Andrew Pilsch on Pour-Over Coffee

To choose pour-over coffee instead of Keurig, then, isn’t entirely a choice of human craft over machine labor. It’s more an issue of priorities—craft depends on processes that are beholden to people, creating an intimate relationship in which the human producer is valued above the anonymity of mass production, even when both play necessary roles. In the Keurig, the means of making coffee are abstracted and hidden inside an opaque, plastic shell; the human deliberation of the pour-over method makes visible what the Keurig abstracts.

Andrew Pilsch, “When the Coffee Machine Is Just a Human

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On The Last Door: Season 1

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The Last Door is a strange little point and click horror game that is (I believe) going to stretch over two seasons. It has a lot to love in it, and it has a familiar aesthetic for anyone who has played any of my almost-adventure game stuff.

I had played the first episode a couple years ago, but after pressuring a friend into playing the whole thing last year, I thought that I would give the whole thing a shot in one day (I was also coming off of Broken Age, a game almost 100% not what I want in a contemporary adventure, so maybe I was looking for some redemption?).

The Last Door is playing with the 19th century in a lot of different ways, and from its advertising (and some of its content) you would think that it was 100% in the Lovecrafting camp of eldritch horrors from beyond time and space. Surprisingly, the game is much more concerned with hitting an aesthetic space that’s a little more Henry James. Epistolary conversations litter the world, and the horrors that get presented to us are less of the mind-bendingly evil (although they exist) and more of the apparatuses of that time period in Britain.

The church fails to help. Science does not deliver us, but rather runs us aground on new bad things. The urban modern is marked by oil slicks and butcher houses. It is a world that is thoroughly unpleasant, and in the “old weird” tradition that would be because there’s something rotten in things. Although there’s no shortage of ruins and things beyond the pale, I don’t get the sense that The Last Door is really painting the rotten nature of this 19th universe on those things. They just sort of happen to be existing–this would all be gross and disgusting if the evil existed or not.

I’ve spent more than one day of Twitter-time lamenting that we don’t have a game that gets close to Roman Polansky’s The Ninth Gate. That film is long, boring, purposefully fails to give anything, omits any gratification, etc etc etc. It is a punishment. But my god, does that cohere into something shocking. A man falls into a labyrinth of deals with the devil, and despite seeing the worst of what that could entail, chooses to make one himself. It is a document that attests to the banality of evil, and in that way its honestly a very 19th-century text.

The Last Door sells itself as a vehicle for Lovecraftianism, but it hits something very close to the feeling of The Ninth Gate. It’s wonderful, and if you like that, you should check it out.

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Left 4 Dead 2, 7 Years On

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John Walker’s original review of Left 4 Dead 2 goes hard for talking about what that game does that other games don’t. He flags it as being a brand-new experience that does something completely unique, and reading it these many years later I keep nodding my head.

Friend of the blog Danni has missed many games over the past X years, and we’ve been spending the past few weeks playing around with some staples of the online cooperative experience: Risk of RainOrcs Must DieMinecraft, and now Left 4 Dead 2. I’ve never been a fan of the latter, mostly because I’m not into playing games with voice with intensive cooperation. I like multiplayer, but I’m a “sadness and silence” player who dives into the world of pubbies to experience the wrong side of the coin. Left 4 Dead 2 needs a better class of player than I want to be most of the time.

And yet loading it up and playing through a couple missions in a serious way has left me feeling that Left 4 Dead 2 is actually hitting a target that no other game has managed to square since its release. John Walker wasn’t writing in videogame-boosterist hyperbole. It really does things that are unique.

The number of times I have said “where am I supposed to go now?” in a first person shooter made in the past seven years is probably less than ten times. This is across dozens of games (most of these are probably located in Syndicate, actually). Heirs of the Half-Life lighting model of game design communication, the contemporary first-person shooter needs you to know where to go and where to face at all times. If you’re looking the wrong way you might miss the setpiece.

When I’m playing Left 4 Dead 2, I am constantly confused about where I should be going. It generates some real, serious anxietyfear. I know that the zombies and special infected are going to appear, and I know that they can swarm be like the almost-human zerglings that they are. In horror games, you generate anxiety around expectation, and Left 4 Dead 2 manages to do that with excess (here they all come!) rather than absence (a dark, spooooky room).

No one else seems to have taken that banner up and run with it. Give us rat nests teeming with denizens. Did the roguelike take this design space? Is stapling it to the weird world of the team shooter feel too rip-offy for the contemporary game designer. Who knows? The game is scary.

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Donald Rumsfeld Made A Videogame

Known for quips about such things as “known knowns” and “known unknowns,” Mr. Rumsfeld says the game will sharpen the mind and help improve concentration. Whether it counteracts the effects of aging, he won’t precisely say. “It is helpful to know what you know and know what you don’t know, and in this case, I know what I think but I don’t know the answer to your question,” he said.

Julian Barnes, “Former Defense Secretary Marches Into New Territory: Videogames”

Donald Rumsfeld, the man who helped nudge the United States into a global war, has adapted a version of Solitaire that Winston Churchill played for the contemporary gaming crowd. It’s a strange footnote in American tragedy, but it is also a wonderful knot that ties together game playing, Slavoj Zizek, and the wonders of not knowing what we know. Zizek famously read Rumsfeld as a strange interlocutor of psychoanalysis, and now we have that man making a game about making jumps and skips based on known and unknown knowns. Perfect.

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Let’s Play Rollercoaster Tycoon – Leafy Lake

Leafy Lake is a weird level of Rollercoaster Tycoon, but I think that I really hit my stride in this set of videos. I do some custom rollercoastering, and I think that the designs for the “uncustomizable” rides that I do to give them a little flair and theme are pretty neat.

These videos are supported by my Patreon. If you enjoy this blog, consider becoming a Patron!

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Dark Souls’ Relationship To Its Concept Art

This is a fascinating piece on the concept art of Dark Souls.

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I don’t know if I buy the argument about micro/macro focalization (in that I don’t see to experience the games in the way that the designers clearly intend you to), but the idea that Dark Souls is stapled together around tiny moments is super alluring overall. In any case, this is a really neat piece worth checking out.

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On Fargo – Season 1

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1.
The use of the pastiche or the remix or the mashup in contemporary “prestige television” is everywhere. I can see it working on a couple different levels. On one level, it does the same work that stock plots have always done for sitcoms. In this way, a “someone thinks their partner is cheating on them but it’s really a comical mixup” is the same kind of narrative machinery as a shot in Fargo the tv show that’s reused from No Country For Old Men. Where the narrative plot points are what provide the little trope reused from I Love Lucy to The Big Bang Theory, for Fargo (and Breaking Bad or True Detective or Hannibal) it is the kernels of shot structure, length, and content that provide the transportable thing in prestige television.

2.
Within that paradigm, Fargo is maybe the ultimate expression of its genre of prestige television work. It contains an entire set of classed and aestheticized dependencies around the Fargo film, the Coen Brothers, FX as a channel, and the contemporary media environment in order to constantly wink at the viewer in a thousand ways. I mean, the show is absolutely made for whatever cultural bracket I am in — Malvo the villain is a composite Coen villain, the genre structure of several Coen films get called on, the comedy stylings of critical darlings Key and Peele are used, and we even get Bilbo Baggins doing a William H. Macy impression. The semiotics go deep, and it reminds me quite a bit of the use of Chambers’ and Lovecraft’s works in True Detective. In that case, the discourse around the show was less about the show and more about what it could reveal or hide about its sources at any given moment. True Detective wanted you to talk as much about The King in Yellow as it did the dynamics between the characters; I have the feeling that Fargo really wants me to see the repeated references to White Russians.

3.
I enjoyed Fargo the most when it stuck to a close reproduction of the Coen “feel” or when it went as far out in the weeds as possible. I really felt the direction of this show more than I have felt other prestige television shows. In some episodes, there are these lovely wide shots that really hit “these humans are small in the world” feel that the Coens had in Fargo. In others, it’s like we’re watching an episode of CSI or something. Basically any moment where someone felt like they needed to add to the visual language of this universe felt unnecessary, which probably says something both about a taste culture and how the Coens can create a visually delimited imagination–seeing something in their world outside of the way they would normally frame it feels weird.

[A note: this normally doesn’t bother me, but the CGI of Fargo was actively bad. During a particular scene where fish are falling from the sky, you can see that the “layer” they are on when they are on the ground is about a full foot above the ground in several shots. For a show that seems to committed to a particular aesthetic, that work felt super slap-dash.]

4.
The homage nature of the show to the Coen brothers and their films really points out what techniques of theirs are cinematic and don’t quite make the leap from big screen to small screen. The strange anecdotes and parables of The Big Lebowski or A Serious Man make repeated appearances in Fargo, and they don’t really deliver the same kind of impact as they do in those films. When you hear an anecdote that leads nowhere ten times in ten hours the form loses the effectiveness that it had when you heard it once in an hour and forty five.

5.
Who would have thought that Billy Bob Thornton could be so scary?

 

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