Early art from the creator of Steven Universe

Today Rebecca Sugar is a superstar – at least in the eyes of animation nerds like me. She’s the creator of Steven Universe and before that she was a writer and storyboard artist on Adventure Time. They’re both incredible cartoons well suited to her particular style. But before Rebecca Sugar commanded the helm of her own animated TV show, she created several artworks that hold up today and give an insight into her personal flair.She first came to my attention with her graduate film, Singles. Rebecca attended Cal Arts, a prestigious animation school with ties to Disney Animation Studios. The animated short has minimal story, but its core concept of a man who exists in a room that exists within his own body is visually striking. It also shows off Rebecca’s fondness for squishy movement and distressed faces that we’re starting to see shades of in the later episodes of Steven Universe.

Singles from Cartoon Brew on Vimeo.
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Cornfest: An Interstellar dinner menu

There’s this scene in Interstellar where the family dinner table is filled with nothing but foods made up of corn. In this dystopian future, corn has become the only viable crop – so it’s corn for breakfast lunch and dinner. Interstellar may not be the best film ever, but it is a film of grand ideas.So it came to be that on a Wednesday night as our sharehouse settled in for a movie night to watch Interstellar, I served up a dinner menu consisting of 90% corn. This would be a meal that was more of an art experiment than a real dinner.

Tonight’s Dinner Menu:

The result was about as corn filled as you’d expect. The corn fritters were reasonable – essentially they’re corn omlettes. The corn custard was too sweet for most tastes – unsurprising for a desert made mostly from corn and sugar. The popcorn and corn cobs came out nicely though. There’s links above if you want to make any of these yourself.

It was a fun experiment at least. I tried to adhere to the homeliness of that scene too, buying whole corn cobs rather than tins of corn kernels. When it came to the popcorn, microwave packets were out the question. The results was palatable, moderately filling and with some moments of sweetness. Not unlike Interstellar really.

A Fearless Adventure In Knowing What To Do

When the Valve employee handbook was leaked back in 2012, I was struck by just how bold the ideas were. Sure there’s the boss-less workplace structure, but what was truly compelling was the philosophies behind the book.

”This handbook is about the choices you’re going to be making and how to think about them. Mainly, it’s about how not to freak out now that you’re here.”

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Breath in, breathe out and Expand

Expand was one of the six games featured at PAX Australia as part of the indie showcase and it’s easy to see why. It has a clean, appealing graphic design, serene music and it’s a fresh twist on the simple platformer. Not to mention it’s home grown in Adelaide by developer Chris Johnson and composer/collaborator Chris Larkin. The controls are simple: you just gently push the thumbstick and navigate an expanding, changing concentric maze.So it’s essentially a platform game where you’re shifting from spot to spot, dodging moving hazards and ducking through closing doors while trying to find the exit point. But in abstracting out the platform jumping genre, the experience feels new. Pushing further into the unexplored blackness reveals new surprises, with the walls pulsing out, sucking in or spiraling out of existence. Expand generally does a good job of mixing things up as you go from exploring, to running away to being pushed along. At one point the music synced up with the pulsing movements of the map and the game suddenly took on the feel of a rhythm game. At other times your focus narrows on the shifting shapes to the point of it feeling hypnotic.

There’s no overt tutorial and learning the mechanics of the game feels very natural. You quickly learn the logic of this world; what death and success looks like and what the colours signify. Levels are not always linear and the moments when you find logic in the random movements of the world around you are to be savoured.The game is intended to inspire this relaxed, inspired kind of feel as you figure things out, which it often does thanks to both the gameplay and beautiful soundtrack. But I was surprised to find the demands of the second world ramped up to require some frustrating levels of pixel precision movement. Serenity shattered. The difficulty curve is so vital in a game like this and feels like it needs slowing down in some places to keep the game in that sweet spot. Or perhaps I just have hooves for hands.Comparisons to Thomas Was Alone feels inevitable. Both games are reductionist approaches to the platformer genre and Expand also has some hints at a meta existentialist vibe. “There is no escape.” “Do you always follow?” But like Thomas Was Alone, there’s a danger that the game could become a series of levels of doing essentially the same thing, just with minor iterations upon the same basic challenges. There’s a level editor built in with the game, but I’m not convinced I’d want to play this for more than a few hours, let alone play other people’s levels. But if you enjoy minimalist gameplay and graphics and you have opposable thumbs, Expand can ensnare you if you let it.

Out Of Body Gaming

November 20th is Trans Day of Remembrance – a memorial day that I only just learned about, but one that deserves commemoration. If you want to learn more about the history, this article gives a good background and explains the obvious truth that trans people should be respectfully treated as, y’know, people?

Ever since Papers, Please, I’ve become increasingly enamored with small indie games ability to tell emotionally resonate stories using stylishly simple graphics and in a short span of time. And few games are as short as Dys4ia – an autobiographical game about the personal and medical challenges of one trans person. Whether or not it fits your definition of a ‘game’ is beside the point. Whatever you call it, it’s a sympathetic experience. Plus it’s five minutes, dawg.

You can play Dys4ia for free here or watch this video of someone else playing the game.

Bringing Iñupiat culture to video games

In a warm corner of the crowded gaming expo floor at PAX Aus, Upper One Games invited players to step into the cold and experience Never Alone. In this game you play as an Inuit girl and her friend, fox, as they traverse the harsh Alaskan landscape.

We spoke to the developers at PAX Aus about how this game is being developed in partnership with Iñupiat elders based in Anchorage, Alaska. The story goes that they were contacted by the tribe and asked if they wanted to make a video game based on who they are as a people. Upper One saw an opportunity here to positively and appropriately show who these people are.
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Under the wig: Cosplay at PAX Aus 2014

At this year’s PAX Australia, life imitated art as hundreds of fans walked the halls of Melbourne’s Convention Center dressed as their favourite video game characters. From the carefully hand crafted pieces to the casual costumes, they all came together to experience a range of panels, game showcases, and meet ups with video game enthusiasts from near and far. Although there were many cosplayers representing different games and genres, it was the League of Legends cosplayers that came out in full force.Laura Scott, also known as Saerianne, is a 19 year old cosplayer from Sydney. She attended PAX this year in three different League of Legends champion outfits: Arcade Miss Fortune, Janna, and Lulu. At last year’s convention, Laura says there were close to 20 League of Legends cosplayers but this year there was an increased influx and they came by the hundreds.

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Diversity Lounge coming to PAX Aus

In it’s second year, the giant gaming festival PAX Australia has already announced a raft of new features. There’s a bigger venue (with bigger theatres), Tripod and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra playing on the Friday night as well as a PAX Aus Diversity Lounge.

PAX has always been about celebrating games of all kinds – and so the diversity lounge aims to celebrate gamers of all kinds. We spoke to Alice, the co-curator of the diversity lounge: ”It’s just a fun space for people to come and learn about our lovely community groups and the issues they face, and to relax and make some friends while playing games.”

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ABC’s Radio National talks about geek culture conventions

The other week I had the pleasure of popping into the ABC radio studios and having a chat with reporter Tiger Webb about geek culture conventions for a story that aired on Radio National. You can listen to the full radio story here.
Plus they also produced an article version of the story here.
It was a cool experience to have a peak inside the ABC studios and record inside the TARDIS – their small recording studio adorned with an image of that famous police box. Not to mention that the intercom plays the Doctor Who theme while you’re waiting outside.
After the interview I ended up writing to Tiger about something that was outside the scope of his story, but it’s something I’m passionate about thought it was worth sharing here too:
“Big pop culture events like Oz Comic-Con are just one kind of experience that’s out there. At other events you’ll have people finding an empty room and setting up a card game and creating an impromptu event. There’s hotel rooms packed with people, alcohol, board games and some cosplayers at the back of the room feverishly repairing their costumes. And there’s the small clutch of people who have stepped out of the con to the cafe across the road to continue their discussion of heternormativity in Doctor Who. Personally, these are more real and valuable experiences than buying toys and getting autographs.”

A Deluge Of Anime Conventions

UPDATE: As of 8th July, the Melbourne Anime and Manga Festival (MAMF) has had to postpone their event. No dates have been announced just yet, but their plan is for ‘early next year.’ Most of these new events ran once or not at all.

Earlier this year Melbourne lost its largest and longest running anime convention when Manifest announced it had come to an end. People pined and begged the Manifest volunteers to rethink their decision and resurrect their old con, but instead something else happened. Manifest was gone for good, but in a matter of months three brand new events had sprung up out of nowhere.

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