Crossing over to the Cars dimension

Also: Skibidi Todd, Bloodborne Kart, and a gacha apocalypse.

Crossing over to the Cars dimension

EX is a research report about where culture is headed. You can learn more here. This week: we’re in the house like carpet, hanging with the Basement Brothers and Hollywood phonies.

1. Paratopic devs return with a dreamlike “puzzle apocalypse”

The developers of 2018’s critically acclaimed Paratopic describe their upcoming game as an "ADVENTURE GACHA PUZZLE APOCALYPSE VISUAL NOVEL SIMULATION HORROR TRIP," and somehow all of that is true. The new demo for Roman Sands RE:Build tests your grasp of point-and-click adventure logic and your speedrunning instincts as you solve puzzles for a quartet of elderly, rich, thoroughly abominable hotel guests. The demo's strongest element is its surreal atmosphere — characters address you in a detached stupor, the apocalypse looms, and the game's roulette wheel of graphic styles makes a spectacle out of every in-game notification. Jessica Harvey, one of developer Arbitrary Metric's co-founders, mentioned that the writing of playwright Eugène Ionesco influenced the game's design.

In some ways, the game comes as a surprise. While Paratopic was prescient in its use of PSX horror-inspired textures and lighting — both Puppet Combo's influential Murder House and the first Haunted PS1 Demo Disc compilation followed it in 2020, for instance — Roman Sands RE:Build is sleeker and higher-fidelity. Its visual palette is more esoteric, too, using a wide range of fonts and motion graphics to mirror the game's patchwork mechanical structure.

Yet much like Paratopic, Romans Sands RE:Build uses the experiential language of games to convey surreal cinematic ideas, and Arbitrary Metric's attention to pacing is as keen as ever. Paratopic relied on jump-cuts and transformative lighting effects; Roman Sands RE:Build, on the other hand, evokes a dreamlike logic by contorting common UI/UX conventions, ensuring every element of the experience contributes to the seasick, amnesiac flow of the game.

2. Nobody plays dumber than this fake podcast

Built By Gamers is a fake gaming podcast that’s been babbling rent-free in the minds of Twitter users for months. In the clips, which are often shared by others with notes like “me after the lobotomy” or “nothing they’re talking about exists on any wiki,” one of the hosts carefully explains something about Skibidi Toilet or Five Nights At Freddy’s to the other guy, often making a string of absurd grammatical or factual errors that pass unnoticed. The curious and emphatic delivery of every short phrase makes it feel like you’ve switched TikTok into Simple English mode, and the scripts’ casual commingling of game canon, fan mods, and actual nonsense gives the impression that any combination of words might be equally worth saying to your dazed but interested friend.

It’s a powerful content strategy: kids watch it because it entrances them, adults share it because it annoys them. And the creators know exactly what they’re doing. Built By Gamers appears to be a defunct esports org whose cofounder pivoted to fake podcasting; they’re now represented by the agency Click Media. Todd “Gpet” Searle (aka “Skibidi Todd”), one of the two hosts, is listed as Built By Gamers CEO on an old Liquipedia page for its Valorant team. (This links to a lot of deleted tweets from an abandoned @builtbygamers Twitter account, which seems to have been reclaimed by a fan of their recent meme content.) The other host, Peter “OvrPay”, has many older videos that seem Shorts-optimized but relatively sane; it clearly took time to develop the unmistakable cadence of a Built By Gamers joint.

3. Nyan cat posts “FREE PALESTINE” after 12-year hiatus

Earlier this week, the official "nyan cat" YouTube channel broke a 12-year silence to post a video in support of Palestine. The video, simply entitled "meow," opens with a few seconds of nyan cat before cutting away to flaming text that alternates between phrases like "FREE PALESTINE" and "NO TO GENOCIDE." The channel description now links to PCRF, a humanitarian organization who provides medical relief for Gazan children. Even though commenters generally support the gesture, it's clear the video came out of left field for most. After all, the last time nyan cat resurfaced in the public consciousness was when its creator sold the piece off as an NFT in 2021.

It turns out that the original nyan cat channel changed owners sometime after 2019. It was gifted to a pair of former DSA members who had produced a viral campaign ad for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in 2018; they leveraged nyan cat's 125k YouTube subscribers to launch and promote Means TV, a leftist network of webshows that bills itself as "the world's first worker-owned streaming service." (Though Means TV has since migrated to their own channel, it appears this was always part of the plan.) It's safe to assume that they were behind the nyan cat channel's last video, especially since they've hosted journalism covering the Palestinian resistance in the past.

4. Enter the Bloodborne Kart Grand Prix next year

Bloodborne Kart is really happening: it just got an announcement trailer and is set to release on January 31st next year. It's a fanmade racing and vehicular combat game set in the world of FromSoftware's Bloodborne, utilizing the same PSX-inspired aesthetic that its developers honed in 2022's surprise hit Bloodborne PSX. It's as faithful to its source material as a racing fangame could be: Gehrman races in his wheelchair, for example, while Micolash runs on foot in reference to the boss fight you spend chasing him around. Lilith Walther, the game's lead developer, has shared many updates on the team's progress through both tweets and streams, demonstrating just how complex and stylish the game's systems are. From features like local split-screen multiplayer to its litany of game modes and maps, Bloodborne Kart seems to possess an impressive amount of depth for a fangame that can't make a profit.

As Walther and co. note in their press materials, the "Bloodborne Kart" concept began as a 2017 meme depicting a fake Game Awards trailer for the game. Over time, fans on sites like Reddit committed themselves to "yes, and"-ing the gag, fabricating screenshots and posting original artwork. Walther's team describes Bloodborne Kart as the culmination of a "6 year communal art project," a testament to the sheer volume of shitposts that helped bring the game to life.

5. Big Practical Effects is lying to you

Special effects guys have been having a rough time on the internet lately, whether they’re making unpleasant AI animations or just trying to help Stanley Kubrick fix The Shining. But a video from brand-new SFX channel The Movie Rabbit Hole tries something far more relatable: exposing the lies of a pack of Hollywood phonies. While many blockbusters now play up their use of practical effects, they apparently still use a ton of CGI, but sweep it under the rug in official behind-the-scenes features and interviews. The video goes to some lengths to get receipts on the use of CG in films like Top Gun: Maverick — footage from Oscars submissions, the YouTube channel of the movie’s editor, and issues of VFX Voice — as well as collecting many clips of Tom Cruise stretching the truth about his beautiful jets.

6. The new Call of Duty title is an SEO dirty bomb

This year’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare III has been widely panned for being short, stupid, and padded with arena-style missions that feel half-assed. But the game also practices a form of next-generation information warfare that has obscured this critical verdict. By reusing the name of 2011’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, it has greatly confused both search engines (which often rank the older title first) and aggrieved CoD players, who have been writing tons of one-star reviews for the wrong game.

You can’t blame them — the signage of the modern web is directing them to the wrong station. Google’s featured snippet for “Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3 review” shows the logo of the old game, critics’ scores for the new game, and user reviews dating back years. The most egregious offender is Metacritic, which cooks up the critical consensus meta-score cited throughout the industry, but whose search function, indexes, and homepage carousels are often completely busted. (Its “most popular” games tab suggests that today’s hottest titles are 2002’s Operation Flashpoint and 2003’s Arc the Lad: Twilight of the Spirits.) A search for “Modern Warfare 3” on their site somehow lists 17 other CoD games (starting with MW3 2011) before the 2023 one. It’s like they don’t even care what you think!

YouTube Thumbnail of the Week

swimming with grunts™ - [Atmospheric Drum and Bass Mix]” by FIREWALKER

Chum Box

That’s it for this week. We’ll be spending next week searching for the aquarium exit in the Backrooms.