A raid that will live in infamy

Also: The People's Joker, Vtuber eyes, Pokemon, and more.

A raid that will live in infamy

EX is a research report about where culture is headed. You can learn more here. This week: A star-studded Joker parody inches toward release, Baldur’s Gate 3 hits a marketing homerun, and Jack Antonoff gets skewered.

1. A masterclass in hardcore World of Warcraft griefing

via u/down4things on Reddit

WoW Classic, the throwback version of WoW for people old enough to owe money to Blockbuster, is soon getting an official Hardcore (permadeath) mode. But some players already use an add-on to simulate permadeath rules. On Tuesday, a 40-person raid group of these hardest-of-hardcore players was wiped out by a griefer who used the mechanics of the Four Horsemen encounter in Naxxramas (WoW Classic’s final raid) to kill almost everybody. Video here.

WoW raids with permadeath sound pretty wild, but the Flask of Petrification item apparently works as a panic button: it gives you 60 seconds of invincibility in which you can leave your raid group and get auto-warped out of the instance. But that trick doesn’t work on the Four Horsemen, whose stacking Mark auras do damage through petrification. As one of the dead raiders said, the notoriously tough 4H were “the perfect boss” to sabotage. Instead of tanking one horseman in his own corner (the normal strategy keeps them separated), the troll led the boss back into the main melee group fighting another horseman, teeing up a brutal chain lightning attack; he even re-taunted the boss along the way when another tank tried to avert disaster. (There’s an interesting what-if where another warrior successfully taunts the horseman away, but the raid still dies to escalating Mark damage because the rotation got screwed up.)

Expect more of this when official Hardcore servers launch! Blizzard has announced many fair-play features, but must also know that they’re opening a griefing laboratory that converts the worst “degen” behavior into free press. As the raider CalamityHC pointed out, in official there will be “no appeals, no chance to redo”; in the current community-run, plugin-governed version of hardcore, many players are appealing the deaths. Calamity mentioned this in a regular Thursday stream, where she also joked that the griefer deserved a “second chance” and would be let back into the guild.

2. Hope arrives for The People’s Joker

After many setbacks, the most important DC extended universe film ever made is finally getting an official US premiere this weekend. The People's Joker, created by director and comedian Vera Drew, reimagines Batman's Joker as a trans woman struggling to make it as a stand-up comedian in Gotham City. Drew previously worked as an editor for Abso Lutely Productions (Tim and Eric, The Eric Andre Show), and the cast is studded with comedy icons like Tim Heidecker, Bob Odenkirk, and Maria Bamford (who stars as a twisted version of SNL's Lorne Michaels). Though Drew insists that the film is covered by parody law and Fair Use, The People's Joker faced controversy last year when it was pulled from the Toronto International Film Festival right after its world premiere, likely due to copyright infringement.

It's hard not to root for The People's Joker, an underdog in a media landscape that continues to be dominated by superhero movies, massive IPs, and Hollywood executives threatening to replace its creative workforce with machines. Drew kicked off a "Free the People's Joker" movement last year after the incident at TIFF, and the hashtag continues to collect support as more viewers are able to see the film for themselves. With any luck, The People's Joker will one day become accessible to all who wish to view it, no matter which media conglomerate tries to get in its way.

3. Viral “eye reveal” video breaches VTuber containment


who in their right mind would pay for this 😭 #fypシ #fyp #vtuber #monkeycoveringeyesemojithanks

♬ original sound - splatet.v2

A stiffly animated karaoke performance from Thai VTuber Dacapo went viral on TikTok this week due to a theatrical moment when his (virtual) eyes emerged from behind a sheaf of anime hair, prompting Beatlemania screams from a live crowd. On TikTok, this legitimately funny clip was subjected to both pretty spot-on parodies and a seemingly endless stream of “people paid 300 dollars to see this!!” comments. The latter wasn’t true: it was a free concert at a big cosplay event that offered a three-day pass for $9. (The generally supportive vibes at this kind of cosplayers-get-in-free festival may be why the crowd went so nuts in the clip.)

A bunch of VTubers sprang to Dacapo’s defense, including Twitch titan Ironmouse, who complimented his singing voice. Indie VTuber Kenji joined in on the side of the TikTok “cyberbullies” (“I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t funny bro”) and was met with racism and “the anime bartender will remember this”-style responses. In the ensuing stan scuffles, charges of “making fun of virtual avatars” were somehow equated with “spreading hate,” but there was some interesting discussion of the differences between simpler live2D models like Dacapo’s and the full-body 3D models that big VTubers use for performances. More broadly, it was a reminder of the scale of VTuber fandoms, whose intense attachment to the giant rosters of Hololive and Nijisanji stars usually stays within their own fans-only corners of the internet.

4. Awakening a dormant F.E.A.R.

Trepang2 is the latest FPS to channel a growing collective nostalgia for the shooters of yesteryear, drawing from mid-2000s horror shooters — namely, 2005's F.E.A.R.. Just as in F.E.A.R., players spend the game muscling their way through the darkened corridors of a dystopian hellhole, a journey punctuated by tense firefights with AI enemies who adapt to your tactics in real-time. F.E.A.R.-inspired "reflex time" (aka "bullet time") is a prominent feature of the game's combat, recalling the slo-mo flourishes of games like Max Payne and Stranglehold.

We're a few years deep into a "retro shooters" revival that can be traced back to the release of nu-boomer shooter pioneers DUSK and Ion Fury, only now players are pining for the shooters of the 2000s instead of the '90s. Selaco, for example, also borrows from F.E.A.R. but runs on GZDoom, letting sophisticated F.E.A.R.-like AI enemies run amok across chunky DOOM-like levels. El Paso, Elsewhere is another tribute to the 2000s, borrowing Max Payne's slo-mo dives and neo-noir setting.

5. Pokemon Sleep is exactly what you think it is

Pokemon Sleep is an upcoming Pokemon-themed sleep tracking app that lets users monitor their sleep behavior alongside soothing images of drowsy Charmanders and unconscious Slowpokes. The app anchors your sleep-tracking regimen to a narrative about researching and collecting Pokemon "sleep styles" while raising a Snorlax, incentivizing you to complete nightly logins. No other peripherals are required; once it's released later this month, all users need to do is download the app to their phone and stick it somewhere near their pillow.

In some ways, Pokemon Sleep represents a culmination of the Pokemon brand's recent experiments in deviating from their tried-and-true formulas. Pokemon Sword and Shield, Pokemon Legends Arceus, and Pokemon Scarlet and Violet introduced features like camping, picnicking, and open-world exploration, broadening the ways in which players can interact with Pokemon outside of combat. Positive reception has proven that the Pokemon player of today cares less about battling and more about spending quality time with their digital, animated Pokemon plushes. Pokemon Sleep is a simple, low-effort way to do just that.

6. Viral Baldur’s Gate 3 clip is an earned-impression bonanza

This clip from the upcoming RPG Baldur's Gate 3 (mild warning for non-graphic bestiality) sparked a variety of reactions when it went viral on Twitter, ranging from enthusiastic approval to moral disgust. For any not in the know, Baldur's Gate is an iconic RPG franchise that brought open-ended, Dungeons and Dragons-style worldbuilding and character development to PCs in the late '90s and early 2000s. The video consists of footage from a public gameplay demonstration guided by an in-person audience; an auditorium of panel attendees essentially voted for this bear-druid sex scene by navigating through a series of branching dialogue trees.

Many Twitter users cringed not at the clip's bestiality but at the jokes, which they characterized as "Reddit humor." But the longer video from which the clip was pulled captures a widely positive reaction to the gameplay they showcased at the event, and there's scant mention of "the bear scene" in YouTube's comment section. Though it might’ve provoked different reactions, the clip’s virality represents a feat of organic marketing, boosting its signal to players who align with its sense of humor and enjoy its DnD structure.

7. AI is improving accessibility features

To the layman, AI may appear to be good for nothing except creating novelty covers and fake search results; but periodically, someone who knows what “tokenization” means reminds us that AI is radically transforming software. This week that reminder came from Wired’s Geoffrey Bunting, who wrote about how “explicitly assistive implementations” of machine learning “can contribute to a gaming landscape that encompasses a wider spectrum of players.” The focus of the story is on Google’s GameFace — which maps players’ head and face movements to mouse movements — but it also touches on real-time text-to-speech and the possibility of an adaptable “accessibility framework” that could be injected into a variety of games.

8. Endgame is a feast of survival-game jank

Endgame: Road to Salvation is a post-apocalyptic crafting/shooting/vehicle customization/caravan management game that’s been made with love but also broken in just about every way a survival game could possibly break. It has a 97% positive review average on Steam from about 90 deeply untrustworthy players, many of whom seem to have learned about it from the oddball variety streamer Tomato. Endgame is hard to recommend to anyone who’s not a streamer or the host of a “bad game night” event: the crafting menus are like one big spreadsheet with clickable cells; Gauntlet-style sacks of gold stand in for lootable objects ranging from leaves to energy drinks; enemies flop bonelessly to the ground or sail upwards in DMC bullet juggles; the game invites you to “butcher nearby corpse” when you pass any dead body.

But you do feel a rush of pure American power every time you sprint to a car and mash Z to turn the key, then swerve out onto the highway and leave all the crafter crud and yawping demons in the dust. There is such an obvious need for a vehicle-centric survival game in this mold that the bare idea of it gives Endgame some juice. It feels like a rough demo that some kind of publisher A&R man needs to discover and fund; or, as one reviewer said, like an Xbox Live Arcade game born 15 years late.

Chum Box

  • The Drift recently skewered pop mega-producer Jack Antonoff in a piece that thoroughly dissects his journey through the industry. It characterizes one of Antonoff's common “modes” as "retro maximalism," which involves "stripping not only ’80s arena rock but also 2000s indie rock — the yelping vocals of a Modest Mouse, the 'surfy' guitars of a Real Estate — for only their most melodramatic parts."
  • This PC Gamer tweet about Diablo IV made the rounds this week as users eagerly dunked on the game's convoluted and arcane rewards system, but few seemed to notice that the prose is all make-believe; in other words, there unfortunately aren't "Wound Imps" or "Malfeasance Tokens" in Diablo IV.
  • The official Avatar account piped up to remind everyone that “tìtstew” means “courage” in Na’vi, then deleted their tweet for reasons no one can guess.
  • Programmer Robert Shenton made a version of SkiFree where you’re the yeti.
  • A guy who bought a used Corvette found out on Reddit that its previous owner was internet-famous bodybuilder Rich Piana.
  • JPEGMafia and Danny Brown’s Scaring the Hoes — a cantankerous meeting of two explosive personalities — got a four-song “DLC Pack” on Tuesday.
  • Limited Run Games announced a slew of projects at their LRG3 event, and several were distinctly YouTuber-friendly. That included a 4K remaster of the infamous Full Motion Slideshow title Plumbers Don’t Wear Ties and a wild-looking spiritual successor to the CD-i Zelda games featuring their original voice actors.

That’s it for this week. We'll be performing a slo-mo dive into next week.