Work-of-Art-as-Gateway-Drug (and How the Internet Will Hopefully Solve Everything), with Jack Lawrence Mayer

ETAO Podcast, Episode 15.

When I interviewed Jack Lawrence Mayer for UChicago Arts back in 2102, he was about to launch Single Long, his seven-episode digital series for HBO. His latest project, LA Famous, follows the same basic format—but he’s produced it without the backing of HBO or, for that matter, any other network or studio.

So this week, Jack Lawrence Mayer stops by to discuss his work, his overall mission “to do shows without permission,” and the implications of that mission: Isn’t it exciting that we can make things and put them out there without anybody having to put up huge amounts of money? Definitely. But also, isn’t it a little terrifying that so much work now gets produced without any expectation of money changing hands, like, ever? Again, definitely, definitely.

LA Famous

We also take some time to discuss the Jack’s new Monday Morning Movies podcast, the importance of being told no, how a lower budget is something that’s easier to hear than to see, and the utterly indefensible ending of Grease!

Plus, we tear into the noxious archetype of the good guy—or rather, the nice guy—protagonist who’s just been dumped by some cruel, incomprehensible woman. She is tearing [the straight male protagonist] apart, Lisa!

Yeah, Jack wants to react against that trope. Fuck that trope.

• I use the terms “digital series” and “web series” interchangeably in the intro, but Jack does mention that he prefers the former for LA Famous and Single Long.

• That period of wakefulness was sometimes called “dorveille.” Quoth WikiPedia, “This was also a favorite time for scholars and poets to write uninterrupted, whereas still others visited neighbors, had sex, or engaged in petty crime.”

WikiPedia also tells us that “the nature and classification of the ASMR phenomenon is controversial, with a considerable cult following and strong anecdotal evidence to support the phenomenon but little or no scientific explanation or verified data.”

• “There have been eras that took a far more intense interest in spectacles of cruelty than ours, but none that was so transfixed by watching people act like assholes,” says Geoffrey Nunberg of the UC Berkeley School of Information.

• Shane Carruth’s second film is called Upstream Color, and it’s just as weird and wonderful as I’m describing, I promise.

• Louis CK’s first movie (before Pootie Tang, even) was Tomorrow Night.

• The only Magic Johnson Theater still open for business is the one in Harlem. It’s currently owned and operated by AMC.

• I think I combined “glib” with “gloom and doom” to form “gloob and doom.” You heard it here first.

• As Jack says, High Maintenance is very much worth checking out.

• And do absolutely give Yasujirō Ozu a go.


LA Famous

“All The People Say” by Carpe Demon.
“Jazz De Luxe (1919)” by Earl Fuller’s Famous Jazz Band.
“I’m in the Mood for Love” by Vera Lynn with The Casini Club Orchestra.
“Knockin’ at the Famous Door” by Charlie Barnet and His Orchestra.
“Do What You Can To Shine” by Steven Brent, performed by Jenn Romero.

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Making a Sequel to Chess and Making Sense of IP Law, with Zac Burns

ETAO Podcast, Episode 14.

Zac Burns of Ludeme Games joins me to discuss his studio’s digital adaptation of Chess 2, which is out on OUYA, and as of today, on Steam as well. Along the way, we talk about the challenges of translating tabletop games into videogames, the (many) problems with modern intellectual property and copyright law, and why the OUYA has been and remains such a welcoming space for first-time independent game developers.

That, and why free-to-play is not, in and of itself, the devil.


Chess 2: The Sequel is just what it purports to be, namely a sequel to Chess. Not just a variant of Chess, mind you, but an attempt at an iterative sequel that builds on the original game’s much-lauded merits (deep, chance-free, intellectually demanding one-one-one confrontation) while eliminating or mitigating its key deficiency (an emphasis on strategic stasis and rote memorization).

Chess doesn’t have an author as such. Chess 2 does. Which raises all manner of odd questions about ownership, tradition, culture, subculture, and yes, sequels.


Here are the rules of Chess 2. You can download them for free, or kick in a $5 “tip” if you so choose—and as Zac says, you can try the game out with nothing more exotic than a regular old Chess set and some loose change.

• As Zac says, we recorded this interview on Independence Day. Yay America.

• For those interested in the Aereo case.

• WordPress was indeed hiding some of the older episodes from iTunes, Stitcher, Podbay, and so on. That should be fixed now, and you can always see our whole back catalog of podcasty delights right here on ye olde blog.


“All The People Say” by Carpe Demon.
“General Lavine” from Preludes, Book 2, by Claude Debussy.
“I’m in the Mood for Love” by Vera Lynn with The Casini Club Orchestra.
Nocture in D Flat Major, Op. 27, No. 2, by Frédéric Chopin.

Both piano pieces were performed by Paul Pitman, and the recordings are available for free on Musopen.

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Lizardry, Technology, and What to Call Roguelikes, with Geoff Blair and Matt Hackett

ETAO Podcast, Episode 13.

At first glance, A Wizard’s Lizard doesn’t seem like a roguelike-alike, but more specifically like a Binding of Isaac-alike, what with its distinctive combination of Zelda and Smash TV. But on closer inspection, A Wizard’s Lizard is a fairly different beast, owing more to A Link to the Past than to the original Legend of Zelda, and not exactly riding Isacc’s nightmarish coattails—more drawing from a common pool of Spelunky-afflicted design DNA.

Geoff Blair and Matt Hackett, the team behind A Wizard’s Lizard and the Lostcast, stop by to discuss their creation, the lizardry (sorry) behind its systems, the cult of Spelunky, and all manner of things that the three of us all really roguelike. (I’m so, so sorry).



• Tiny Speck did indeed put all of Glitch’s assets not just into Creative Commons, but into the public domain.

• That Clay Shirky quote is from Here Comes Everybody.

Lars Doucet coined the term “Procedural Death Labyrinth.”

• For more about how games teach through their level design, take a gander at Anna Anthropy’s “Level Design Lesson” series, and also Extra Credits’ new “Design Club” series.

• Great Caesar’s ghost! There is a new Sequelitis about Zelda! (And it was in fact just two days old when we recorded this podcast).

• If you’re keeping score, Egoraptor hates Skyward Sword considerably more than I do, but still probably less than Alex Preston does.


“All The People Say” by Carpe Demon.
“A Wizard’s Lizard” and “Buy Me Something!” from the A Wizard’s Lizard Original Soundtrack by Joshua Morse.

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The Oddness of Art and the Forgotten History of Sound, with Lila Newman

ETAO Podcast, Episode 12.

Self-described Actor/Writer/Comedian/Musician/Plant-Owner Lila Newman stops by to discuss her piece-in-progress about Ora B. Nichols—one of the most influential artists of early radio, and specifically of early radio sound effects.

You’ve heard Nichols’ work if you’ve ever heard the the 1938 version of The War of the Worlds. You know, the one produced by Orson Welles and The Mercury Theater on the Air. The one that may or may not have freaked people all the way out when it was first broadcast. That one.

But despite being involved in something so iconic, Nichols herself is largely unknown and borderline-ungoogleable. At least in part, that’s because we don’t talk nearly enough about the history of radio, or of sound in general—and that’s because the aesthetics of radio have taught us all how to hear, to the point that we take those aesthetics for granted.


Lila Newman walks me through a bit of that history, and along the way we talk about her work on A Prairie Home Companion, the endless oddness of making art (for lack of a better term) for a living, why not all performance art consists of “crying and punching meat,” and the importance of discussing women who did great work without essentializing or over-emphasizing their gender.

Also, we talk about Imposer Syndrome, which is quickly becoming a theme around here. (Ahem, and also-ahem).


• As I mention in the intro, made this interview possible. You can read my piece on Lila’s work and the Edes Prize over there, and the edited, narrative version of the interview is on SoundCloud.

• I mispronounce Descartes as “Dis cart” and Edes as “Eddie’s. And I say “Nakobov.” Ah well.

• Here again—hard to post it too often, really—is a link to the live Radiolab about The War of the Worlds.

• If you’re so inclined, you can go and listen to the 1938 War of the Worlds broadcast, as well as some of The Mercury Theater on the Air’s other productions.

• And here’s that perform-your-own-4’33” app.

• On the topic of trading in unhealthy compulsions for health(ier) compulsions, see also: Thomas Lennon talking about video game addiction/compulsion with The Indoor Kids.

• The interview mentions that Lila’s dad is a sound effects man, but neglects to mention that he is the rather great Fred Newman.

Binaural recording is interesting stuff, and more people than you might think are giving it a whirl.

• Seriously, get out a pair of headphones to listen to Lila’s binaural recordings.


“All The People Say” by Carpe Demon.
Sound effects and ambient binaural recordings by Lila Newman.

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Evaluating Transistor

ETAO Podcast, Episode 11.

Transistor is Supergiant Games’ follow-up to Bastion—not a sequel, and definitely not a rehash, but just as definitely an iteration, a more refined approach to the same set of themes and gameplay ideas.

This time, the the skill system is a dizzyingly intricate mutation of Materia, rather than a more standard weapon combination system. This time, the beautiful ruined environment is a cohesive cyberpunk maybe-machine world, rather than a catch-all ersatz frontier setting. This time, Logan Cunningham is talking to you not as a semi-disembodied narrator, but as—well, spoilers follow.



• Lucio refers several times to me interviewing Alex Preston of Heart Machine, and also to my conversation with Richard Terrell of Critical Gaming.

• I refer several times to Experience Points’ excellent Transistor debrief.

• For more on Apple-as-the-death-of-technoegalitarianism, look into the ignominious death of HyperCard.

• I didn’t know a damn thing about HyperCard until I read Anna Anthropy’s superb book on ZZT and the half-forgotten history of homemade videogames.


“All The People Say” by Carpe Demon.
“Impossible” from the Transistor Original Soundtrack by Darren Korb.

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It’s a Dad, Dad, Dad, Dad World, with Phil Tibitoski

ETAO Podcast, Episode 10.

Phil Tibitoski stops by to talk about Octodad: Dadliest Catch, the upcoming update and PS4 release thereof, and what’s next for the Young Horses team.

We also discuss the dissonance and melancholy of review scores, the perils of balancing games without letting outsiders play them, and Twitch Plays Pokémon (which may serve as the inspiration for Young Horses’ next project, though not in a Twitch Plays Octotdad kind of way; that would be sheer unbridled chaos, and probably not the right kind of sheer unbridled chaos).



• Other classics of the unwieldy-controls-as-comedy genre include QWOP, its sorta-sequel CLOP, Surgeon Simulator 2013, and Probably Archery.

Receiver takes the same basic idea and plays if for intensity rather than yuks.

• If you haven’t seen All of Me, consider doing so. It’s really good.

• Here’s Polygon talking about impostor syndromes in Octodad.

• And here’s Kill Screen pretending that they’re using reviews scores again for some purpose other than getting more clicks (which miffs me mainly because they’ve been so thoughtful and transparent about the topic in the past, and also because review scores really are kind of fucked up and broken).


“All The People Say” by Carpe Demon.
“I’m in the Mood for Love” by Vera Lynn with The Casini Club Orchestra.
“Octodad (Nobody Suspects a Thing)” by Ian McKinney.

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Making Sense of the Macklemore Backlash, Part 2

ETAO Podcast, Episode 09.

Unproductively hating Macklemore: It’s not just for Kendrick Lamar fans anymore! Last week, we talked about the backlash against Macklemore in the hip-hop community—which meant we also talked about cultural appropriation, race, and the surprisingly slippery issue of who’s more mainstream than whom.

This week, we talk about the backlash against Macklemore in the queer community (and why we consider the topic such shaky ground for two marriedstraightcisfellows such as ourselves).

Screen Shot 2014-02-04 at 11.13.38 PM copy

Is “Same Love” a well-meaning misfire at best, and a cynical fame-grab at worst?

Is it unseemly for a straight white cisgender man to be the public face pf marriage equality in hip-hop when there are queer rappers doing amazing work outside of the Top 40 limelight?

And speaking of queer rappers, did Macklemore and/or Ryan Lewis brazenly steal a beat from a (really damn good) artist by the name of Le1f (pictured above in the midst of being really damn good)?

(The answers are, respectively: no, yes-but-that’s-not-really-Macklemore’s-fault, and pretty definitely not).


• There’s the L again, and other assorted room noise. Double-d’oh.

• The Ugandan anti-gay bill did pass, but without the death penalty provision. The penalty is now life in prison instead.

• For those who’d like an update on the sorry state of gay rights around the world.

• For those who’ve been lucky enough to have never encountered the vicious lunacy that is the “gay recruitment” myth.

• For those who doubt that an apparently functional adult human could possibly believe in (and act on) the “gay recruitment” myth.

• For those who aren’t familiar with “The Black Page”.


“All The People Say” by Carpe Demon.
“Thrift Shop” by Macklemore and “Wut” by Le1f, as cut by this helpful YouTuber.
“The Purple Lagoon” from Zappa in New York by Frank Zappa.

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Making Sense of the Macklemore Backlash, Part 1

ETAO Podcast, Episode 08.

The Heist is a really good album. good kid, m.A.A.d. city is a really good album. How did we get to the point where those two statements sound contradictory?

In these next two episodes, Lucio and I will dig deep into the current, Internet-wide backlash against Macklemore, by which we’re more than a little baffled. It seems to come down to one core question (the first half of which we’ll cover this week, and the second half of which we’ll cover next week). The question is, who the hell is this straight white guy to be winning hip-hop Grammys and staging massive spectacles in support of gay rights?

Screen Shot 2014-02-02 at 9.32.36 PM

Well, he’s an independent artist out of Seattle, in a fairly classic M.C. role, who’s having huge success without the participation of any label, and using his soapbox to talk about some important issues. His story seems like a rare case of unequivocal pop-cultural good news, so how did so many people decide that Macklemore is history’s greatest monster?


• Yes, that is a Chicago L train you can hear in the background now and then. D’oh.

The Heist has had a total of six singles.

good kid, m.A.A.d city has had a total of four singles.

• Here’s where I heard that thing Macklemore said about race and the Grammys.

• I must have been thinking about Eric Clapton’s collaboration with Buddy Guy and Junior Wells.

• Here’s everything that ever needs to be said on the topic of reverse racism.


“All The People Say” by Carpe Demon.
“Coppin’ Some Fronts for the Sets” from Hustlers Convention by Lightnin’ Rod.

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Defining Games (But Not Art) with Richard Terrell

ETAO Podcast, Episode 07.

Richard Terrell of Critical-Gaming stops by to discuss something I wrote in response to something he wrote in response to something Ed Key wrote about whether Proteus is a game. (Still with me?)

Just how much work should we be doing to decide what is and isn’t a game, and why? Where does an attempt at clear, precise language become an unproductive terminological sword-measuring contest? Where does an attempt at broad inclusion become a mushy lack of useful definitions?

The view from my house last week.

We spend some time mapping out the middle ground between those extremes, and coming to understand one another’s positions a little better.

Plus, a few words on what Richard is up to next (a close reading of Droqen’s Starseed Pilgrim), and just how cold it’s been in Chicago (very damn cold).


• If you want to know where Richard is coming from, his Trigon Theory and his “Defense of Gameplay” are good places to start, as is his personal glossary.

• Skyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyype!! (Said like “Kaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahn!!”)


“All The People Say” by Carpe Demon.
“Ach Ja,” from some collection of folk dances.
“I’m in the Mood for Love” by Vera Lynn with The Casini Club Orchestra.
Allegro marziale animato, Franz Liszt’s Concerto for Piano No.1 in E flat major, performed by Artur Rubinstein and the Dallas Symphony Orchestra.

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Enthusing and Kvetching with Alex Preston

ETAO Podcast, Episode 06.

Alex Preston, Lead Designer of Hyper Light Drifter, stops by to discuss how limitations foster and enable creativity, how videogames could learn a thing or two from Ernest Hemingway, and how growing up with a treatable-but-undiagnosable illness has left him with zero patience for glib, oversimplified views of life, the universe, and everything.

(“The stars don’t care about your love life” is about as succinct a philosophical position as I’ve ever heard from anybody, about anything, ever).


We talk videogame violence (and how it’s different in God of War III than it is in the new Tomb Raider). We talk minimalism (and how it’s not necessarily the same thing as simply working within constraints). We talk games-as-art-or-whatever (and why Alex is still genuinely angry at Roger Ebert). And we talk Kickstarter, and the joys and perils thereof.

Also, Alex explains why he adores A Link Between Worlds but cannot abide Skyward Sword, and then he flat-out tells me to go buy a 3DS.

I still haven’t bought a 3DS, but I’ve thought about it a whole lot.


Here’s that video that got posted the morning that Alex and I talked.

• Colombia’s pretty fucking cool, in case you’re wondering.


“All The People Say” (and other assorted silliness) by Carpe Demon.
“Body and Soul” by Django Reinhardt.
“What Am I Here For?” by Lambert, Hendricks & Ross.

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