Exit, pursued by a nugget

Also: cartoon chaos, surreal home decor, and music for dogs.

Exit, pursued by a nugget
via the Cacowards.

This week we're talking about cartoon chaos, surreal home decor, and music for dogs.

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The 13-year project to remaster a PS1 oddity

Progress on a fan-made revamp of the psychedelic PS1 game LSD: Dream Emulator is nearing a significant milestone: its 0.3 release, which will add weather and modding tools. If this project sounds vaguely familiar to you, that’s because it’s been in the works since 2011 (when its creator was 14) and was written up by a bunch of gaming outlets in the mid-2010s. The developer, Figglewatts, wrote a cool dev diary about his progress over the last decade-plus. 

It’s crazy that someone has literally grown up remastering LSD, but it’s also a reminder of how much the game’s profile has changed. LSD is a famously open-ended experience about exploring a gallery of dreamscapes set to a freaky shape-shifting soundtrack; but until the early 2010s, it wasn’t particularly famous at all. For years after its 1998 release, it was a mythically obscure and expensive Japan-only disc. But a 2010 re-release (in the JP PSN store), widespread emulation, and the constant discussion of walking sims in the Dear Esther/Gone Home years raised its profile. In 2020, it got an English translation. Rather than dispelling the legend, the greater availability of the game led more players to discover its unnerving terrain, which was catnip to game bloggers and later to creepypasta/liminal space viewers. These days, it’s been watched by millions and it’s well-known enough to get its own iceberg clickbait, but it’s still rarely played. 

The king of surreal home decor TikTok


All the children in the city live in one room #fyp #homedecoration #tiktok #decoration #trending #viral

♬ original sound - balla

If there’s any required reading to check out on TikTok before it (maybe) gets banned, it’s the surreal home decor trend exemplified by an account named “balla.” They produce rudimentary 3D animations about interior design using what looks like Blender, a handful of premade assets, and muzak ripped straight from a YouTube ad. These videos open with a far-fetched problem — how to house 14 twins in the same room, how to prevent kids from making fun of your son for having a small bedroom, how to divide your bedroom in half if your husband won’t stop coming home drunk — before offering a practical solution, usually by introducing creative ways to save space. Despite the “product demo” tone, they’re not selling anything; instead, they’re narrated like DIY tutorials, claiming to capture recent trends in interior design. 

Though balla isn’t the most popular account churning out videos like this — similar accounts like housedesign77 and decoration_design have more followers — balla’s text-to-speech narration and complex scenarios send their videos into another plane of absurdity. It’s likely that this format is a descendent of the Chinese product demos that have pervaded TikTok over the past few years; videos that juxtapose comical scenarios with genuine advertisements for smart home gadgets and “As Seen on TV”-grade cleaning supplies have been a fixture of the app for a while now.

The chaos of the Pizza Tower-verse spreads across the internet

Fans of the slippery zoomer-core Wario-type platformer Pizza Tower have been feasting on a new free update that lets you play as The Noise, one of the original game’s antagonists. The new content also includes some wild tunes. Pizza Tower’s designer, McPig, released the update at the conclusion of a Twitch stream where he and friends beat the Doom megawad Ancient Aliens using characters from the Bring Your Own Class mod, a Cacoward-winning project from Pizza Tower Discord members that turns Doom into a cracked cartoon playground. Followers had been clamoring for McPig to release the Noise update since late 2023, and were climbing up the walls in chat throughout the stream (which was called “When we finish Ancient Aliens, we will release the The Noise update”). If none of that made sense to you, don’t worry; all you need to know is that the Pizza Tower fandom is very real and full of beans.   

“Brainrot” is an early contender for 2024’s word of the year


♬ original sound - ZAZA MAN

Google Trends backs this up: searches for “brainrot” shot up sometime at the beginning of this year. TikTok users have been using “brainrot” to describe the content landscape since late last year, often as a response to the proliferation of particularly grating memes like Skibidi toilet. More recently, brainrot has expanded to become an umbrella term for TikTok users’ worst habits; this skit, for instance, lumps Skibidi toilet and usage of the word “sigma” together with cosplayer mannerisms and pop song parody. Brainrot is commonly compared to corecore, an anti-trend consisting of frenetic video collages. It’s also a recursive topic, arguably begetting as much brainrot as the content it’s intended to criticize.

Like “irony poisoning” — Twitter’s term for the nihilistic attitude engendered by doom-scrolling — "brainrot" reflects users’ anxiety about the dynamics of the platform. It’s natural to compare the increasing pollution of your feed with spam and AI junk to an invasion of your own mind. But at the same time, youth culture has always been characterized as brainless or destructive, whether the youths were playing pinball or watching Tom Green (who recently made it onto the Criterion Channel). It seems unlikely that the Skibidi toilet generation will turn out that much worse than Generation Freddy Got Fingered.

Chill work sim meets cosmic dread in Voices of the Void

If Voices of the Void doesn’t blow up, something like it soon will. Currently available as a pre-alpha demo, it's a game about being the lone operator of a facility that processes anomalous signals from space. It's a little like Iron Lung and a lot like Signal Simulator, an earlier SETI-inspired game — it's all about being absorbed in your workspace, surrounded by screens and dials, then hearing an odd noise that snaps you back to reality. Like the hulking machines you look after, the game is both "creepy and comfy," as one creator said.

VotV's hybrid formula (work/survival/creeping unease/occasional hard jumpscare) feels potent. However, it's a little tough to recommend in its pre-alpha state: more than most games, it expects you to be kind of a self-starter who will explore the base on your own and learn on the job. It's also tough to tell its occasional physics freakouts apart from intentional scares. Nevertheless, it jumped to the top of the itch.io charts after its March 11 update, and it already has a host of fans who were sold on earlier versions.

The hottest documentary of the year is set in GTA Online

Currently sitting at 100% on Rotten Tomatoes and walking out of SXSW with the top documentary honors is Grand Theft Hamlet, an unlikely production of Shakespeare’s play filmed entirely in Los Santos. The project came about when a pair of Covid-unemployed actors — who also played GTA together — decided to stage the play in-game while in quarantine. One actor’s wife, a documentarian, realized the rehearsals and technical background of the production formed their own metanarrative. She turned hundreds of hours of in-game footage into an investigation of the potential of art in digital spaces and the continued vitality of the play itself. Actors did have to contend with random players attacking them during the performance; but, as the filmmakers told IndieWire, the chaos was probably closer to the atmosphere at the Globe Theatre than a modern stage would be.  

Gamer’s Roulette sends viewers to emulator hell

via dril.

Twitter comedians dril and Derek have started playing “Gamer’s Roulette” on their Twitch stream while listening to music for dogs. The program randomly picks a game from a list of 50,000 pre-2021 releases. The streamers then try to run it on the spot, usually by searching “[game] rom play in browser,” which works more often than you’d think. Exploring a giant cache of old roms is a magical, illicit gaming experience; it’s surprising that more streamers don’t try to recapture that thrill.  

Chum Box

  • Working conditions for moderators on the Quackity SMP Minecraft server have been condemned by a French union of digital workers (previously seen suing Ubisoft). 
  • Screenbound is an absurdly in-your-face take on the game-within-a-game concept: the 3D world around you is mirrored in 2D on a Game Boy that blocks most of your vision.
  • They tried to make a hidden object game out of Shutter Island back in 2010. Awkward photos of the actors appear during dialogue, but DiCaprio’s face is replaced with an impassive marshal’s badge.
  • The artist behind the iconic Animorphs covers has launched an Etsy shop that appears to be doing very well.
  • Lou Reed’s longtime partner, the artist Laurie Anderson, revealed that she's “addicted” to talking to an AI chatbot of the deceased musician.
  • Discord wants developers to make more apps and games embedded within the platform.
  • The most effective thriller of 2024 might be this TikTok of someone running from a nugget. (Here's the gmod map.)

Coming attractions

  • Julia Holter, Something in the Room She Moves (3/22)
  • Dragon’s Dogma 2 (3/22)
  • Rise of the Ronin (3/22)

That's it for this week. We'll be spending next week dodging spoilers.