So the Kinect -- and to a lesser extent, the Wii and the Move -- are reinventing what we thought "virtual reality" would be. Sure, it is full of flaws and godawful game programming, but the concept of the peripheral, and the fact that it does what it says on the tin are enough. Ever since the camera got hacked about thirty seconds out the gate, a community has sprung up finding ingenious uses for it. For instance, this young MIT student has created a fully-functional musical instrument that can be created entirely on the fly:
Right now it is still only a proof-of-concept, but I love the idea of a Crayon Physics-style synthesizer.
As a gift for probably my eleventh or twelfth birthday, I received a subscription to Larry Flint-published VideoGames magazine (formerly, VideoGames & Computer Entertainment.) As this was the mid-90s, video game journalism was in the "HEY COOL LOOKITTHAT" phase, and VideoGames was absolutely no exception. Looking back on it now, it was a second-rate EGM clone and it knew it. The reviews were more hype than review, and every writer was damn excited about everything. So, it was pretty much the absolutely perfect magazine for a hyperactive sixth-grader who loved video games and reading. Thanks to Retromags, I've been reliving my childhood and, well, I can sum up the VideoGames magazine experience with this excerpt entitled "It's a Gas":
With the Wii, Kinect and Move, alternate video game control schemes have been entering the vogue. One of the first alternate control schemes was the six-button control in the original Street Fighter. As my uncle once explained to me, and the internet confirmed, the game originally had punch-pads - the harder you wailed on them, the harder Ryu (or Ken) struck the opponent. The pads were finicky at best and after enough broken machines and/or fingers, the standard three-punches/three-kicks control was introduced.
Now, a group named HitBox have introduced the next logical step in the evolution of fighting game control schemes: the removal of the joystick. They've replaced it with, you guessed it, more buttons.
Here's an interview with the gentlemen responsible:
I've recently gotten a hold of a number of seminal Dungeons and Dragons magazine Dragon back issues and hoo-boy are these an absolute treasure trove. The articles, which I've only gotten a chance to gloss, are as in-depth as you would expect any 70s hobbyist magazine to contain; this was long before the day gaming mags were simply eyecandy graded from 7 to 10 and press release circle-jerks.
The plentiful illustrations have an absolutely endearing pro-am quality to them that no modern publication can ever hope to match. For instance, take a look at out friend Baphomet, here, illuminated goatman-bosom and all. By the worried look of the skeleton on the left, I think the demon king just announced that no, those nachos are not sitting very well at all:
Or what about this Frazetta-style work, ripped right from the pages of Edgar Rice Burrough's John Carter of Mars novels. I love the concerned look on the maiden's face as she faces what seems to be a dire version of Lion-O's faithful companion Snarf. In fact, the cat-thing seems to be echoing her worried expression. Perhaps they are both wondering what, exactly, Hank Furnace of Neptune is doing, staring off into the distance like that, weapon drawn, for what has been fifteen minutes now.
Finally, I bring to you what the editors of Dragon magazine and absolutely nobody else thinks of when they hear the words “Dungeon Master.”
I was recently turned on to this website, where a man named Igor Sergeev has, since 1976, collected thousands upon thousands of cigarettes, and archived images of them for our viewing pleasure. Obviously, I turned directly to the Russian ones. I've always admired Russian cigarette package design, and now I can share it with you! All images are courtesy of Mr. Sergeev, of course.
Беломорканал (Belomorkanal) are the cigarettes I grew up around. They weren't exactly cigarettes in the Western conception, but papirosi: a long filterless tube with the top quarter stuffed. Stuffed with what I can only assume to be the tobacco shavings collected off the floor of company making more tolerable cigarettes. I remember my mother's stories of her youth, of sons-of-bitches at parties putting these things out into empty sardine tins, stinking up the house to no end. When I asked her to pick me up a pack as a souvenier, she gaped, asking “you want a pack of the cigarettes that killed your father? She got them anyway. They were godawful. I never thought I would encounter a cigarette so foul I'd rather go through nic fits than smoke but here they were, in all their horrendous glory.
Now, on to more exciting territory. The first thing you should be aware of is that many of these are novelty packs. They're not all the Marlboros or Camels or Newports of the USSR/Russia. One of the first things I noticed was that animals, apparently, sell cigarettes. That makes sense. Who wouldn't want to buy a pack with an animal symbolizing strength and power. Like a wolf, or bear, or … penguin?
Ships and seafaring vessels are popular too. When I was a kid, Robert Louis Stevenson was the man to be reading. I love the gold-and-black “Corsairs brand the most. They're so classy.
The biggest constant theme, outside of “pictures of landmarks,” (which I'm not really going to go into as my grasp of pre-Cold War Russian history is tenuous at best) is SPACE. I'm not sure what America was like during the late 1980s, but in the Soviet Union, kids were absolutely inundated with space-related books and toys. At the age of four, I already knew who Yuri Gagarin (featured in the blog logo) was, and why he was important. The first package is a little blurry, but I'm almost entirely sure that it's Russia's old space station Мир (Mir):
Along with space technology, there are also the heavenly bodies. The red-and-white one is Mars:
Лайка (Laika, “Barker”) the Soviet space dog, makes it into a number of designs and even has a brand named after her. One of the things which never fails to break my heart is knowing that at least one of the scientists admits that “we did not learn enough from this mission to justify the death of the dog:
On to lighter faire, here's a few packs clearly marketed toward women. The zebra print one, particularly, reminds me of just about every young woman I've ever seen outside of a Russian restaurant:
Here's a few celebrating the mainstays of Russian popular culture, with no particular political bent. The chess one is my favorite, having grown up losing match after match after match to my grandfather, frustrated at the idea that I showed no interest in his hobby:
America Chic was in its prime during the Perestroika period. We had American Stores opening up all Leningrad, where you could buy imported goods, no longer solely available on the black market. They were, of course, inordinately expensive. The name of the cigarettes in the black pack is “Jeans.” Jeans were considered a uniquely American fashion choice, although they widely available since the 70s.
The single funniest results of the America Chic fad, is the following packet of “Brighton Beach" cigarettes. Brighton Beach is an area of Brooklyn which has been populated by Russian emigres since the 70s and has a unique culture that does not resemble modern Russia at all. Meanwhile, “Beach," being part of a proper name, is spelled phonetically, so the actually translation is “Brighton Scourge."
Ironic Soviet Chic, of the sort we see in the U.S., was not far off from the collapse. Strangely enough, far from being angry about the past, my parents' (although not so much grandparents', who bore the full brunt of Stalin) generation is delighted in the fact that their American-raised kids wear Che and Hammer and Sickle t-shirts. Probably because it is a complete capitalist dismantling of the sacred cows of the USSR, which anyone not fond of the place is glad to see. The last pack is a parody of this poster warding off idle chatter. The original said “Don't Gossip," the cigarettes say “Don't Smoke." Double reverse irony, indeed:
That's all! Make sure to check out Igor Segeev's site for more designs from around the world.
Obsessed with trivia as I am, I like to think that I have a keen eye for certain off-hand references in films. Christopher Guest's 1996 mockumentary Waiting for Guffman has two little background details that I find very amusing, for no reason in particular. I think it is the fact that just as there are no extra words in a poem, there are no extra set pieces on a film. So the decision to insert these aspects was a conscious choice on behalf of Guest (or whoever does his sets.)
The first is an OK Soda machine in the school gym the cast is using for rehearsal. OK Soda was Coca Cola's abortive early-90s attempt to capture the hearts of Generation X and engineered by the same brilliant minds responsible for the New Coke fiasco. OK Soda attempted to play to their disaffection with an disaffected but anti-bleak ad campaign (“OK Soda does not subscribe to any religion, or endorse any political party, or do anything other than feel OK.”) and featured a self-consciously minimalist design; it resembled a cross between pop art and the Brand-X “BEER” cans in Repo Man.
The second is the copy of Waiting for Godot, in reference to the film's title, under Corky's drink on the lefthand side. Incidentally, the only reason I recognized it is because it is the same printing as the one I found in my grandmother's house when I was fifteen. I've yet to see that cover appear anywhere else but that bookshelf and this film.
Oh, and the post title comes from one of my favorite visual gags of all time:
Suburban L.A. was not the most exciting of places to live without a job or a car. One spring day, I decided to develop a hobby. Down I went, hoofing it through three parking lots, to the local Wal-Mart. I picked up some undershirts, fabric paint and printing paper which had glue on the back, like a post-it note. Utilizing my awesome Photoshop skills and my girlfriend's pen-knife, I made some t-shirts. As far as original designs go, this was my crowning achievement. I did not use a pre-made stencil, although I'll admit that Jack Kirby's art takes to stenciling better than most:
Unfortunately, I only later realized that undershirts show off pit stains like they're proud of it. Gross. I still have the stencil, however and here's the PSD in case anyone wants to make a Galactus shirt of their own. There's two layers, each to be printed on a separate sheet to form the head. The text was just a standard stencil font.
Okay, now here is how you make it. It requires:
- Sticker paper
- A small paint roller
- Fabric paint
- A pen knife
- A t-shirt
- A smooth, thick surface that can be slipped inside the t-shirt - I've found that hardcover textbooks are perfect for this.
- Print each layer of the PSD on a separate page of sticker paper.
- Make the stencil by cutting the dark sections out of the sticker paper with the pen knife.
- Slip a surface inside the shirt so that it splays out. (I've found hardcover textbooks are perfect for this.)
- Align and apply the two halves of the stencil to the shirt.
- Paint over the stencil with the roller until you can no longer see the color of the t-shirt beneath the paint.
- Carefully peel off the stencil.
- Let dry overnight. Do not remove surface inside t-shirt until dry.
Valerie (MySpace) is a French synth-pop/new-wave-revivalist collective. I don't have much information on them as 95% of their written communiques to the outside world are in French and I don't really care enough to translate invitations to parties halfway across the world. One of their better known artists is Anoraak, and he has released the entirety of his album Nightdrive With You here. His - and by extension Valerie's - music is at once simple and nostalgic, with the occasional hilariously misstep (seriously, dude? "I had sex with another girl"? That's not a song lyric.)
What I really wanted to write about was their album cover design, which, due to my previously professed 80s futurism fetish, hits all the right notes. I love everything about it: the neon coloring on dark backgrounds, the style-over-substance sexuality and especially the technological imagery reduced ad absurdum to afunctional gadgetry:
...and here's my favorite Valerie track: Anoraak's remix of College's "Teenage Color."
The Association of Equipment Manufacturers has been ever so kind as to provide us with a database of abstractly horrible things happening to abstract people.
Worker's Comp. - A Retrospective and Revue
Warning: Flash origin story in progress.
Make sure crack pipe is properly oriented before use.
To prevent serious injury, Tetris should only be played with digital controls.
The goggles! They ... work quite well, actually.
Before using bidet, make sure to remove lid.
By law, all desegregated work sites must be designated as such.
Caution: Ridiculing the crucified may result in unexpected lightning strikes.
Unattended microphone stands left at 4 Freedoms Plaza will be violated.
Caution: Your boss is too stupid for cliched executive gifts. Get him the Hickory Farms sampler instead.
Caution: Ultimate Nullifier does not contain user serviceable parts.
Space between gears has rendered them useless. Feel free to reach in and get that wrench you dropped. C'mon. Don't be a pussy.
Caution: Superman ricochet zone.
Warning: Darkness screaming as much in pain as in relief.
Awesome: This gravity bong works great.
All craps tables come with accessibility features for the disabled.
Danger: Retreat to safe distance after Yar has fired the Swirl.
Soylent Veal harvest area.
Snakes respect Black Vulcan.
Where's the fucking money, Lebowski?
(This originally appeared as a guest post on November 5th, 2008, on the fantastic blog Pacific Novelties)