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Column: Jump Button

New Video Game Zine Alert: JumpButton

September 19, 2011 11:00 PM |


For those looking for something to add to their video game zine library, have you heard of JumpButton yet? Making its debut literally 48 hours ago, editor Drew Taylor describes it as "a quarterly art/gaming/lifestyle magazine with a focus on the art and substance of videogame culture".

Much like Scroll, it's available via MagCloud, so you have two options: $17.00 for a hard copy or $4.00 for a PDF. The first issue came out in 2005, but due to financial issues, the follow-up never saw print.

But as Taylor notes, things have changed over the years; not only has the scope of game writing evolved significantly across the board, hence why the potential audience is now far greater, but so has the means of distribution.

The 64 page strong return features articles originally written in late 05/early 06 for #2, but are now in #0, and sports an update look that will accompany the official re-launch that's forthcoming. And despite being several years old, everything is still quite relevant today, including a look at the genesis of the iam8bit art show and an interview with artist Ashley Wood.

Though age is what makes some articles especially compelling, like the tribute to Beyond Good & Evil before a sequel was finally green lit, or the interview with Quantic Dream's David Cage before there was Heavy Rain. For those interested, JumpButton #0 can be acquired here and comes recommended.

But for those who need a little more convincing, or even those who don't, be sure to check out Taylor's GSW column from back in the day, which was one of the ways JumpButton was kept alive between format changes.

[via @DeMarko]

COLUMN: 'Jump Button': Best Joke Ever — Game Boy Musicians Alex Yabsley aka Dot.AY and Thomas Gilmore aka Ten Thousand Freemen & Their Families

May 14, 2008 8:00 AM |

-[Jump Button is a bi-weekly column by Drew Taylor, written specially for GameSetWatch, that focuses on the art and substance of video game culture. This week – the second in a series of interviews that explores Australia's emerging 8-bit music scene.]

Part of me wants to protest.

After all these years, this isn't how I imagined it. Not like this. It's too much, too fast, and I can't take it all in properly...

And then somehow, this: I'm standing outside, in the cold, after midnight, down some skinny, Melbourne city back street. Half-drunk whisky sour in a cocktail glass. A freaking cocktail glass!

Holding this drink, with these people around me, I feel like a dick. It doesn't help that I want to be back inside the bar, listening, experiencing, ordering a drink that comes in a real glass. But my instincts tell me: stay, this is more important, these two in front of me are the white rabbits that will lead me to the promised 8-bit underground.

I'm so close now; so close I can feel the lo-tek fanboy in me rising. Stealing my games journo cool.

For the past three years I've been looking for a chance--any chance--to experience a live chip tune gig in Australia. And, now, in a single night, I've not only heard Tyson Hopprich rip it up Sid DJ-style at the local premiere of Marcin Romocki's 8 Bit documentary, but I've just spent the last two hours watching a line-up of the best blip artists in Australia detonate the 8-bomb like they'd been set on fire.

-Thirty minutes later and I'm standing here, out in the cold, MP3 voice recorder pointed at Game Boy musicians Alex Yabsley aka Dot.AY, and Thomas Gilmore aka Ten Thousand Freemen & Their Families. Double proof of Australia's emerging 8-bit music scene.

A scene that, in some part at least, is intent on looking at the genre through Corey Worthington sunglasses.

'I like to think that we try and be different [to the rest of the world],' says 22-year-old Alex, philosophical expression on his face.

COLUMN: 'Jump Button': Dirt In The Music — 8-bit musician Tyson Hopprich aka DJ Tr!p

April 30, 2008 8:00 AM |

-[Jump Button is a weekly column by Drew Taylor, written specially for GameSetWatch, that focuses on the art and substance of video game culture. This week – the first in a series of interviews that explores Australia's emerging 8-bit music scene.]

Even before I've asked my first question, 30-year-old Tyson Hopprich—aka DJ Tr!p—is squirming around on the outdoor cafe bench seat like he's jacked up on four cans of energy drink; his mind and body tapping into a full-blown DJ set no-one else can see or hear.

On the outside he's all black Nintendo tee, nose ring, short hair, dark jeans, arthritic limp in his leg when he walks. A mad energy—shooting out through hands and fingers that play and tweak thin air—just waiting for me to work through my introductions and segue into Tyson's place in the rise of the 8-bit music scene in Australia.

Not quite there yet, words about his new 6-track EP Sid Vicious still spilling from my lips, I imagine this is how he prepares for a gig: eyes closed, muscle memory kicking in, rehearsed katas of DJ-fu rippling outwards.

Enthusiastic 'Yeah-yeah's hurry me along, but I'm there now, and Tyson opens his mouth to answer my first question.

It's an awesome pause.

-Barely 20 minutes later and music flows out over the audience in thick, meaty, 8-bit waves. It's sad and heavy in parts; the opening of a murder mystery adventure. David Cage's Fahrenheit, it's electronic pulse fading with each loop; Tyson easing the rhythm into a body bag, only to suddenly jab it back to life with a nightclub adrenaline shot to it's digital heart.

He starts buzzing then, feeding off the beat as Prodigy-style riffs mix together with a Matrix soundscape. Spins, tweaks and flicks of the deck come deftly, with no hint of the pre-performance twitchiness. A master of electronica.

Seated somewhere in the middle, I think to myself, this is how all premiere screenings of Marcin Ramocki's 8-bit documentary should begin.

The auditorium fills rapidly, like Tyson's sending out some pied piper effect, until people are having to be turned away. Not that Tyson would know. He's in the moment, suspended in distortion, grooving; fully into his beats and riffs so intimately that he can poke and punch the air at all the emphasis points.

Mouth still open, back at the cafe, Tyson making a different point.

Saying, 'I've been making music for about 10 years with my Amiga; using the Commodore 64, and bits and pieces with my PC and Game Boy. For that period, I treated the music I was making with that old technology as just music. That was my medium. They were my instruments. Just like some people use Moogs, and other people use just laptops. But finally seeing there's an 8-bit community beyond Australia that's active, I thought I'd recognize it and make it a bit more literal. With all of my previous stuff, even though it was 8-bit, I was trying to make music which didn't sound 8-bit, even though it had the edge.'

Tyson, trying to explain himself more clearly, adding, 'There are all these lovers of the demo scene, of the Commodore 64, sid tunes, chip tunes, that stuff. But they keep it to themselves in the bedroom, and there's no celebration.

'I wanted to do the sid stuff a long time ago, and there was some other friends who were making that stuff back in high school with me, but it just didn't feel like it was music you could release. It felt too weird.

'Now it feels right.'

COLUMN: 'Jump Button': Men That Build Pixels That Love Dogs — Heavy Metal: F.A.K.K.2 developer Robert Atkins

April 21, 2008 4:00 PM |

-[Jump Button is a weekly column by Drew Taylor, written specially for GameSetWatch, that focuses on the art and substance of video game culture. This week - following on from the interview with Julie Strain, Robert Atkins talks about the making of Ritual's game Heavy Metal: F.A.K.K.2, working with Julie, and things that matter.]

Human body parts.

Scratch the surface of game development, of the team responsible for Ritual Entertainment's third-person shooter, Heavy Metal: F.A.K.K.2, and it's hard not to be reminded of human body parts.

There, beneath the lines of code, the polygons and environmental shaders; beneath the AI path-finding, the gibs, the optimization algorithms, the user interface and multi-level database of localized text. There, beneath it all, are the individuals, the developers and creatives: desk-bound, human-sized, body parts, coming together to create new life.

Claw into the development of of F.A.K.K.2, and some found there will be livers, spleens, ocular cavities. Veins and ventricles.

Previously interviewed actress Julie Strain—the voice and inspiration for the game's lead character—she's the flesh and blood. The estrogen.

Scratch deeper, and others will be calves, vertebrae, toes, urinary tracts. Thumbs and tear ducts. All contributing something. A metaphorical and physical testament to the Biblical passage of 1 Corinthians chapter 12, verses 12-20. A fragile physiological ecosystem of talent, psyche and technological wizardry, melding to form a PC game, released in 2000, that would deliver entertaining, dual-wielding fantasy action.

But scratch deepest, scratch to the very center of it all, and there will be Robert Atkins—then art director and co-founder of Ritual Entertainment. Robert: the heart of Heavy Metal: F.A.K.K.2.

The proud, still-beating heart, ripped out.

COLUMN: 'Jump Button': Pixels That Love Dogs — Video Game Icon Julie Strain

April 15, 2008 4:00 PM |

-[Jump Button is a weekly column by Drew Taylor, written specially for GameSetWatch, that focuses on the art and substance of video game culture. This week - Julie Strain talks about her life, the making of Ritual's game Heavy Metal: FAKK 2, why there should be a sequel, and things that matter.]

It's been two years since I phoned her, but the pain that's in her voice when she answers, it stays with me still.

'My puppy died yesterday,' says the voluptuous, six-foot-one PC gaming icon. 'In my arms. My puppy got pneumonia. It came from the pet store really sick, and I nursed it, and I did everything. I took it in the shower twice a day, and I gave it medicine. And it died of a heart attack, and it died in my hands.

'I've been crying for 24 hours,' she says. 'She was so cute. Now... she's gone.'

That girl whisky voice in my ear, full of hurt, it belongs to Julie Strain—B-movie queen, adult dot com identity, and the face, name, voice and sass of the lead character in Ritual Entertainment's third-person shooter, Heavy Metal: F.A.K.K.2.

Forget Tomb Raider. As a game character, this black-haired battle raven's boobs are bigger. Her weapon-based acrobatics, more deadly. Her attire—or lack of it—far more capable of poking out an eye.

-These pixels are a dual-wielding, uzi and flame-sword toting hero of the multi-verse. FAKK to the second level. And in this instance, the real was the inspiration for the fantasy; for the fictitious. Julie for Julie.

'I'm not sure what the character was like before,' says Julie. 'But when I came along, it added the 6'1” height, the athleticism. And, you know, I can give a mean snarl that no-one else can do, so they added that to it.'

The 'they' Julie's referring to, is Kevin Eastman, co-creator of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Editor in Chief of Heavy Metal magazine. Writer of the animated movie Heavy Metal 2000 on which the game F.A.K.K.2 is based. Now Julie's husband.

'Just the fact that I fought off a killer in my real life with my bare hands,' says Julie, 'it kind of makes me the character.'

Explaining, 'A man jumped on my bed with a knife to my throat, and I thought, “I can't die, I need to be Penthouse Pet of the Year”. So I fought him tooth and nail, screaming for help until he ran away.'

The line between game character and person blurring now, with, 'She's a real-life superhero. It's a girl you can believe is a bad-ass, kick-ass mutha-fucker. I mean Barbarella was cute in her little boots and stuff, but I don't think she could go a couple of rounds in a ring with me.'

COLUMN: 'Jump Button': The Promise Of Style — Faceplate Collector Josh* aka 'Taco Head'

April 10, 2008 8:00 AM |

-[Jump Button is a weekly column by Drew Taylor, written specially for GameSetWatch, that focuses on the art and substance of video game culture.]

I'm more than 10,000 kilometers away from home, the TV in my hotel room is displaying an attractive woman in a red leotard, and immediately my thoughts turn to the launch of the X-box 360.

The woman is twisting faux-effortlessly on a lightweight steel and rubber contraption, and all I can think about are plastic homages to Test Drive, The Outfit, PGR3 and Gears of War.

The woman is smiling, turning left, smiling, turning right, smiling smiling smiling, but in my mind's eye it's Xbox 360 faceplate collector Taco Head (real name Josh*) that's looking back at me, short dark hair and caffeinated green eyes, the word 'promise' on his lips.

'It all happened in the Summer of 2005,' Josh says, as if reciting a net romance blog. 'The “NextBox” was finally revealed to the public during E3 as the 360 we know and love today, but the release date of November seemed like it would take an eternity to come.

'At that time, I had taken my family to Palm Springs for a long weekend and had recently gotten a PDA phone with a web browser. I remember being out at the pool surfing eBay and I came across a listing for the #1 of 5,000 E3 faceplates. Instantly, I knew I had to have it.

-'It was the first one of its kind, and the system hadn't even launched yet! But it wasn't easy. This was just the first of many “negotiations” with my wife to secure a rare faceplate.'

Still Josh, now a 37-year-old director of operations for a software company in Southern California, explaining the initial attraction.

'I'd long been a big fan of the first Xbox because its PC-like design seemed to inspire the hobbyist crowd and had generated so many interesting home brew applications and hardware mods.'

'So when I first learned what Microsoft had in store for the 360, I thought, “Wow, these guys have really listened to the hardcore gamers”. There was the Xbox Media Center functionality (although not quite as robust as first hoped) and the dashboards, themes and faceplates. They were really going for a customizable game console that you could make your own.

'I was extremely curious to see what interesting faceplates would be manufactured. Here you had regular guys making all kinds of cool mods in their garages for the original X-box, and now it was going to graduate to the mainstream.

'Or... so I thought.'

COLUMN: 'Jump Button': (Losing) The Fame Game — Red Vs. Blue's Gus Serola

April 1, 2008 8:00 AM |

-[Jump Button is a weekly column by Drew Taylor, written specially for GameSetWatch, that focuses on the art and substance of video game culture.]

In the world I'm imagining, Peter Molyneux is dead. His body is still flip-flopping in his grave, but the front page of the Sydney Herald Sun is of some tennis player who's drunkenly peed on a police car.

The Frag Dolls are pushing up daisies, the entire team wiped out in a freak mini-bus accident, and the UK's Daily Mirror has the headline, 'World's first pregnant man!'

Suda 51 has testicular cancer and the Indian Express is headlining new Bollywood fashions.

This is the future of gaming as we know it.

Karima Adibibe has keeled over, face down in a private hot tub, and the China Daily is excited about a new mobile phone carrier test.

Gabe Newell is beaten to death with a crowbar and the Norway Post is running a story on head lice. The Mexico Daily a story on Gordon Ramsey and Cathy Freeman. The Jerusalem Post a report on future uses of technology and dictatorship. And this is what we're heading towards.

Mario still exists; but they only roll him out for anniversaries. Special occasions. Historical exhibitions, correctly costumed in his trademark overalls and insignia hat. Sans 'It'sa me', of course, because such comments cause racial tension and promote negative stereotypes; and are boring.

This is the future of gaming as we know it. A maybe reality; content culture without mass media celebrities.

Bits in a bubble.

Wind back the clock now. Back to the Machinima Film Festival held in Melbourne, early 2007. To the breakfast conversation with Rooster Teeth Production's Gustavo Sorola, second floor of the Australian Centre for the Moving Image.

Bircher muesli and scrambled eggs.

COLUMN: 'Jump Button': Future Hairy Racers — WipeOut Pure Artist Neil McFarland

March 25, 2008 8:00 AM |

-[Jump Button is a new weekly column by Drew Taylor, written specially for GameSetWatch, that focuses on the art and substance of video game culture.]

'Passing through the mouth of Venus,' says Neil McFarland.

'Passing through... the driver is riled and beguiled by a procession of gigantic beauties,' he says to me. The 34-year-old illustrator describing his contribution to what is arguably the best piece of free downloadable game content ever made.

'Gripped with paranoia and fear in the all-seeing eye tunnel,' he adds. 'Blinded by Medusa, and reborn anew at the completion of each circuit.'

His word-images, this should be the way all video games are reviewed. In narrative. In dialogue. In fan fiction. Using words soft as breasts that when caressed leak all over the screen or page in a myriad of colored pixels and ink. Purples. Oranges. Mauves. Crimsons. Cyans and blonds.

At the very least, it should be how the Omega Pack is described. A four track wonderland (YouTube videos) for the futuristic PlayStation Portable racer WipeOut Pure, made free in 2005 to everyone in Europe, Australia and New Zealand as a giant suck-up, featuring the unique work of UK artists and designers. Jon Burgerman, 123Klan, Mark James, Neil McFarland.

Jon's circuit—complete with chimpanbees, dancing sausages and sheer character design genius is the reason I download the pack; I've always been a fan. But it's Neil's Paris Hair track that gives me the Flash Gordon moment.

A sense of flinging oneself into the void, only to become trapped in an off-world sideshow recreated from drug-induced visions of hair, melancholy and Barbarella-like pleasure tortures. An uncomfortable memory of sitting in a car with a mate (who would later become a youth pastor) as he confesses to having recently cheated on his girlfriend by fingering a woman in the very seat I'm occupying.

COLUMN: 'Jump Button': Beyond Pong — 'Hacker' Allan Alcorn

March 18, 2008 8:00 AM |

-[Jump Button is a weekly column by Drew Taylor, written specially for GameSetWatch, that focuses on the art and substance of video game culture.]

He's done non-stop interviews, Q&A sessions and media press conferences, but in the three days that IT entrepreneur Allan Alcorn has been in Melbourne to take part in ACMI's Game On exhibition, this is the first time I've seen him physically withdraw from a question.

In a small, crowded Japanese restaurant, Al closes his eyes and places his thick-set hands over his face; and for a long moment he's silent.

It's evident that Al's revisiting a time in his life that has haunted him for the last five decades; a memory so personal that out of simple respect I already know I'm not going to ask him to describe it.

'Honestly,' he says, slowly opening his eyes, and pulling away his hands. 'What scares me is running out of money. I come from a poor family and actually going broke and having to go back to [that] lifestyle...

'I don't want to do that.'

Al's reply confirms something I've long suspected. By creating Pong—the 'world's first successful video game'—Al may well be relegated by media to a particular slice of gaming history and culture, but as far as he's concerned, the achievement and its significance is but a blip on a much larger screen, and neither defines nor motivates him. Al is not a video game designer, a cultural beacon for all things retro and gaming. He is a hacker, a finagler, a ring master and a businessman.

He always has been. And he always will be.

COLUMN: 'Jump Button': When “Good Naughty” Girls Make Games — Creative Director Holly Owen

March 11, 2008 8:00 AM |

-[Jump Button is a new weekly column by Drew Taylor, written specially for GameSetWatch, that focuses on the art and substance of video game culture.]

The email from Holly Owen—Creative Director of cross-platform entertainment company Champagne for the Ladies—pops up on my computer screen, quite unexpectedly.

It's only been a few seconds since I sent her a message proposing a deadline for her interview answers, and up until this point there's generally been a day or two between replies. As a result, I'm a single click away from logging out of my webmail client and switching off the computer.

Instead, I open up her email, where I'm greeted by her shortest message to me yet. It contains just four words.

'Easy peasy pimply squeezy.'

A giant grin leaps onto my face, and in an instant I know that interviewing Holly about Coolest Girl in School—the Australian-made mobile phone game that's been controversially labeled 'GTA for girls'—is not just going to be an insightful exploration of developing a game for young women, but filled from start to finish with such quintessential phrases as, 'knickers in a knot' and 'truth dare double dare kiss'.

This is Holly's world I've entered into. A world where female gamers are referenced without the slightest hint of condescension, or the need to push the 'anything boys can do' tough-girl rhetoric; a world where terms such as 'pwnage' and 'teabag' simply don't exist.

It's a world of high school, period pain, experimentation, fashionistas, average sex and perfect hair. And it all begins with an SMS...