Recommendations, 11/8

Homemade chai, comedians doing literary time-travel podcasts, infinite runners, and sci-fi westerns.

Hallie

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Jonathan

This week I binged on H.G. Wells’s Dead Author’s Podcast. Mr. Wells’s, known for co-inventing science fiction (with Jules Verne) with such books as The Invisible Man and The Time Machine, stumbled across an actual time machine at a church rummage sale and now he uses said machine to snatch literary greats from their time period and bring them to the UCB Theater in L.A. There he interviews the not-dead but time-traveling authors at length. Anyway, that’s the set up.

Behind this conceit and inhabiting the persona of H.G. Wells is podcast perennial and stone cold improvisation genius Paul F. Tompkins (seriously, this guy was made for the podcast age). Joining him each week is a rotating cast of improv specialists inhabiting the persona of an author. The past few episodes have brought Plato, Charlotte Bronte, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and Joseph Campbell to the stage. If listening to a consumptive Bronte (Jessica St. Clair) opine about Bubba Gump’s Shrimp along with the bizarre gender relations in Jane Eyre sounds hilarious, well it is. As with many podcasts, this one doesn’t hit its stride until about the tenth episode or so. But after that, it’s brilliant, juvenile, and completely ridiculous

Nick

How much does representation matter in videogames? Can you have as much fun playing as an abstract blob of polygons or pixels as you can when you inhabit a space marine or magic knight?

In Super Hexagon, you are a triangle. You hover above a small hexagon at the center of the screen, and rotate around it to dodge oncoming shapes. It’s wonderfully simple, brutally fast, and from a design perspective, just about perfect. It would be hard to distill the essence of arcade action any more potently than developer Terry Cavanaugh did in Super Hexagon. It’s easily one of the best games on iOS.

sh

The newer Boson X plays similarly to Super Hexagon, but with one big addition: the third dimension. In Boson, you play as a human. You run straight down an infinite corridor, tapping either side of the screen to jump left or right. From a high level, you basically do the same thing in both games: you spin around a circle dodging obstacles. Super Hexagon opts for the minimal approach to this mechanic, while Boson X makes it relatable.

At one point in my life, I fancied myself a gameplay purist. Interaction, I thought, is what distinguishes games from other art forms. Therefore, the purest interactive experiences are the essence of the medium, and thus superior. (I hope my mental monologue didn’t actually sound that stuffy, but you get the point.) I’ve since realized how silly that line of thought is. Videogames are one of the most diverse mediums imaginable. They can comprise any sort of video and audio, and their range of interactive possibilities distinguishes them from most other artforms. Any harebrained philosophy that limits which aspects of games I can appreciate is useless.

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The old me would have idolized Super Hexagon and scoffed at the needless excess of Boson X. But as I’ve established, the old me was an idiot. I still admire the hell out Super Hexagon, but I played it less than I expected. It’s too relentless and stressful. Boson X, on the other hand, has been keeping me up at night for a month. I’ve been clawing my way up the online leaderboards, and I find my progress immensely satisfying. Maybe I just need a little guy on my screen to root for.

Kevin

SAGA!

Okay, now that I have the attention of the comic book nerds, I want to tell you about East of West. (Non-comics people can feel free to look away and return to their rich, fulfilling social lives.)

East of West is an insane sci-fi western casting the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse as supernatural antiheroes. Similar to Saga, East of West is difficult to describe. It’s less about what’s happening and more about the visual experience — a kinetic kaleidoscope of bright colors and violence. In fact, fans of Saga will find a lot to like here. It’s not nearly as funny, but Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta’s imagining of a dystopian United States — one where the outcome of the Civil War is altered by a falling comet — is every bit as clever and compelling as Brian K. Vaughn’s universe.

But for an action-heavy comic, East of West is patient in its storytelling. Who are these gunslingers, monsters, and mad men? And what do they want? The first volume collects issues one through five, and it’s only at the end the series develops a sense of direction, which is kind of funny for a comic named after two directions. But whether it’s meandering or moving forward, East of West is a thrill.