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SXSW 2013 Recap

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South By Southwest is by far the most overwhelming festival/conference out there. But it involves everything I love – tech, games, music, and film over the course of nine crazy days in Austin. Since I went for the Platinum Badge this year, I tried to do everything. Literally.

I quickly realized that wasn’t possible, but I sure gave it my darndest. For posterity’s sake, I tried to jot down every film, panel, and music set that I saw (or caught a part of) over the week. Add on all the parties and meet-ups with friends both new and old and it adds up to an exhausting, but amazing week.

A few notable highlights/awards:

Best Movie – Short Term 12

I don’t have the words to describe this incredible, emotional film, but Film Critc Hulk does.

Funniest Movie – Don Jon’s Addiction

Most Thrilling Movie – The East

Best New Song That I Have Been Playing On Repeat Constantly Since SXSWBastille – Pompeii

Top Three New Bands – Bastille, The 1975, CHVRCHES

I swear I’m not biased towards UK bands, it just turned out this way.

Most Emotional Song Performance – Stevie Nicks/Dave Grohl – Landslide

I have to admit getting a bit teary-eyed and having chills the entire time. Stevie Nicks has an amazing voice.

Coolest Song Performance – Depeche Mode – Enjoy the Silence

Singing along in unison with a packed crowd to Depeche Mode’s arguably most iconic song in a venue that has less than 900 capacity was pretty damn cool.

Best Panel – Jeffrey Tambor’s Acting Workshop

Despite never acting (or having ambitions to act), I laughed and learned more with Jeffrey Tambor about life and career than anywhere else during the week.

Best Food – Rachael Ray’s Feedback Party @ Stubbs

The menu was not only delicious, it was free!

Here’s the master list of events I participated in:


  • Much Ado About Nothing
  • Drinking Buddies – Olivia Wilde, Anna Kendrick, Jake Johnson, Joe Swanberg
  • Downloaded – Alex Winter, Shawn Fanning, Sean Parker
  • Short Term 12 – Destin Daniel Cretton, Brie Larson, entire cast
  • Don Jon’s Addiction – Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Brie Larson, Tony Danza
  • euphonia – Danny Madden
  • Some Girl(s)
  • Linsanity – Jeremy Lin’s Agent
  • The East – Ellen Page, Alexander Skarsgard, Brit Marling, Zal Batmanglij


  • Andrew WK @ Viceland
  • Talib Kweli @ Samsung Galaxy Soundstage
  • Shakey Graves @ The Parish
  • Atlas Genius @ The Main
  • Tegan & Sara @ The Main
  • Lord Huron @ Clive Bar
  • Family of the Year @ ACL Moody Theatre
  • Lord Huron @ ACL Moody Theatre
  • Bastille @ Club de Ville
  • The Chevin @ Buffalo Billiards
  • Ash @ Buffalo Billiards
  • Bastille @ Cedar Street
  • CHVRCHES @ Hype Hotel
  • Pusha T @ MTV Woodies
  • Trinidad James @ MTV Woodies
  • Joey Bada$$ @ MTV Woodies
  • HAIM @ MTV Woodies
  • Meat Puppets @ Stubbs
  • Sound City Players @ Stubbs – Foo Fighters, Stevie Nicks, John Fogerty, Rick Springfield, Brad Wilk (Rage Against The Machine), Krist Novoselic, Chris Goss, Corey Taylor (Slipknot), Alain Johannes (Queens of the Stone Age), Lee Ving (Fear)
  • Local Natives @ Mohawk
  • Divine Fits @ Radio Day Stage Austin Convention Center
  • Alt-J @ Mohawk
  • Feathers @ Brazos Hall
  • The Neighbourhood @ Brazos Hall
  • Depeche Mode @ Brazos Hall
  • Fitz and the Tantrums @ Lustre Perl
  • Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls @ Blackheart
  • Eagles of Death Metal @ Stubbs
  • The 1975 @ Stubbs
  • Frightened Rabbit @ Stubbs
  • Blue Sky Riders @ Stubbs
  • Kenny Loggins @ Stubbs
  • Talib Kweli @ Lustre Perl
  • Chuck Ragan @ Cedar Street
  • Matt Pryor (Get Up Kids) @ Cedar Street
  • Twin Falls (Chris Carrabba) @ Cedar Street
  • Frank Turner @ Cedar Street


  • Machinima & Rooster Teeth Present “Blood, Sweat, and Online Videos: How to Achieve the Digital Dream”
  • Virtual Reality: The Holy Grail of Gaming – Cliff Bleszinski (Gears of War), Paul Bettner (Words With Friends), Chris Roberts (Wing Commander), Nate Mitchell (Oculus Rift), Palmer Luckey (Oculus Rift)
  • A Conversation With Danny Boyle – Danny Boyle, Rick Smith (Underworld)
  • Much Ado About Much Ado – Joss Whedon, Amy Acker, Clark Gregg, Nathan Fillion
  • Innovation & Leadership in the Agile Age – Scott Cook (Intuit)
  • Jeffrey Tambor’s Acting Workshop
  • The Signal & the Noise – Nate Silver
  • The New Serendipity? – Joichi Ito (MIT Media Lab), Kevin Rose (Digg, Google Ventures), John Perry Barlow, Colin Raney (IDEO)
  • The Future of Google Search in a Mobile World – Guy Kawasaki, Amit Singhal
  • A Conversation With Steve Case
  • Matthew Inman (The Oatmeal) Keynote
  • You Are Not A Lottery Ticket – Peter Thiel
  • Deadmau5 & Richie Hawtin – Talk. Techno. Technology
  • The Anatomy of Amanda Fucking Palmer: An Inside Look
  • SXSW Keynote – Dave Grohl
  • Music Curation in 2013 – Ryan Scheiber (Pitchfork), Steve Blatter (Sirius XM)
  • SXSW Interview: Macklemore & Ryan Lewis

9 movies, 17 panels, and 37 shows in 9 days? I think I can do better next year.


Top Ten Movies of 2012



With the Oscars happening tonight, I thought I’d throw out my own personal favorite ten movies that I saw in 2012. Overall it was a solid year of moviegoing for me – I think I saw at least 40 movies in the theaters and most were enjoyable, if not great.

In no particular order, here they are:

  • The Avengers – The best superhero movie ever made. It’s no small feat juggling an entire team of A-List actors who each have starred in their own blockbuster action films and making each character feel significant. Glad to see Joss finally get his due in Hollywood as he’s one of the premier talents in writing and directing today.
  • Django Unchained – Some parts of this movie feel almost too ridiculous, but that’s part of its charm. Quentin Tarantino may be one of the most accessible film auteurs out there today. Even though this film was long, I had a huge grin throughout every minute because it was just so damn fun.
  • Silver Linings Playbook – I never thought I’d see a movie where Bradley Cooper actually turns in an Oscar-nominated performance, but here it is. The chemistry between he and Jennifer Lawrence is electric, and really elevates this movie to one of the best of the year. The fact that there’s a sports movie hiding underneath there is just icing on the cake.
  • Beasts of the Southern Wild – I’m not even going to pretend to know how to spell the girl who plays Hushpuppy’s name, but what an amazing performance from a first-time actor. Up there with her is the score to this film which is my pick for the best soundtrack of the year. The driving, emotional orchestral theme for “The Bathtub” matched with Louisiana Cajun melodies stir up an myriad of emotions that fit perfectly with the adventure in the movie.
  • Looper – Rian Johnson’s time-travel epic is probably one of the best sci-fi films to ever explore the topic without confusing the audience. Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a younger Bruce Willis works surprisingly well. The time-lapse scene in the middle of the film was almost as powerful as the opening to Up, while the movie’s ending had my jaw literally agape for 20 minutes straight.
  • Moonrise Kingdom – No other word to describe this film but “charming.” Wes Anderson’s latest may not be terribly unique in his body of work, but his trademark quirky style really works for what’s essentially a story about young love. It’s hard not to root for Sam and Suzy in their quest to be together.
  • Argo – Ben Affleck has quietly become one of the best directors in Hollywood. Gone Baby Gone and The Town were great films in their own right, but Argo really takes it up a notch. Even though you may know how the story ends, you’re still caught up in the tension and drama of the journey there. You can’t help but want to get up and cheer by the end of the movie.
  • Arbitrage – I can’t think of the last time I thought Richard Gere was relevant, but he definitely made a great case for being back in this character study film. Not quite as likeably hateable as Gordon Gecko, but Robert Miller does his best to alienate everyone around him with his greed. The movie almost sways towards ridiculous plot points at times, but Gere’s outstanding performance keeps it grounded and relatable.
  • The Cabin In The Woods – An absolutely brilliant horror movie that isn’t quite your traditional horror movie. Without giving too much away, it’s both an homage and critique to the genre as a whole and is an unquestionable must-see movie, even if you don’t normally like “horror movies”
  • Perks of Being A Wallflower – Who doesn’t love a good coming of age movie? Almost everyone can identify with the pains of going through high school again, but most of us didn’t have friends like Ezra Miller and Emma Watson to lean on. “We accept the love that we deserve.” – might be the most insightful sentence I’ve heard in a long long time.

Top 10 Songs of 2012

Top 10 Songs of 2012

I don’t know if it’s a function of getting older with having less free time, but I find my music listening habits have made the transition from albums to almost completely track-based playlists. Part of it is due to the dearth of truly great albums by artists nowadays, and part of it is the simple fact that the best songs are often head and shoulders ahead of the other cuts on the LP.

So after being reminded by the Grammy’s last night that lists are fun to make and discuss, here’s my top 10 list of tracks from 2012 in no particular order. Some of these may look a little dated just by the nature of pop culture riding songs into the ground, but at the end of the day, my main criteria for a great song is the desire to hear it again after listening to it.

  • Walk The Moon – Anna Sun | Every time I hear this song, I just want to sing along – one of the most infectiously happy songs I’ve heard in a long time.
  • Usher – Climax | Next-level R&B by producer Diplo and Usher. Fun fact: there’s no actual climax or chorus in this song.
  • fun. – We Are Young | It’s an anthem perfectly made for graduating high-school seniors or those who wish they were there again.
  • Of Monsters and Men – Little Talks | Pop-folk from Iceland that always makes me envision life surrounded by rolling green hills.
  • Gossip – Perfect World | Imagine if Adele was in an indie-pop band and you might get something like this song.
  • Frank Ocean – Pyramids | Speaking of next-level R&B, this 9:33 long epic is so musically interesting and layered, that I rarely notice it being too long.
  • The Gaslight Anthem – Here Comes My Man | Maybe the video with Elisha Cuthbert is biasing me, but something about a good old-fashioned rock song with some “Shalalalas” appealed to me.
  • Japandroids – The House That Heaven Built | Just imagine hearing this song on a warm summer day outside rocking out alongside your best friends. This song was made for arenas.
  • PSY – Gangnam Style | I’m sure we’re all sick of this by now, but man, when I first saw the video for this song I literally had it on repeat for weeks. Frankly, I still get OP OP OP OPOP in my head randomly.
  • Cloud Nothings – Stay Useless | You don’t hear rock like this anymore, it’s got the raw energy of early 90’s alterna-grunge with the catchiness of a proto-Weezer. Yes, I just made up two hyphenated words.

Thanks to the magic of Spotify, sharing these lists got a whole lot easier. Check it out below:


Nintendo E3 2012 Press Conference Liveblog


Sony E3 2012 Press Conference Liveblog


Microsoft E3 2012 Press Conference Liveblog


Nintendo’s Pre-E3 2012 Wii-U Controller Announcement

Apparently Nintendo decided to post a little primer on their upcoming Wii-U controller on the eve of E3.

My thoughts (in a running diary format):

  • Looks like the tablet controller may be more comfortable than it looks. It’ll have to be if they assume you’re going to play “hardcore” games on it.
  • Real sticks instead of thumbpads are good.
  • Having the Wii-U controller act as your TV remote is cute, but I’m guessing most people have a smorgasbord of home entertainment equipment that need to be controlled at the same time as the TV. It doesn’t look like the Wii-U will be replacing that Harmony remote just yet.
  • NFC Reader/Writer – Most smartphones (including iPhone) don’t have NFC chips embedded yet. Color me skeptical on this being used in a non-novelty way anytime in the near future.
  • The asynchronous dual-screen display could open some interesting possibilities in game design. Think DS, but on a larger scale.
  • I like how they’re making existing Wii peripherals compatible with the new system. However,with the sheer amount of controller possibilities, how in the world is a developer to know what inputs to design their games for?
  • Wii U Pro Controller – Finally Nintendo decides to stop ignoring the fact ergonomics matter and clones the Xbox 360controller (definitely the most comfortable console controller ever made). It even looks like it has anon-crappy directional pad as well. But what’s up with the right stick being all the way up there? It looks like it’s going to be uncomfortable to hit the face buttons while using the stick at the same time.
  • Ok, cheesy video dramatizations aside, Nintendo is clearly out of its mind with its “WaraWara” initiative. While the Demon’s Souls-esque message board game tips functionality is a neat novelty that probably went over well in the brainstorming session, I can’t think of many things I’d want less than an impromptu video chat with a random internet troll to ask for clarification on his “tip.” In case Nintendo’s forgotten, the web exists! I can look up walkthroughs and tips on my own without the fear of some idiot spoiling the rest of my game for me. Something tells me Nintendo’s in for a rude awakening when they find out the horrors of moderating message boards.
  • Let me get this straight, one of the main criticisms of Nintendo products so far is a clumsy UIthat is lugubrious to navigate through, and their solution is to make the home screen of the system be a digital manifestation of noise?
  • The reason why we don’t use handwritten notes as much anymore is because people have awful handwriting.
  • I don’t get the continuing obsession that Nintendo has with Miis. Hasn’t anyone learned anything from the trainwreck of uselessness that was PlayStation Home yet? Please just make it easy to find, play with, and interact with my friends when I want. Everything else is, to use their term, Wara Wara. Create something unique, sure, but keep the end user in mind, please.
  • I dunno, Mr. Iwata, the Wii-U doesn’t really seem like a solution to multiple problems as muchas it’s a solution that will cause multiple problems.

I have no desire to see the Wii-U fail, but the best thing I’ve seen so far (other than an Xbox 360 controller clone) is the promise that developers can use two screens in fun and innovative ways. Unless Nintendo shows some really mindblowing applications of this on Tuesday, that’s all the Wii-U will be, a promise.

Watch the whole thing here:

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Review: The Walking Dead Game Episode One: A New Day

Think you had enough The Walking Dead after that mess of a season two ended on AMC? As much as you might be, try to carve out a couple hours to at least try the first episode of Telltale’s new five-part “adventure” game on PC/Mac, PS3, and Xbox 360. I wrote a full review for Comics Alliance that you can peruse at your leisure if you feel so inclined, but suffice to say, I dug the characters in this game way more than the A-holes on the AMC series. I mean seriously, could those people be any less likable? (If you’ve seen Season Two, I know you’re with me)

Surprisingly (or maybe not so surprisingly if you aren’t a fan of the TV series), the new characters introduced in “A New Day” are more likable than their television brethren. Lee’s a complicated guy with a past shrouded in mystery. He’s not necessarily the natural “leader” that Rick is and that allows for a more interesting dynamic when you encounter characters in the game. Clementine, the little girl you meet early on in the game, is everything that Carl isn’t on the show. She’s vulnerable and innocent, yet strong and resourceful when called upon to be. Playing through the game, I actually began to care for her and wanted to go out of my way to protect her. That’s something that I can’t say the same for any character on the show.

The game as a whole isn’t too bad, either. It’s more of an “interactive story” than a traditional Sierra adventure game, but that’s OK, because I was always terrible at those and usually needed help with them anyway. At $5 ($4 if you get a season pass on the PS3), it’s not a bad price for a couple hours of good episodic writing. Telltale is ambitiously setting up the choices you make in this game to really differentiate the story that you get from each play through. Kinda like Mass Effect with less shooting, if you will. Let’s just hope the ending doesn’t piss off as many people as that game did.

Read my full review on Comics Alliance.


Review: Fez

Fez is probably the Indie game equivalent to Chinese Democracy. Five years in development, it’s won Independent Games Festival awards in both 2012 and in 2008. Yeah, that statement made me do a double take too. I’ll admit to not following the game’s development saga too closely over the years, except for noticing that Phil Fish, the game’s creator, is apparently a huge cock. But knowing that some of the best creative minds are giant douches, I didn’t hold it against him when buying and playing the game.

Like many recent platformers, there’s essentially two games in Fez: the “easy” one which leads you to a minimum number of cubes to see the game’s ending and the “hard” one, which tasks you to collect all of the game’s hidden cubes in order to see the “true” ending.The game is essentially a 2D platformer with the “twist” of being able to rotate the environment in four directions, kinda like rotating a cube around.  The basic gameplay is pleasant enough, but isn’t terribly mindblowing, especially if you’ve played Echochrome before. I imagine those who haven’t seen the MC Escher-like trick of 3D to 2D perception platforming would get a kick out of playing Fez for the first time.

For those not going for the “hard” anti-cubes, the game quickly degenerates into a simple “collect the shiny thing” set of tasks. That’s not necessarily a negative thing, especially for those who love nostalgic 8-bit gaming, but it does leave Fez as simply an ok to “good” game played in that way. The fact that the game is riddled with technical issues like slowdown, choppy graphic transitions, and outright game crashes to dashboard doesn’t help matters much. However, due to the way the game is presented at times, it does give apologists the explanation that these technical bugs are “working as intended” as an artistic statement.

The “hard” game in Fez is a doozy and it’s where I imagine most of the rave reviews and “mindblowing experience” reactions to the game are coming from. It’s essentially a hardcore cryptography/linguistics challenge with some neat fourth-wall breaking moments. For example, you’ll have to break out your smartphone’s QR code reader in order to get a button sequence to get one of the anti-cubes. Or, you’ll have to look at Fez’s achievement list for a clue towards getting another. From reading the GAF, it appears that obtaining many of these anti-cubes requires you to successfully decrypt things like a hieroglyphics alphabet along or a Tetris block orientation code. In full disclosure, I had zero interest in whipping out my Moleskine and doing a Robert Langdon impersonation so as soon as I had the required number of “obvious” cubes to watch the game’s ending, I did.

All of these puzzles are fairly obtuse, and there is no handholding or guiding by the game. It’s probably the most frustrating part of this game because there’s barely any context for solving most of the puzzles. One of the best qualities of Braid I thought, was the elegance in which you are introduced to each puzzle. Jonathan Blow nailed the difficulty curve and environment presentation to give you all the tools that you needed to solve the game’s puzzles by simply using the techniques that you’ve practiced throughout the game. Fez, by contrast, requires you to have the mentality to be able to perceive and decode the subtle “clues” in random game locations. If you didn’t make a Rosetta Stone for the symbols (or didn’t want to do that work), well tough noogies, you’re locked out of fully completing this game.

If you’re the type of person who loves ARGs and assembling pieces of a Rosetta Stone while you explore environments, then you should stop reading right now and go give Fez all your money. If you’re like me, and prefer to watch Tom Hanks solve the Da Vinci Code rather than do the work yourself, then you’re probably going to be less impressed with Fez. It’s not a bad game, but it’s certainly not the Indie masterpiece that 5 years of hype may have let you believe.

(Also, the “normal” ending to this game is predictably very abstract with a pretentious tone. If you’re expecting any insightful, life-changing revelations from playing through Fez, you’d get more answers from the Mass Effect 3 ending than this game.)


Viggle Is Basically A Freemium Game That Pays You For “Watching” TV


Last night I was browsing the “Featured” tab on the App Store on my iPhone and came across an interesting new app called “Viggle,” which promised to reward me with fabulous prizes for watching TV. Now, I watch my fair share of TV, so naturally this proposition intrigued me.

Basically, the service asks you to “check in” when you are watching a TV show, similar to GetGlue or IntoNow. The difference is that with Viggle, you get 2 points every minute that you’re “watching” TV. When you’ve collected enough rewards points, you can redeem them for things like Amazon, Best Buy, Sephora gift cards or a month of Hulu Plus service.

Sounds too good to be true, right? Yes and no. The “prices” of the rewards are high enough that you can’t really quit your day job and watch TV all day. A $5 gift card to Starbucks or Best Buy costs 7,500 points, which equates to 62.5 hours of TV watching. There are other ways to gain points, the most significant of which is by checking into “Featured” shows. Being checked into Glee nets you an extra 325 points, for example. You can also get scattered bonus points here and there for setting reminders to watch shows, answering trivia questions, or watching video advertisements. Many people have already reported redemption of the rewards, so at least Viggle is coming through on their end of the bargain as of now.

The biggest problem I had with the service is that the audio detection simply doesn’t work. I tried sticking my phone next to both my TV speakers for an episode of Family guy and next to my iPad streaming an episode of 30 Rock and neither would register on Viggle in four attempts. After two failed attempts, Viggle will give you the option of manually checking into a show. The catch is that you can only manually check into programming that is currently on “live” TV. (Viggle asks you for your cable provider in order to offer you options) I managed to “check in” to Jimmy Fallon’s show even though I wasn’t watching.

This got my gaming mind thinking. Since there’s a cap of 120 points per hour (you don’t get extra points for channel flipping), your best bet at points generation is to make sure you are always checked into a show. You can do this even if you aren’t near a TV by failing the app into letting you check into something manually. It’s a pretty silly busywork task to have to open an app on your phone and do some taps every hour or so to generate points, but it’s really no different than checking in to harvest your plants in FarmVille or opening a new floor in your Tiny Tower. To take the freemium game analogy further, earning bonus points by “watching” a video advertisement is basically the same thing as watching a progress bar as your Sim goes poop. There’s even rewards for opening Viggle at the right time (bonus points for checking into a featured show).

Granted, having a random list of checked in shows may not be as appealing an end result as a flourishing TinyZoo with Panda Bears, but I’d wager that getting gift cards to real stores is probably a good piece of compensation for that. I think that if I’m ever feeling bored enough to want to do some tapping on my phone, getting some more Viggle points may be in my future.

Since Viggle’s website has nothing but a link to their iTunes page, if you want more details on the service, checking out their Twitter feed is probably your best bet. The service says they are working on both Android and iPad versions of their app for release “soon.”

Download Viggle on iOS