Wednesday, 25 June 2014

My Tomodachi Love-Hate Relationship

Every morning when I wake up, one of the first things I absolutely have to do is ask my good friend if he has worked up the courage to ask his sweetheart to marry him, check with all the tenants of my apartment building to see if they need me to fetch them something from the supermarket, and whether or not Scarlett Johansson and Jerry Seinfeld have finally had their baby. If this sounds exhausting, pedantic, and bizarre, it is, but it's also strangely rewarding. I'm glad it's not reality though, rather these are my duties in the wonderfully silly world of Tomodachi Life on Nintendo 3DS. Tomodachi Life is Nintendo's answer to The Sims. It's a game where you design or import Miis to live on an island and watch them live and interact with one another. Your Miis form friendships, get into fights, work in the local shops, fall in love, and eventually even get married and have children. The scenarios they play out are really funny, and it's fun watching which Mii is hanging out with which, and who is falling in love with whom, and what sort of bizarre dreams they've been having. The problem is, the game gets incredibly repetitive. Miis constantly have mundane problems, whether they're sick, or want a new wardrobe, or simply want to show you a silly face, and I can only feed Miis so many times before I feel like hurling my 3DS out the window. Yet, I keep coming back. My friend still hasn't asked his sweetheart to marry him, and there are still babies on the way. I've been trying to maneuver Samus Aran's affections towards a friend of mine, and maybe today is the day. Tomodachi Life is basically a slightly more complex version of a Tamagotchi pet, and is just as addictive.

Part of the game's charm is watching your friends and various celebrities and characters interact with one another. The 3DS makes it very easy to import user created Miis through the use of QR codes, and there's no shortage of Mii databases on the web. As a result, Reggie from Nintendo and Hank Hill are residents of my island, and I'm happy to say that Reggie is very happily married to a good real-life friend of mine, though Hank Hill remains an obstinate bachelor. Daria (from the show of the same name) tried to set Hank up with Samus, but they didn't hit it off. She's married to Tyrion from Game of Thrones. Walter White married another good friend of mine, and I'm thankful that so far he hasn't given her the Skylar treatment. Just another day on Neo Jeo island.

The Miis can all talk by using text-to-speech, and it's pretty fun hearing your friends say the silly catchphrases you come up with for them. You can dress your Miis and change their room style, which has limited appeal, although I do enjoy seeing Reggie in his leatherdaddy outfit with a horse mask over his head. While the problems of the Miis are obnoxious, solving them increases their happiness which allows them to level up, and with every level you can offer your Mii a gift, such as a baseball bat or a 3DS, which you can see them using in their apartments or the various locales of your island, often alongside a friend who has the same item. This gives you the illusion that the Miis are independent, but at the end of the day if they want something, including becoming friends or sweethearts with another Mii, they're going to approach you first. It seems a bit much to me that I can't simply load a Mii's fridge full of food to keep them fed, or give them license to make their own decisions. Helping a Mii get a sneeze out is simply a little too much micromanagement for my tastes.

Another potential gift choice you can also offer your Miis when they level up are one of eight types of songs, which allow them to perform in the island's concert hall solo or with other Miis who know the same type of song. Lyrics of the song are editable, meaning you can create your own song which you can then potentially record with your phone and post to Youtube, if you were so inclined. All these things are fun at first, but get boring pretty fast. The Miis offer to play games with you to keep your attention, but they're pretty lame ones such as "guess whose silhouette this is" and matching tiles. You get various items you can give your Miis, such as music boxes and swings, and while these raise their happiness and give you a variety of ways to interact with the Miis, the resulting scenes too become very repetitive. If this were all Tomodachi Life had to offer, I'd have stopped checking my island long ago. However, there are events that happen on your island to look forward to, even if they're somewhat few and far between.

Events happen at different points of the day. Once in the morning and in the evening the game produces news reports broadcasted by one of your Miis, showcasing still images of your islanders engaging in funny situations, such as enjoying candy that looks like one of your Miis, or helping a beached whale out to sea that turns out to be a whale toy. Miis of the same gender often get together in the local cafe to have a gossip session, chatting about their hopes, ambitions, and the other islanders. The Miis' dreams, which you can check in on while they're sleeping, are definitely highlights, turning them into marionettes, or placing them awkwardly at a table with duchesses speaking around them, or transforming into superheroes shoujo-anime style. Miis have bbqs, hold magic shows, and have rap battles.

Once a day you can play a retro-style RPG game where your Miis, suitably transformed into pixelated sprites, wander through a simple dungeon and do battle with food items and objects from the game. As an RPG nut I had to make sure I gave this a mention, but while nostalgia inducing it is over-simplistic, as each character only has two types of attacks and the enemies similarly only have two. The various events in Tomodachi Life will keep you entertained for a while, but even they eventually run out and start repeating themselves with different Miis. However, as my images suggest, it is definitely fun seeing these events play out with different combinations of Miis, as the context completely changes based on which characters happen to be playing golf or having a pillow fight.

One of the smartest features of Tomodachi Life is the ability to take a screensnap of the top screen at any time by pressing X, and then using 3DS Image Share to post them to Facebook or Twitter. This means that you can capture that bizarre dream where your friend became a snail and send it to them along with Freudian commentary! There is no shortage of fun of taking pictures of your Miis in the Photo Studio, placing them in pairs or as a group using a variety of poses and backgrounds. This is where Tomodachi Life really shines, making it easy to share your island's silliness with friends and other enthusiastic proponents of the game, creating a community around who can provide the wackiest character combinations and scenarios.

What really keeps me coming back, and this surprises even me, is the potential for romantic involvement between my Miis. A heart symbol appears in a Mii's apartment when they want your advice about love, and I always get overly excited to see it. The scenes in the game involving love are the most interesting ones, and frankly, make me feel like I'm actually accomplishing something.

A Mii will develop romantic feelings for another Mii seemingly arbitrarily. A Mii interested in asking another Mii out will ask you where you think they should go on a date, and how they should act. Depending on what you choose and how they feel about one another, they'll either become sweethearts or walk away as friends. Sometimes a Mii will also offer to set up two other Miis, observing them incognito as the two go out on their date, and this too can be hit or miss, but it's pretty funny. As sweethearts you'll see the pairs constantly hanging out with each other, and if their love becomes strong enough, one of them will decide (with your blessing) to propose to the other one. You'll get to observe the proposal, helping out through a silly mini-game, and then see the wedding, in which many of your Miis appear as guests. Once they've settled down long enough, they'll ask if you think it's a good idea to have a baby. The babies are generally ugly as sin, but you can edit them. You then watch the baby grow up over a few days before becoming independent and either moving into an apartment on your island, or being set as a streetpass character who will show up on other people's islands. The baby book you see when a baby Mii grows up is surprisingly touching.

The one issue I had with having the Miis fall in love is that, as a control freak, I was trying to dictate who fell in love with whom, and though you can try to stifle a Mii's feelings for another Mii, there is no way for you to actively suggest which Mii who you think they ought to go for. This adds an element of surprise to the game, but left me feeling a bit defeated when I told a Mii over and over that her crush was a bad match, only to have her continually pine for him anyway.

I have a love-hate relationship with this game. I love it because I care about my Miis and all the shenanigans they (occasionally) get into, and I hate it because despite the fact that these Miis need you to hold their hand every second of the day, I still can't stop checking in to see if something eventful is happening in their lives. Though I often open my 3DS with a groan seeing that my Miis are asking to have their same basic needs met, every so often I'm rewarded with something new and exciting. Tomodachi Life is a game to be savoured, taking your time between check-ups to ensure that there's fresh material waiting for you and that you don't get bored too quickly by the regular requests of your Miis. If you're going to get this game, be aware that it's a bit of a slow burn, but if you enjoy the idea of bringing together people both real and imagined from all walks of life, watching them go about their lives and getting into cheerfully absurd situations, then this is a game for you.

Monday, 23 June 2014

The Sultry Pin Up Girls of Nic Ter Horst

Nic Ter Horst Burlesque

You can also view this article on The Toronto Animation Arts Festival's blog.

Luscious Legs, anyone? Look no further than the bountiful blushing bombshells of Nic Ter Horst, one of the exhibitors at this year's Toronto Animation Arts Festival Market. Nic works as a clean-up animator at Guru Studio, and is an aficionado of pin up girls in her spare time. She revels in the female form, accentuating hips, lips, and thighs, creating richly sensual portraits of women who revel in the art of seduction. Her subjects from popular culture, including Black Widow, Jessica Rabbit, and Sailor Moon, are strong female characters who are heroes to be reckoned with, and also happen to be amply proportioned (watch out for Jessica Rabbit's booby trap). Other subjects, including burlesque performers and Suicide Girls, perform their seductive art as an act of empowerment, revelling in their own beauty and the teasing of their fans which they actively promote. Nic's ladies demonstrate pride and confidence in the way they consciously present their beauty to the world, and that confidence is a large part of the attraction. I asked Nic about where her fascination with pin up art comes from:

What is your history with pinup art? How long have you been illustrating pinups?

Classic pin ups have always been a huge inspiration for me. Bill Presing's work really got me into the art form I think, and classic beauties like Marilyn Monroe were always intriguing, even before I got into pin up art. I’ve been illustrating pin ups more seriously since I graduated school in the past two years or so, though I’ve always loved to draw the female form.

Nic Ter Horst Suicide Girl
How do you choose the subjects for your pinups?

I like choosing characters and models who have a classic, confident look. 1920s-50s pin up, burlesque, and advertising have always been a great source of inspiration. Modern pin up and burlesque performers also have a lot of the same attraction, since they’re drawing inspiration from a lot of the same sources, though they often take it in a different direction.

Please describe your artistic process.

I’ll usually find a specific reference, a source of inspiration, or just land on an idea and go from there. I like to start an illustration on paper and work on anything from a thumbnail to a full sketch. After I do the initial sketch I take a photo and move onto digital inks and colour in photoshop.

Why is pin up art important to you?

I find pin up art, photography, and performances to be very empowering, and that’s what I try to show in my art. Women of all shapes and sizes do it, engaging in a series of very flattering angles and poses. The women in pin up are sexy, but not sexualized, desirable, but unobtainable. I also find pin up and burlesque to have a sense of humour around it, and everyone is always smiling.

Nic Ter Horst Jogger
Are there any models, characters, or burlesque performers that you particularly admire?

I’ve always loved Jessica Rabbit. Recently I’ve realized that she’s probably the character that stuck with me all through my childhood and artistic career pushing me in this direction. As far as real models go, Marilyn Monroe has always been a favourite. As for burlesque, I can’t think of a performer I’ve seen that I don’t admire. Amber Ray was amazing to see, Bianca Boom Boom, Roxi D’Lite… I can’t wait to see some Toronto shows and get some local girls on my radar. St. Stella (pictured above) was fantastic to draw, and I bet she’ll be even more fun in motion.

Anything you'd like to promote?

I have an Etsy store where you can buy my original work, prints, or order a commission.

Thanks Nic! You can follow Nic Ter Horst on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, and Twitter.

Friday, 20 June 2014

Stop-Motion Surprise of Rosemary Travale's 'The Champ'

A mom gets her son a very special present for his birthday, though it's not exactly the present she'd planned! 'The Champ,' by Rosemary Travale, is a fun stop-motion film created as her thesis for her last year in the Sheridan Animation Program. The felt puppets she created for the film are cheeky and vibrant, and though the film is brief, her clever use of set design and characterization define a world in which you can imagine the characters living beyond the scope of the film itself:

I could easily watch an entire series of shorts with these characters. Their proportions and expressions are suggestive of a Saturday morning cartoon show, while the stop-motion techniques lend the animation an air of reality. The way Rosemary constructed the boy's room with all the posters and fan art of Brent show an obsession that goes far beyond the scope of the project, suggesting this small piece is part of a larger world. The characters she created are so expressive that they feel larger than the film itself; The excitement of the boy (both before and after being beaten up) is palpable, and the way a frothing Brent shows up uninvited in the boy's room demonstrates a fun internal logic that would make for a very entertaining series. I caught up with Rosemary to ask her a little bit about her work:

Rosemary Travale's The Champ Brent Design

Where did the inspiration for 'The Champ' come from?

I’m a big professional wrestling fan, actually! I love the ridiculous high action drama that comes out of it and just wanted to make a film that was fun and would keep me excited since I had to spend a year developing it for my final thesis at Sheridan.

The characters and setting of your film are very vibrant. Can you speak a little bit about the process that went in to the design of the film?

Thank you! Since a big part of this film is a little kid getting the snot beat out of him, I wanted to keep the aesthetic really cartoony and friendly to sort of combat that. I wanted it to come across as silly and funny, a larger than life story with larger than life characters to match. When I first started working out the characters I went with a basic shape to work off of. Large triangle for Brent, rectangle for mom, a little oval for Damien, and a big circle for the Ref. Then just through research and more drawing they developed into what they are. Brent is really inspired by a few specific WWE wrestlers; Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, and Triple H. The bedroom is based off of the one I had as a kid! Same blue walls, and one covered in posters, though it wasn’t limited to wrestlers.

How long did the project take from beginning to end?

The project was my 4th year thesis film in the B.A. Animation program at Sheridan College. I started working out the idea in August so I could apply for a stop motion studio space at Sheridan, which I thankfully received. Then September to mid December focused on story and character development, as well as the majority of puppet prop and set fabrication and then the rest of fabrication continued in January and moved into animation and post production. The final cut of the film was finished around the start of April.

Who are your artistic influences?

There’s so many! It’s hard to narrow it down really! But I will mention a book that had a huge impact on me as a kid and still to this day: ‘Walt Disney Imagineering: A behind the dreams look at making the magic real’. It’s all about how the Disney Parks are designed, the staging and story telling that goes into every little detail down to things like wall paper patterns. I just poured over those pages as a kid. It’s probably the first thing that really made me realize that I could spend my life making things that other people could enjoy.

What are you working on now?

Right now I’m working on some stop motion projects for JibJab Media and I’ve got a couple personal projects I’m developing as well.

Do you have any advice for aspiring stop-motion animators?

Don’t be afraid to do it! I learned so much from the actual DOING on this project and it’s an awesome thing to be able to see your work improve and come together. It’s easy to just sit on a project forever and keep changing and ‘perfecting’ it, but that doesn’t help you in the long run. Just get going and make the thing you want to make! Once it’s done you can make the next project even better.

I really enjoy your work and look forward to seeing more of it in the future!

Thank you so much! I really appreciate you taking some time to check out my film!

For a deeper look at how the film was made, check out the making of video below. You can view more or Rosemary's work on her website or follow her on Twitter.

Monday, 16 June 2014

A Tribute to Steve Wolfhard's Cat Rackham

Cat Rackham
Concerning Cat Rackham

Breakdown of a Cat Rackham: a brown, somewhat scruffy, green-shirt-toting, poo-hair having cat with severe anxiety and a surplus of existential crises. Lives in the woods by himself, sometimes getting visits from his friend Jeremy the squirrel, sometimes getting visits from his friend chronic depression, but generally dealing with the dangers of living and the onslaught of sudden despair.

I can't help but love the little guy.

Cat Rackham is the brainchild of Steve Wolfhard, a Canadian character designer and comic artist who currently lives in LA and works as a storyboarder for Adventure Time. I don't remember when I first discovered Steve's work, but I do remember that it started with Cat Rackham. Disarmingly cute, Cat Rackham is a lens through which Steve explores his own anxiety issues, and by relating them in such a charming way made it seem much less threatening that I was dealing with similar anxieties. Cat Rackham doesn't always come out on top, but he always keeps on going. He's a character I look up to.

He is a gentle soul with lonerish tendencies, somewhat unkempt and attached to his ratty clothes, overly preoccupied with lofty matters that have nothing to do with his surroundings. With seemingly nothing to worry about he is constantly on edge. His adventures are unsought, generally falling on his head like a tonne of bricks. He is a quiet soul who wants to scrape out a living without being noticed, while at the same time feels as if he's missing out on something important. Basically, he is like many of us. He is instantly recognizable to all his fans as that voice inside them that worries that they're not doing enough, not pushing hard enough, that something is lacking, that fear that stifles them to inaction and doubt, all rolled in to an adorable little package. He is the mascot of those who suffer from chronic anxiety.

With Cat Rackham being a mute character, I am reminded that often anxiety is not given a voice. People often keep their insecurities bottled up inside, letting anxious thought build upon anxious thought until they feel like their mind has become a tangled mess which is impossible to navigate. For those people, Cat Rackham is instantly recognizable. All sufferers of chronic anxiety know what it's like to experience the non-stop pounding of your heart (see Cat Rackham Can't Sleep Because He Thinks He's Having a Heart Attack), and the times when you just can't muster up the drive to do or accomplish anything (see Cat Rackham Gets Depression). I admire Steve for his frank portrayal of these heavy themes in his work, as these events are when we're at our lowest and are not always easy to reflect on. For him, perhaps, Cat Rackham works as an outlet through which he can relate these feelings to people who don't suffer through them, or perhaps it is an attempt to rise above those feelings by giving meaning to them in the form of art. No matter the reason, having someone to relate your worries to, where anxiety sufferers often have trouble speaking up, is extremely important for a person's well-being. Anxiety sufferers often don't realize that they're not alone, that those feelings are commonplace for so many people in the world, and Cat Rackham is powerful in that he reaches out to those people and reminds them of this simple fact, and it gives them strength.

Not to say Cat Rackham comics are all doom and gloom. Steve Wolfhard's comics have a distinct sense of fun. During the course of Cat Rackham's misadventures he often works to help others in need (see Comforts of Life) or interacts with his cute but very confused friend Jeremy the Squirrel (see Even Cat Rackham Needs Friends). We see that though Cat Rackham rarely goes out of his way to find companions, he is extremely likeable and attracts people to him (something people who have social anxiety have a lot of difficulty with). He doesn't try to hurt anybody, and though life tends to send him through the ringer, he continues to keep on moving. He reminds us that life is often hard and unpredictable, and though we sometimes can't help but worry, the only thing you can do is carry on, and often things will work out for the best if you let them. Particularly when you have a parasitic mushroom growing out of your head!

In my mind Cat Rackham is a folk hero to the depressed, a champion to the easily panicked. He reminds us that we're not suffering alone, that there are likeminded others out there who are similarly affected, and most importantly that life has moments of beauty and clarity even when we're feeling at our lowest (see Cat Rackham is Sometimes Too Sad to Sleep). Thanks Steve!

You can check out Steve Wolfhard's collected works on his website.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Cuphead and the Golden Age of Cartoons

Fleischer Bimbo and Cuphead

Perhaps the most impressive looking game shown at this year's E3, Cuphead, by Studio MDHR, is a run and gun sidescroller drawn in the style of cartoons from the 30s. The art style immediately evokes the animation of Max Fleischer, a king of the golden age of cartoons. Among his creations are Bimbo (pictured to the right of Cuphead), his bombshell girlfriend Betty Boop, and Popeye (who was originally a comic strip character whom Fleischer bought the rights for and launched to international stardom, briefly even eclipsing the popularity of Mickey Mouse). The visual style of Cuphead is an animation fan's fantasy, and it's looking to be a genuinely fun co-op gaming experience. Studio MDHR's plans are ambitious to say the least:

"With Cuphead, we aim to evolve the genre by adding new features such as: super arts, infinite lives, a playable world map and hidden secrets. In addition to that, we will have refined controls, additional boss patterns on harder modes and balanced weapons to equip (that you don’t lose!). We plan to release 10-15 bosses per episode and end up with over 30 bosses. If all goes as planned, we will defeat the current “Guinness World Record for Most Boss Battles in a Run and Gun Game”[25 total])."

Cuphead Silver Squid Attack
As far as I'm concerned, the game already holds a world record for the number of ways it enters my heart. Not only is the cartoony nature of the game fantastic, but the devs are drawing their gameplay influences from pinnacles in the run and gun genre including Gunstar Heroes, Contra III, and Mega Man X. The animation in this game is looking super smooth, and the main characters, Cuphead and Mugman, zip through the stage with the omnipresent grin of the black and white cartoon character, and emote handsomely as they take damage or shoot pellets with a snap of their fingers. The enemies showcased are similarly impressive, sporting smoothly animated attacks and sinister grins. Studio MDHR promises variety in the types of boss fights you encounter, from a cranky sea captain to a rampaging flower, and variety in the strategies required to beat them. So far the footage shown of the game has been limited, but perhaps that's for the best as if I saw more at this point I'd want a copy right now in my grubby little hands. The game's release has been pushed back to 2015, and I'll be waiting impatiently for its arrival.

You can visit Cuphead on his official website, or Studio MDHR on Facebook and Twitter.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Snap, the Pinnacle of Norwegian Humour

Snap Van Flaaten
Created by the twin Norwegian brothers Tommy & Markus Vad Flaaten (with drawings contributed by Gabrielle Tabitha Rose Ghendi, a girl with an amazing name), "Snap" is about a girl who discovers during school that when she snaps her fingers she can stop time. She soon regrets this discovery however as this power comes with unintended consequences.

I am a huge fan of the simple cutout animation style which makes the world feel like a notebook full of a child's doodles, a very fitting style for the subject matter. The characters are not only well drawn, but the expression on the frustration on the teacher and the intensity of the little girl were so exaggerated as to put a huge smile on my face. The action ramps up quickly, and the best praise I can give it is that it reminds me so much of Don Hertzfeldt's Rejected Cartoons.

You can follow the Van Flaaten bros on Facebook and Tumblr.

Korra Book 3 Trailers

The Legend of Korra

What do you do when Nickelodeon Mexico accidentally airs episodes of The Legend of Korra Book 3? Make a fan trailer of course! Youtube user Bigby Wolf has compiled footage of the show that is making us drool in anticipation.


This looks like it's going to be a pretty heady season. A lot of the action seems to take place all over the world of Avatar rather than just in Republic City, which makes me nostalgic for the Adventures of Aang. In the hitherto unvisited Earth Kingdom, we see some new characters, including a boy who can enigmatically use air bending and a large man with a scar above his left eye who, based on his moves with a staff, might be able to air bend as well. Bolin meets an attractive lady who appears to be an Earthbender (come on Bolin, get some!). Lin Bei Fong seems to have some sort of flashbacks about attacking her sister with whom she had beef, resulting in her scar. There is a sparky sparky boom gal, and yes, we finally get an appearance from the Fire Lord himself, Zuko. We even get to see a red, fire breathing dragon streak across the sky. Of course, all this leaves us with more questions than answers, but damn, does it ever whet the appetite for more adventures in the world of Avatar!

EDIT: Nickelodeon has released the official trailer for Book 3.

This trailer is as enigmatic as the leaked footage trailer, but showcases some new footage that suggests that, perhaps as a result of the merging of the spirit and human realms, more people are able to bend elements they previously were unable to, or be able to bend who were previously non-benders, including Tenzin's brother Bumi. The action looks amazing. With the sparky sparky boom gal on the scene, these trailers beg the question: who are the main antagonists this season? So many mysteries - can't wait to explore them properly when Book 3: Changes arrives on television!

Monday, 9 June 2014

What We Hope To See From Nintendo's E3 Livestream

Nintendo Treehouse Live at E3 2014

It's E3 time! Tomorrow Nintendo is holding their live stream event starting at 9AM PST with information on games we've been waiting desperately for and the promise of the announcement of new games to come. The so far unseen Zelda for WiiU is going to be showcased, and a large focus is going to be on Smash Bros. for WiiU and 3DS. It's no secret that Nintendo has been having fiscal problems, part of which they plan to solve by creating a line of figurines that you can link to your games a la Skylander or Disney Infinity, but Nintendo's success has always been in its ability to delight its fans not with gimmicks but with games that are truly fun, epic in scope, and full of character. I may not work for Nintendo, but I am pretty sure we I what Nintendo needs to work on to get back on track:

A New Metroid Game: Whether first person or side-scrolling, Nintendo has been sorely lacking recently in titles starring everyone's famous bounty hunter Samus Aran. Set in the backdrop of space, hunting space pirates and solving the mystery of the jellyfish-like metroids, her adventures are truly worthy of a new installation. Retro Studios proved that Metroid could be pulled off well in first-person, but taking a cue from all the Metroidvania indie projects out there I'd even enjoy a retro side-scrolling Samus adventure. Like Zelda, Metroid is one of Nintendo's darker franchises, and it would be great to see Nintendo flex its creative muscles to bring this fantastic series into a new generation.

A New Starfox Game: If you believe this leaked Document listing Nintendo's titles being showcased at E3, this may soon be a reality! Fox, Falco, Peppy and Slippy have been languishing on Corneria, and it's about time for their return. An HD version of Star Fox on WiiU would probably be one of the most beautiful titles the system would produce, and the 3DS would loan itself well to Star Fox, giving players the option to use traditional or gyro controls and allowing for three-dimensional combat with friends over Wi-Fi. It's time to get mad at Slippy again!

A Brand New Franchise: Pikmin came out in 2004 to great acclaim, and while perhaps Nintendo would be reluctant to put their faith in a new product considering their financial straits, some new blood might just be what Nintendo needs to reinvigorate their image. Nintendo is nothing if not inventive, and probably has all kinds of ideas floating around just waiting to be developed. Be brave, Nintendo!

More Co-Op Games For 3DS: My poor 3DS is just dying for new games that I can play with my friends. Mario Kart 7 has been usurped by Mario Kart 8, and though Smash Bros. is coming out soon, there simply aren't enough co-op options for the delightful handheld. Streetpass and Pokemon are all well and fine, but the handheld has so much potential for real-time fierce multiplayer matches or engaging co-op with each player having their own screen. Consider perhaps a Mario game that has four player co-op like its WiiU's Super Mario 3D world over wi-fi, or (I say again) Star Fox space battles. Help me get my game face on, Nintendo!

A Console With Less Gimmicks: We're not likely to see it this E3, but how amazing would it be to have Nintendo go back to the basics with their consoles, pumping in a little more power and having standard controllers as default (I still think the N64 controller was the best). Perhaps then it would be easier for Nintendo to re-attract the third party games that they desperately need to provide a much-needed source of income. I admire Nintendo's inventiveness and do feel that it has a place, but this really ought to be secondary to creating great software. Also, playing Mario Kart 8 with a wii-mote and nunchuck just doesn't feel natural.

Localize Mother 3: This is reaching a bit. Fans of Earthbound have been dying for Nintendo and HAL Labroatory to release this Japanese-only cult-classic in the North American market. Written by Shigesato Itoi and directed by Nobuyuki Inoue, Mother 3 is the sequel to the wildly popular RPG Earthbound, a game with deceptively light themes that is also emotionally resonant and philosophical. Fans who have played the sequel's online fan translations say that it is even more profound than its predecessor, so shut up and take my money, Nintendo and HAL!

More Donkey Konga: Who doesn't love bongos? Louie Louie by the Kingsmen? I'm shocked that Nintendo hasn't released a bongo peripheral for WiiU yet considering how vastly popular this franchise was. Bang and bong along to you favourite B-list songs from the 90s and general obscurity with Donkey and Diddy Kong. Step 1: Bongos. Step 2: ???. Step 3: Profit!

Agree? Disagree? Anything else you think Nintendo needs to work on? Comment below!

Saturday, 7 June 2014

The Frenetic and Spirited Animation of "Caveirão"

Caveirão Guilherme Marcondes spirits

Well now I definitely want to visit Brazil. This short film by Guilherme Marcondes, also known in English as "The Master's Voice," combines live-action, 2D and 3D animation to create one of the most energetic and beautifully bizarre short films I've seen in ages. Chock-a-block with all sorts of fantastic creatures, this short took over two years to make and has its own dedicated website which describes the film as follows:

"Shot in São Paulo, 'Caveirão' imagines the secret night activities of that city's spirits. Inspired by the darker side of Brazilian pop culture, the film crosses over genres and techniques. Fantasy, horror and cartoon meet through live-action, 2D animation and 3D vfx."

The animation of the spirits is something to behold, so full of energy and life, you want to believe they're real. The way they dance, play dominoes and music, and haul around creepy giant carnival heads is simply uncanny. The live-action character of The Master, a sinister-looking police officer who comes out at night to banish the spirits, is well-acted and interacts convincingly with the animated characters on screen. I enjoyed the subtle narrative underpinning the action, the scene at the end raises questions that intrigued me, and though I have my own speculation as to his origin, I'll leave it up to you to play with on your own. An amazing short film with over-the-top visuals and memorable characters; I look forward to seeing what comes next from Guilherme and his team of magicians!

For a behind the scenes look at the production of this amazing short, check out its website. You can follow Guilherme on Facebook and Twitter.

Friday, 6 June 2014

Why You Should Love Bee & Puppycat

Bee and Puppycat Lasagna

Released by Frederator Studios on their Youtube channel Cartoon Hangover in 2013, Bee & Puppycat, the brainchild of Natasha Allegri, hit us like an umbrella shot to the nuts: sudden, surprising, and sweet (don't judge me). The two episodes released had fans begging for more, and after a very successful Kickstarter campaign, the show is going to be released as a series in the Fall of 2014. I couldn't be more excited to have more zany and emotionally-resonant episodes of the show enter my face holes, and since the internet loves lists, I decided to list the reasons why you should be excited too.

If you live under a rock and have not seen the original webisodes, check them out on Youtube.

Bee and Puppycat Dream
1. Bee: All heart but no Grace, Bee is a down-on-her-luck twenty-something year old who can't hold down a job but still has the kindness to take in the stray Puppycat. She is an unwilling hero who, nevertheless, demonstrates great bravery when thrust into dangerous situations. Also, she has cute dresses.

2. Puppycat: Is he a cat? Maybe a dog? Nobody really knows, but what we do know is that he does temp work in fishbowl space and tells a story about a space outlaw which might be less fictional than he cares to admit. Though he often seems grumpy, he too has a heart of gold, and perhaps comes to Bee because he recognizes the good nature of her heart - or that she's plum broke.

3. Temp Work Adventures: You can bet that in the new season Bee and Puppycat will be going on all sorts of adventures in fishbowl space and beyond to score some sweet ca-ash. Perhaps next instead of consoling a sad fish they'll groom a persnickety sea lion? What's great about the temp work formula is the unlimited scope of the possible adventures Bee and Puppycat can find themselves in when the show starts up again in the Fall, though I expect we'll find out more about Puppycat's mysterious past and see some crazy adventures relating to it.

Bee and Puppycat Use the Sword as a Sword
4. Monster Battles: The second episode of Bee & Puppycat gave us a preview of the Sailor Moon-esque action we can look forward to in future episodes. The monster that comes out of Wallace is demented and terrifying, proving that this show isn't all candy and poop jokes! Plus, Puppycat can turn into a freaking laser. I personally hope Bee continues to use her sword not as a sword.

5. The Zany Humour Of Natasha Allegri: Natasha is a talented lady who before the glorious success of her Kickstarter previously worked as a character designer on Adventure Time, and was responsible for designing the wildly popular gender-swapped versions of Finn and Jake, Fionna and Cake. In many ways, Bee seems to be a mirror of Natasha, or at least the way Natasha portrays herself on her Tumblr. She is lightly self-disparaging, while also revelling in her own eccentricities. Also, she has a cat named Pancake, so there's that. This show is her baby, and like a cute kitten video on the internet is both adorable and menacing in its power to move you. Kudos, Natasha!

6. The Voice Of Allyn Rachel: Bee's voice is somehow friendly, sardonic, lively, and depressed all at once, and it's thanks to this wonderful actress that I now truly believe in the power of lasagna to cure a broken heart. She brings life to one of the more vibrant female characters in cartoons, managing to somehow be both down to Earth and larger than life, and for that she definitely deserves recognition. Also, she screams funny.

Bee and Puppycat Candy

and of course...

8. You took too long: now your candy's gone... that's what happened. WU-POW!

Bee & Puppycat's new season is well into production, and you can watch a production update introducing the entire creative team and new voice actors (including internet celebrities Ashly Burch and Hannah Hart) on Youtube. Keep an eye out for new Bee & Puppycat episodes this Fall!

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Betrayal at House on the Hill Review

Betrayal at House on the Hill Box

Today's blog post can be found on Mike Raven's The Blog of Thog. Mike's a tabletop enthusiast and humorist, and I leapt at the chance to write a piece for his blog while he's on vacation.

I picked up Betrayal at House on the Hill after seeing Wil Wheaton and company play it on an episode of Tabletop by Geek & Sundry. I've played it a few times now, and really enjoy it - though it's not without it's flaws. Check out my review:

Watch Tabletop to see it in action:

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

The Banner Saga Giveaway!

The good folks at Stoic read our review of The Banner Saga and in their infinite wisdom offered us four Steam keys to give away!

The Banner Saga is a PC game based on Norse mythology. With a gorgeous animated art style, atmospheric music, and challenging tactics-based battles, The Banner Saga is the very definition of epic. Lead your caravan through the wilderness in uncertain times, but beware that the decisions you make could have long-lasting ramifications for your people. Forge new alliances and slay your enemies in this excellent new strategy game from Stoic.

To gain entries, all you have to do is "like" us on Facebook and / or follow us on Twitter, and you can earn one extra entry per day by tweeting about the raffle. The contest ends on June 18th at midnight. Just use the handy-dandy Rafflecopter widget below to enter - good luck!

You can follow Stoic on Facebook or Twitter.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

The Amazing Everything of Scott C.

Scott C Surfing Dude

Amazing Everything: The Art of Scott C is the name of a collected edition of Scott Campbell's work. It is also a proper descriptor of said work. The guy is just plain awesome, even Jack Black says so in the intro to the book:

"I loves me some Scott C. His paintings are like precious little gems. So cleverly and skillfully executed. Touching and hilarious."

Scott C unicorn dudes
Well put, Jack. Scott C's work is undeniably charming and more than a little whimsical - the happy-go-lucky attitude of his work is infectious. I mean, just look at these guys on the right, they're adorable, right? Wrong! They're killing machines, just look at those unicorns blobs rip into those rainbows with unbridled abandon! It's Scott C's kind eye which paints these terrifying creatures in such a pleasant light, it is his gift - to see nothing but the best in people. Or perhaps he has a magic pen that does that. Regardless, Scott C is a gift to the world with his pop-culture iconography and cheerful scenarios that we should all meditate upon to become happier people, a goal which Scott says in his book that he has always been conscious of:

"I was not a tormented soul that must paint to stay sane. I had a Leave it to Beaver upbringing with a pleasant family. I just liked to make jokes and be happy... I like making people laugh and point and nudge one another."

Scott C Ghostbustland
Ghostbusters print made for the 30th anniversary
of the franchise. Click to enlarge.
It's refreshing to have an artist who is not only talented and untormented but also deeply rooted in the nerd zeitgeist. He worked for years in the video game industry, developing the world and characters for Double Fine's Psychonauts and Brütal Legend before branching out and becoming a juggernaut of charming art in his own right. He paints primarily in watercolours, a process, he explains in his book, is as relaxing as the art itself:

"Why do I use watercolor? Because it enables me to have a muted and noncommittal palette with an airiness that relaxes me. My colors start out quite faint, but as I gain more confidence, the colors become more vibrant and contrasting. I start out by doodling on sheets of scratch paper and scanning them into the computer to compose in Photoshop. I have grown accustomed to the Undo button. I print the compositions out and trace them onto my watercolor paper like magic."

Scott C Adventure Time
Adventure Time, come on
grab your friends!

The airiness he speaks of permeates his entire body of work. The lines he paints are defined yet wavy, and his use of watercolour adds levity in the way his colours bleed and waver in density through his backgrounds and characters. It's a very distinctive style that blends the nuances of high art with the wackiness of cartoons. The overall theme of his work is generally one of cheer and general childlike imagination. When he's not painting a smiling Ghostbusters' Stay Puft or any of his movie/tv-land brethren, he's creating worlds in which have comically overcomplicated umbrellas, baby carriage cannons, cross-sections of amusement park-like homes for mummies and soldiers, actual amusement parks for skeletons and zombies, a floating bar for sea monsters, and of course, lumberjacks. His work has all the feel of a child dreaming up the coolest thing he can think of with the artistic sensibilities of a slightly larger child (which of course I mean in the most complimentary way possible). As adults we so often lose our sense of childhood play, and it is precisely that feeling of nostalgia which Scott C is able to tap, allowing us to remember what it felt like to lie on our stomachs in the kitchen sketching dinosaurs battling tanks.

Scott C Great Showdowns Star Wars Luke and Wampa
With three published comic collections, two children's books, and a slew of commercial clients including Criterion, Laika, Macmillan, New Line Cinema, Nickelodeon, and Vice Magazine under his belt, it's a wonder Scott gets any personal painting done! Yet amazingly he still has time for his own projects. One subject Scott C loves to work with are characters from movies and television portrayed in true Scott C happy-style. One of his larger ongoing endeavours, Great Showdowns, is a series of amazing pop-culture paintings on the topic of conflict in movies and television showcased online, that have since been published in two separate volumes and is still going strong. In an interview with, Scott C explained where the idea came from:

Scott C Great Showdowns Firefly
"The Great Showdowns began at the very first annual Crazy4Cult group exhibition at Gallery 1988 in 2008 or so. All the the artists created work inspired by cult films. I just started drawing my favorite films... Usually just people standing there with each other from films that I dug. I liked how they looked just standing there enjoying each other and I liked the idea of all these little moments of tension being seen as a group like a party... I created 10 of these showdowns for that show and super enjoyed it, so I made 10 more for the show the following year.. And eventually, I started the website as a way to motivate myself to make them on a more regular basis and have them easily accessible to people. And that's how it all went! An epic tale." 1

Scott C Great Showdowns Batman
Epic indeed. Scott C is able to take what we all love about pop-culture and truly make it his own. It's inspiring to see enemies transformed into best buds, and seeing a new showdown pop up on my feed always brings a smile to my face. While deceptively simple in its scope, this series is great because it reminds us that there is always a chance for peace and reconciliation even in the most destructive of conflicts. Who knew you could learn something AND have fun?

I really love the work of Scott C because he's not afraid to show off his inner cute and create art that reflects a happier side of life. If we were more like the characters in his paintings, the world would be a much radder place. He is a cool dude that everybody should check out because he is amazing and he'll make your life exponentially better just because you know OF him.

You can follow Scott C on his primary website Pyramid Car, his separate site for Great Showdowns, or on Twitter.

Scott C Zombie Carnival

Monday, 2 June 2014

Don't Feed The Penguin!

Krizenecky Don't Feed The Penguin

I certainly won't be feeding penguins anytime soon after watching this extraordinarily trippy short animation by the French animator Alenka Krizenecky. I knew I was in for a treat when a maki roll in the film had a mayonnaise poop and then flashed a maniacal grin. Krizenecky describes her wicked film thus:

"Jo is an employee at a 24/7 Asian food court. On this particular night, while business is slow, he kills time by eating. When a maki he is about to eat warns him about a penguin, he turns slightly paranoid."

That's an understatement. You can feel the florescent light in the food court burning into your retinas. I enjoyed the way Krizenecky plays with perspective and skewing the characters proportions, creating a surreal environment not unlike Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. The sketchy quality of the animation is suggestive of an unfinished drawing which can be erased and recreated at a moment's notice, and this works well with the various hallucinations Jo experiences in his hyper exhausted sushi state. A psychotic masterpiece!

Nerd Speaker loves finding new short animation pieces to watch! Feel free to suggest your favourites in the comment section.