Oct 142013

With the this year’s IndyCar season coming down to a battle between veteran drivers Helio Castroneves and Scott Dixon, now is perhaps as good a time as any to start looking at the potential cast for next year’s title race.  While it’s a given that the sport’s more established drivers (Power, Kanaan, Hunter-Reay, and so on) will be in the hunt, there are a handful of relatively new faces that are worth keeping an eye on.


Simon Pagenaud


If there’s one IndyCar driver with momentum on his side, it’s Simon Pagenaud.  2012 was his first full season in the sport, and he managed to finish fifth in the standings.  This year has been even more impressive, with two wins on difficult street circuits and regular top-10 finishes propelling him to third place heading into the last race of the season.  While Pagenaud is something of a newcomer in the IndyCar world, he has an extensive background in endurance racing, which has shown itself in the exhausting double-header weekends in Detroit and Houston.  If Pagenaud can keep up this consistent momentum and start breaking into the top five on oval tracks, it’s easy to see him taking the title next year.


James Hinchcliffe


Despite a season of highs and lows, this young Canadian has two very good things going for him.  First, he has an easygoing kind of charisma and on-camera presence that have earned him a great deal of support among IndyCar fans.  Second, he has exhibited both outright speed and racing talent in his three wins this season.  James Hinchcliffe can both execute passes and defend his position on a variety of track layouts, earning good results on high and low speed circuits.  He will need to display that skill on a more regular basis to have a shot at next year’s title, but it’s easier for a fast driver to become consistent than for a consistent driver to go faster.


Simona de Silvestro


Considering she’s only scored one podium finish in her IndyCar career, one could be forgiven for thinking I’m a bit crazy for endorsing Simona de Silvestro as a future title contender.  I assure you, I’m perfectly sane.  Despite some poor finishes at this year’s mid-season oval tracks, she displayed a great deal of talent in 2013, especially on road and street courses.  De Silvestro has also gained a great deal of momentum in the last third of this season, finishing in the top ten in the last four races.  Improved oval performance and stronger technical support are all she needs to be a regular contender for wins and a potential challenger for the championship.


The current regulations in IndyCar have made competition incredibly close, and next year is likely to be as close a battle as this season.  Perhaps Justin Wilson’s consistency will pay off like it did for Castroneves.  Maybe Charlie Kimball or Josef Newgarden will step up to be the next American champion.  No matter what happens, it will likely be yet another season to remember.


Pit Box One is written by Paul Jensen. You can follow his thoughts on video games and motor racing on Twitter.
Oct 132013

This past weekend, I traveled to Culver City for my first-ever visit to Indiecade, an annual conference and festival celebrating the best in independent video game development. Every aspect of Indiecade felt so different compared to other “geek gatherings” I’ve attended. For one thing, most of the venues were outdoors, bringing something of a “county fair” vibe to the festival. And what made Indiecade incredibly special was I got to try out some builds of spectacular upcoming independent games, most of which I had never heard of before the event. So, here are six of my favorites from Indiecade 2013 that you need to look out for. Most of these games, I should add, either are already released or are coming out within this next year:


Quadrilateral Cowboy

Quad Cowboy

Winner of this year’s “Grand Jury Award,” this new adventure from the developer of Gravity Bone and Thirty Flights of Loving expands upon the world of espionage that was developed in his previous games. But this game introduces a surprisingly fun new game mechanic: your missions in Quadrilateral Cowboy will require you to use coding to hack your way through the level. With the aid of a portable supercomputer, your character will disable lasers and unlock doors, strategizing an entrance and escape plan by determining what code is the most efficient to use in each puzzle. Think of this game as Portal meets The Matrix: you’ll be finding ways around challenging obstacles by manipulating the world around you as if you were Neo.




This is an amazing arcade-style 2-player game that combines fighting game controls with a good ol’ fashioned race-to-the-finish. As the yellow or orange player, your goal is to fight past your opponent and reach your end of the map. Each player is armed with a sword and can perform sweet stabs, swings, rolls and punches to kill your opponent. Once he’s dead, start running because they’ll respawn a couple seconds later! This game is starting to make its rounds, appearing on one line of arcade cabinets and even making an appearance at a recent fighting game tournament. If you’re into one-on-one competition with your friends, then keep an eye out for NIDHOGG.




I can’t believe I had FUN playing an iPad app. Spaceteam is a new co-op game for iOS and Android devices that has you and up to three friends shouting crazy technobabble commands at each other as you try to man your own spaceship. If you ever wanted to feel like you’re on the crew of the Enterprise and love Hitchhiker’s Guide-style sci-fi humor, then make sure to download this app. Right now, it’s free on the App Store. What have you got to lose?




If you’re a fan of Super Smash Bros., then you will probably enjoy Towerfall. Much like Smash, this game is a chaotic 4-player fighting game. The difference? This game’s combat places emphasis on fighting with a bow and arrow. Items can be found in chests that give you special powers that aid in the brawl, from wings that make you fly to upgrades for your arrows (bomb, homing, laser, etc). This game is also much more fast-paced than Smash Bros., with lots of things to watch for as you play. For example, if you run out of arrows, you need to find more strewn about the stage. Also, watch out above you, because opponents jumping on you kills!




Coming out for the PC, the PlayStations 3 and 4 and the Xbox 360, Contrast is a game that really has potential. The visuals are beautiful, the gameplay is unique and smooth, and the story sounds incredibly interesting. To sum it up, you play as a woman named Dawn who has the ability to turn into a shadow and run along other shadows on the wall. Through this mechanic you solve puzzles to advance the story. The story follows Dawn after she meets a young girl named Didi at a train station. Didi has a depressingly dysfunctional family (her mother was murdered and she has an estranged father), and asks Dawn to use her powers and change these past events. Contrast may just be the first breakout indie game of the next console generation.


Spin the Bottle: Bumpie’s Party

spin the bottle

Forget the next Smash Bros. If I’m getting a Wii U, it’s going to be for this game, designed by two Swedish game companies. While labeled as family-friendly, there are certainly some entertainingly awkward moments to be had playing Spin the Bottle. The game focuses on a very innovative approach: using the Wii U’s unique controllers to revitalize classic physical-challenge party games. One minigame may have you going on an Easter egg hunt for Wiimotes around the living room, and for the next game you might be forced to lock arms with one of your friends and spin really fast as if you are a drill. This game focuses greatly on interaction with other people rather than your television screen, which is a breath of fresh air in today’s techno-savvy world.


While these were my top picks for games at Indiecade, that doesn’t mean there were no other games the festival had to offer. There were 111 games featured at Indiecade this year, far too many to include in one article! If you want to see what other upcoming indie games tickle your fancy, check out the complete list on the Indiecade website.


The Minus World is written by Steven Brasley. You can keep up with his thoughts on gaming via Twitter.
Oct 122013

Let me tell you, it’s never been more difficult for a TV addict such as myself to support my habit. The Internet connection in my backwoods country farmhouse is too slow for me to watch Hulu or Netflix without making sure that no one else in the house so much as thinks about checking their Facebook, and I’ve got a very opinionated four-month-old puppy, who loves to play (and bark!) directly in front of the TV. (“You should be watching me!” He seems to say. “Not that big box up there!”) But I prevailed, dear readers, because let’s be real, there’s a crap-ton of new television this season and I didn’t want to get left out. And what kind of a writer would I be if I didn’t try to share some of my findings? Here’s a quick look at some of the new pilots this fall season, which I watched, so you don’t have to (unless you want to, in which case, go for it. There are some good ones out there).


Sleepy Hollow: Ichabod Crane time travels to 2013 to fight the headless horseman… of the apocalypse. Yeah, you read that correctly. The concept is undoubtedly ridiculous, even by Hollywood’s standards, but when I finished the episode, I kid you not, I threw my notebook into the air and said very loudly to my dogs, “F*ckin’ A, this show is actually good!” The pilot maintains balanced elements of drama, suspense, and mystery, and Crane’s sarcasm and confusion regarding the modern world provide some comic relief that actually made me laugh aloud a few times, without turning the character into a clown. Tom Mison’s performance as Ichabod shows a lot of promise, and it’s not just because he’s incredibly attractive. (Though seriously, my friend, congratulations on your face, and also your excellent sartorial choices.) Nicole Beharie also proves her worth as Abbie Mills, a lieutenant in the Sleepy Hollow Police Dept. who, after witnessing the death of her mentor, the Sheriff, is the only one who believes Crane’s story. The chemistry between the two actors reeks of potential, as does the plot. I am pleasantly surprised to say that I look forward to seeing more of Sleepy Hollow. (Premiered on Monday, September 16 on Fox at 9/8c)


Brooklyn Nine-Nine: Andy Samberg plays Andy Samb—I mean, Jake Peralta, a brilliant but kooky Brooklyn detective who refuses to grow up. It’s funny, but I don’t know that I can take it seriously as a show. The humor is zany and slapstick, and while it is indeed funny, as an audience member I felt very disconnected. There’s very little that is original about the plot, concept, or characters, and even the revelation at the end that Commander Holt is gay, which should allow us to feel more emotionally attached to the character and open up the show for a chance to explore the difficulties of the LGBT community in the police force, felt almost obligatory, like the writers threw it in so we as the audience would have some “depth”. Maybe the show will settle into its stride throughout the next few episodes. For its own sake, I hope so. (Premiered on Tuesday, September 17 on Fox at 9:30/8:30c)


Dads: Oh look. Another TV show from Seth McFarlane, chock full of the same sexist, racist, immature humor as all the others. Somehow, it’s even less funny when it’s in live-action and not animated. I gave it a chance for Seth Green and Brenda Song, and was immediately sorry I did. The jokes are lame, the laugh track is annoying, the acting is awful, and I’m sorry, but allowing Song’s character to save the day at the end of the episode through blackmail and sexual means is not a punch line, it’s just offensive. I’m so terribly unimpressed, I don’t even care enough to finish this sentence. So I think I’ll just leave it at that. (Premiered Tuesday September 17 on Fox at who cares, you should probably skip it anyway.)


Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD: Joss Whedon has come back to television! Phil Coulson has come back to the living! The next Avengers movie won’t come out until 2015, but in the mean time, Agents of SHIELD ties up some of the loose ends left from the films. In the pilot, which takes place shortly after The Battle of New York from The Avengers, we get a closer look at one of the subjects of the Extremis experiment, as seen in Iron Man 3. The writing was strained at times, like the writers were trying too hard to give us an authentic Joss Whedon experience, full of all the action, quirky characters, and hilarious one-liners that have proven themselves trademarks of his previous works. But overall, I think once SHIELD gets over the peacocking stage and settles in a bit, it will actually be a quality show. Throw in some crossover references (like one liners about Thor’s arms from Maria Hill), and appearances from members of Whedon’s usual troupe of actors (J. August Richards! Ron Glass!), and we might even have another cult favorite on our hands, one which spans far beyond the reach of any other TV show in existence. The characters could cameo in future Marvel movies. Or perhaps (and this is a big ‘perhaps’), some of the movie characters might make an appearance in the show. The scope of a show like SHIELD is limitless, simply because the Marvel universe is so wide, but at the same time it needs to remain within the boundaries the previous films have already set. Writers and producers of both the show and the films probably will have to stay in communication to make sure both media can co-exist in the same universe, and that’s fascinating. This possible capacity for a multi-platform experience, more than anything, makes me very interested to see where SHIELD goes. (Premiered on Tuesday, September 24 on ABC at 8/7c)


The Goldbergs: I always hate saying this about new TV shows, especially ones that I want to like, but I don’t think The Goldbergs is going to last very long. It’s a fairly standard family sitcom, but in a lineup like we’ve got for this fall, newcomers need to be better than just standard. It got one or two pity laughs out of me, but the jokes are stale, the characters are all archetypes in the worst kind of way, and there’s nothing very special about the plot other than the fact that it takes place a few decades ago. Maybe it would be funnier to me if I had lived in the 80s for longer than a few months. (Premiered on Tuesday September 24 on ABC at 9/8c)


Trophy Wife: The guy from The West Wing (Bradley Whitford) plays a twice-divorced lawyer who marries the chick from Watchmen (Malin Akerman), clearly hoping that the third time is the charm. She becomes stepmother to his three children. There’s a lot of the standard tension between all the wives, and between the stepmom and her stepkids, and a steady stream of both humor and character development. There are even a few moments that don’t exactly fail to tug on the old heartstrings a bit. The real treasure for me, however, was Bert, the little adopted Chinese kid played by Albert Tsai. For the first five minutes of the episode I found him incredibly annoying, but after exhibiting some brilliant understanding of comedic timing and line delivery (“Do you think I was born yesterday? I was born in 2006!”) he became my favorite character. As long as the show avoids its clichés, I think, based on the pilot, that Trophy Wife has the definite potential to not suck.(Premiered on Tuesday September 24 on ABC at 9:30/8:30c)


Lucky 7: A drama about seven gas station employees who – oh wait, the show has already been canceled after two episodes. If the pilot interested you, watch the British version, The Syndicate, which is probably better anyway.


Back in the Game: Maggie Lawson takes a break from her role on Psych to play Terry, a single mom who moves in with her cranky, alcoholic, slightly violent father, The Cannon (James Caan). Their relationship has been strained for most of her life, because her father pushed her very hard to play baseball, which she did with success as an All American player in college. When her son Danny doesn’t make the little league baseball team, she offers to coach the band of misfit kids, Bad News Bears style. The dialogue is funny, the characters are varied, and frankly there are a ton of different directions it could take. And what more, the pilot manages to convey several different levels of comedy and drama and familial love, without being heavy handed as so many sitcoms tend to do. I watched this one by accident while waiting for the Modern Family premiere, but I think I might continue to do so on purpose. (Premiered on Wednesday, September 25 on ABC at 8:30/7:30c)


The Crazy Ones: Sarah Michelle Gellar literally stalked Robin Williams until he agreed to take the role of her father in this sitcom about an ad agency, and frankly I was very interested to see what made him take the part instead of filing a restraining order against his now costar. The pilot presented us with a few unique characters, a few other ones I think I was probably supposed to care about, and a plot that took some time to resonate with me. Robin Williams basically plays Robin Williams, complete with goofy voices and slapstick humor (much of which is most likely ad libbed), and Gellar plays his foil, the straight-[wo]man who walks a fine line between anchoring the ridiculousness and being just plain whiny. The last few minutes of the episode promise some chemistry between the two main actors, and I think if The Crazy Ones can grab that and run with it, rather than just depend on Robin Williams doing his thing for 22 minutes every week (though certainly that would be entertaining, if disorganized), it might stand a chance. Plus, the improvised “drive thru” song they aired at the end was pretty entertaining. (Premiered on Thursday September 26 on CBS at 9/8c)


Michael J Fox Show: So many new family sitcoms this season! The best thing this one’s got going for it is the cast, as it marks Michael J. Fox’s first major return to network television since his semi-retirement in 200 due to Parkinson’s Disease. The pilot makes no secret of his condition – in fact a lot of laughs are gleaned from it – though it’s very clear that this inclusion is intentional. We laugh with Fox, not at him, and this is an important distinction, because the comedy could very easily turn to pity if they’re not careful. The cast is fairly strong, even if their characters are a little unoriginal: sassy, patient wife, headstrong-yet-clueless college dropout son, unamused teenage daughter, crazy but cute younger son, and the sister/neighbor who thinks she’s much younger than she is. The pilot utilizes that incredibly popular (and increasingly tired) device, the mockumentary, framing it around a class project for Fox’s daughter. The pilot has drive and a clear plot, but it resolves itself by the end of the episode and honestly, without main character Mike Henry’s return to work as a focus, I’m not sure what else is really left but the same kind of family sitcom that’s already flooding the networks. It wasn’t the funniest of the new comedies, but again, the show has a strong cast and obvious working chemistry between the characters, so I will give it a chance to figure itself out, and defer my judgment until later in the season. (Premiered Thursday September 26 on NBC at 9:30/8:30c)


Super Fun Night: Rebel Wilson writes and stars in this show about a group of friends trying to step out of their comfort zones. The concept is kind of weak, and I, like a lot of people I know, really only gave it a chance because of Wilson, who more than proved herself by stealing her scenes in movies like Pitch Perfect and Bridesmaids. She’s all anybody talked about for awhile. She had it made! But her debut as a starring actress didn’t thrill me. The plot was a bit shaky, the characters blended together and were a little inconsistent, and I’m sorry, but Wilson’s terrible American accent was cringe worthy and in my opinion, unnecessary. There are already several international characters on the show, what difference would one more make? The humor in Super Fun Night relied a lot on fat jokes and body humor for Wilson, which got old after about three seconds. I want this show to succeed, because honestly I’d love a weekly dose of Rebel Wilson on my TV, but based on its initial reception and the fact that the “pilot” was actually the second episode, because the original pilot sucked that bad, it’s got a lot of work to do if it wants to avoid cancellation. (Premiered Wednesday October 2 on ABC at 9:30/8:30c)


The Originals: I’ll admit that I like The Vampire Diaries. But I’m just not quite sure how this spin off is going to stand up on its own. More so than on any other spin off I can call to mind, the characters are still deeply intertwined with the plot of The Vampire Diaries, so much that I don’t see how new viewers will be able to understand everything going on. It’s like the creators of TVD decided they had too much plot for next season, so they split it into two shows. Do I hope that there will be plenty of crossovers, so my little shipper heart can get some Klaroline closure? Absolutely. But despite how well these vampire siblings have aged (and in true CW style, they certainly do look hot for 2,000 years old…), I’m afraid I can’t see them surviving much longer on their own show. (Premiered Thursday, October 3 on The CW at 9/8c)


Once Upon a Time in Wonderland: Once Upon a Time is one of those shows that makes me sad, simply because of its squandered potential: a promising concept that, through poor execution, and misappropriated plot, went terribly, terribly wrong. I’ve been hate-watching it since pretty much the moment it aired, and I am trying to decide whether I will have the energy to do the same with its spin off. The pilot doesn’t offer much more than the same cheesy special effects and scoff-worthy crossovers (Jafar from Aladdin? In Wonderland? Sure. Okay.) and like The Originals, it’s very tied in with its roots, which will alienate new viewers. I don’t know, maybe there’s something I’m just missing about this whole franchise. After all, a lot of people seem to really love it, enough that it apparently warranted this spin off. But as a lover of both fairy tales and quality television, I’m very much inclined to say that both OUAT, and now its sister production, OUATIW (holy vowels, Batman!) are not a good representation of either. (Premiered Thursday October 10 on ABC at 10/9c)


Dracula: More Vampire-genre TV. Hooray. Really though, I thought this whole vampire craze was finally beginning to die down? Maybe I’m being too harsh. There’s some great vampire media out there. I’m a diehard Buffy fan, for crying out loud. The show is a very marked twist on Bram Stoker’s novel, and I wonder if that will help in its ascent or serve as its downfall. Shows about vampires are a dime a dozen, after all, but slapping a name like Dracula on it means you’ve got some big shoes to fill. (Premieres on Friday October 25 on NBC at 10/9c)


Almost Human: This one might be it. This might be the new show I am most excited for this season. From one of my personal heroes, Mr. JJ Abrams himself, Almost Human is set 35 years in the future in a world where police officers are partnered with androids (If the show fails to ever make a Robocop joke I am going to be super upset). Karl Urban (Eomer!) plays John Kennex, who returns to duty after his partner is killed in action. He blames the androids and is distrustful of them, so he is partnered with Dorian (Michael Ealy), an android programmed to function with human emotion. The full-length trailer manages quite well to make me feel a whole bunch of feels, so I can’t imagine what the show itself might be capable of.  (Premieres on Monday November 4 on Fox at 8/7c)


Death By DVR is written by Emily Krempholtz.
Oct 122013

Video game music is something I always love to talk about. No matter what mood I want to be in, I can find a powerful piece to fit the moment. But not all video games have to have a completely original soundtrack to capture the right mood or tone the game is going for. So today, I’m listing off my top picks for video games with licensed soundtracks.

First, a quick ground rule: this list is meant to show off games that happen to feature music from licensed artists, but doesn’t revolve completely around licensed songs as the core aspect of the game. As such, don’t expect me to list off Guitar Hero, Rock Band, Dance Dance Revolution and Just Dance then top it off with DJ Hero and call it a day. The games I list feature either completely licensed music as part of the soundtrack or feature a combination of licensed music and original scores, whatever sets the right mood for the game’s storytelling. So, here we go:


5. Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker (Sega Genesis, 1990)


Do you like Michael Jackson’s music? Of course you do. But have you ever listened to Michael Jackson’s sweet, sweet tunes in 16-freaking-bit? The first level alone gets you moonwalking across your living room with a sexy Genesis rendition of “Smooth Criminal,” a song I always go to when I’m looking for a good extended music loop on YouTube. The rest of the soundtrack is amazing too, featuring 16-bit mixes of “Another Part of Me,” “Bad,” “Beat It,” and “Billie Jean.” It’s a perfect soundtrack for a retro game starring the King of Pop.


4. Crazy Taxi (Arcade/Sega Dreamcast, 1999)


Ahhh, 90’s rock, how I love thee. Especially when it’s blaring out my speakers as I smash through cars, risking the lives of countless pedestrians as I try to rush a customer across San Francisco in my bright yellow buggy of awesome. The fast-paced beat of the music, provided by both Bad Religion and The Offspring, completes the adrenaline rush I feel as I play this legendary late 90’s arcade classic.


3. Hotline Miami (Windows, OS X, PS3, PS Vita, 2012)


You know a soundtrack is going to be epic when the first thing you see booting up a game is a screen that says, “Loading music…” Without Hotline Miami’s soundtrack, I wouldn’t think for a second while playing that I was in the psychedelic, bass-pumping world of 1980s Miami. This licensed soundtrack is a bit unique, as it doesn’t feature any big-name artists. Rather, it’s a compilation of songs by various independent musicians. From Sun Araw’s “Deep Cover,” to “Hydrogen” and “Paris” by M.O.O.N, to the addictive-as-an-80’s-drug-lord’s-cocaine “Miami Disco” by Perturbator, the sounds of Hotline Miami can get you pumped for just about anything, from picking up hookers to bashing in the skulls of the Russian Mafia with a baseball bat while wearing a letterman’s jacket and a rubber unicorn mask.


2. BioShock series (Xbox 360, PS3, Mac/PC, 2007-2012)


As you can see from my praise of Hotline Miami, I love it when a game features a soundtrack that reflects the sounds of a game’s time period, and the games in Irrational and 2K’s BioShock series do this flawlessly. The first games take you to the City of Rapture, Ayn Rand’s wet dream at the bottom of the sea. As it was built in the 1940s, Rapture’s tunes reflect that, featuring many upbeat, jazzy hits from the 40’s and 50’s, which constantly serve as a reminder of the Art Deco dystopia’s former lavishness.

The most recent release in the series, BioShock Infinite, further expands on the original BioShock’s use of period sounds. Sure, the game takes place in 1912 in the heyday of American exceptionalism, and of course you hear plenty of well-known tunes from the period, but this game takes things a step further. Through the many dimensional tears strewn about the City of Columbia, people heard music from the future. What does this mean? Throughout BioShock Infinite, you get to hear 1912 renditions of songs from the late twentieth century. From a barbershop quartet singing “God Only Knows” by the Beach Boys, to a poor girl in a slum belting out a soulful rendition of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son,” these songs will make your jaw drop because of how amazing they sound as old-timey ditties.


1. Fallout: New Vegas (PC, PS3, Xbox 360, 2010)


Yes, I’m aware both the BioShock series and the Fallout series have similar soundtracks. So why does Fallout: New Vegas come out on top? This. And this. Also this.

The licensed songs are absolutely perfect for a game that takes place in post-nuclear apocalypse Las Vegas. Originally coming from the early Cold War and all in some way implying impending doom by atomic bomb in their lyrics, there is something delightfully ironic about listening to the music in the New Vegas soundtrack. These songs add a whole new level of depth to the atmosphere of the irradiated wastelands of Las Vegas. And I’m sure that’s just what the designers were going for as they meticulously chose which songs should be in the soundtrack.


The Minus World is written by Steven Brasley. You can keep up with his thoughts on gaming via Twitter.