL drive before a hostile enemy fleet shows up to reclaim your latest bounty?

An interactive fiction piece -- dare I call it a "video game"? -- inspired by sci-fi tropes and old-school Classic Text Adventure Masterpieces of Infocom. Recommended if you like: Ron Gilbert meets Futurama, or Discworld sensibilities IN SPACE.

Authored with Twine
Playtime: +/- 20 mins.
Cruelty level: Merciful.

[ read more ]


i. Angus Macgyver (Macgyver)
The #1 draft pick for any kind of post-apocalyptic disaster scenario, this Phoenix Foundation operative can build improvised weapons and makeshift tools from the most sparse resources. An unlikely exemplar of the wonders of maker culture, the graying action hero would likely fulfill the role of Team Dad, by default.

ii. Dr. Elliot Reid (Scrubs)

Any worthwhile zombie survival party needs a group medic. And unlike other more charismatic but troubled healers -- say, Dr. House -- the skilled endocrinologist has a more stable head on her shoulders. Yeah, she can be a tad over-dramatic at times, but she can be trusted to keep her emotions in check under more tense situations.

iii. Bear Grylls (Man vs. Wild)
The English adventurer/writer/TV host/Chief Scout has just about every ability needed to survive in the wilderness -- urban and otherwise -- while evading the shambling hordes of undead. According to popular urban lore, this guy is so hardcore, he would simply walk into Mordor.

iv. Claudia Donovan (Warehouse 13)
What can I say? Hacking, stealth, bluff, and evasion skills -- all in one lithe teenage frame. Yes, she's barely legal -- but really, what do the old laws mean in a zombie apocalypse?

v. author Max Brooks (The Zombie Survival Guide, World War Z)
Who better to help me survive the zombie apocalypse than the man who literally wrote the book about it -- twice? 'Nuff said.

[ read more ]