The powerful roar of 30 men

Also: loremasters, rockers, and the Book of Yog.

The powerful roar of 30 men

EX is a research report about where culture is headed. You can learn more here. This week, we’re returning to rock and making Magikarp all over again.

1. Nicki Minaj fans construct a monstrous “Barbz Khalifa”

Please click through for a video (with audio) by @samaoxcx on Twitter.

In the pre-release fever before Nicki Minaj’s Pink Friday 2 drop, Barbz on Twitter uploaded a ton of Bing AI-generated images showing other celebs arriving in “Gag City” for the premiere. Some posts seemed intentionally deranged, but the hype was real, so the official Minaj account, other artists, and random cursed brands got on board. The whole event kind of exposed how flimsy Bing’s AI safety guardrails are: the names of celebs like Lana Del Rey are ceremoniously blocked on Bing Image Creator to prevent fake endorsements (among other things), but Bing itself promoted the creator of that Lana Del Rey image and celebrated a hashtag that was all about breaking this rule.

In the comments under #GagCity posts, many users were understandably frustrated by the Bing filters designed to prevent the activity that @Bing was promoting. One poster said that they used an old image made before Bing blocked Minaj’s name; another reposted an image they admitted was racist while protesting that they didn’t know how to make a better image themselves. There actually are still workarounds for protected celeb names, but they involve an ugly combo of old Bing mind tricks (describing a lookalike or clone in place of the celeb, like “not `Nicki ‘Nikki’ Minaj lookalike”) and using the less-filtered Designer model.

2. Every era of the internet gets the GTA trailer it deserves

The long-awaited GTA VI trailer, which adapts a bunch of real wild Floridian footage, was delivered unto the internet early on Monday and received with messianic fervor. The typically perfect music — a Tom Petty B-side — feels like the sort of effortless fit that someone had to work very hard to find. If you take a walk down GTA trailer memory lane (and judging from comments, many did), you’ll find a lot of other revealing choices:

Looking at the timeline, one can imagine a progression from twentysomething tryhardism to a happily stoned middle age, or from combative movie pasticheur to an obscenely successful hangout artist who makes more money than any of the guys they once wanted to be. But the music curation was always tops. GTA III’s aria gave the game more of a “real movie” veneer than its many crude in-game allusions to Scarface. GTA IV’s Koyaanisqatsi homage now seems like a slightly dated games-as-art statement, but it blew everyone away at the time. Paired with Ned Luke’s Goodfellas-aping voiceover, “Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake” helped GTA V suggest the Scorsese wavelength they’d been reaching for since casting Ray Liotta in Vice City. And in the GTA VI trailer, Tom Petty’s pre-internet rocker and the glimpses of a cinematic Bonnie & Clyde storyline serve a similar purpose — an old-world throughline to make sense of a chaotic digital world that must be all things to all people.

3. PC Music legends ditch pop for rock in new LP

When Thy Slaughter made their “live debut” in LA a few months ago, they took the stage as a three-piece band: A.G. Cook (PC Music’s label head) on bass, Finn Keane (aka EASYFUN, another legendary PC Music contributor) on guitar and vox, and an anonymous musician on drums. Though Keane and Cook had been performing DJ sets and releasing music under the “Thy Slaughter” moniker since 2014, this was their first time performing like this — away from their laptops, instruments strapped to their chests, grinning like teenagers who’d landed their first gig at the high school talent show. Last week, they released Soft Rock, an LP that celebrates the duo’s long and fruitful collaborative relationship.

True to its name, Soft Rock charts the common ground between detuned saw waves and pedal-powered fuzz, tracing a delicate finger over the jagged edges of every guitar solo and power chord stab. The record captures sonic themes that both musicians have explored in recent releases; earlier this year, EASYFUN released Acoustic and Electric, a diptych of EPs that draw inspiration from guitar-driven music, while A.G. Cook’s 2020 opus 7G featured finger-picked ballads and covers of songs by bands like The Strokes and Smashing Pumpkins.

As PC Music artists, both Cook and Keane have spent the past decade finding ways to make pop music feel subversive, injecting would-be top 40 hits with sounds plundered from genres like garage and gabber. With the label coming to a close, it feels fitting for the pair to turn their attention towards rock, a genre that’s as ripe for reinvention as pop.

4. The Day Before is plagued with ballooning NPCs

Image credit: @aLexBY11 on Twitter

The Day Before’s tumultuous journey to Steam has finally ended with a disastrous launch. The “we have Last of Us at home” of multiplayer zombie games first turned heads with a flashy trailer in early 2021, but fans grew wary of developer Fntastic’s lack of updates and reliance on unpaid volunteers. The game’s status as one of Steam’s most-wishlisted titles also made it a reliable subject for “Kickstarter scam/disaster” YouTubers, who made many videos doubting that it would ever come out. But after struggling with a calendar app company over a trademark dispute and weathering accusations of plagiarism, the game finally released on Thursday, only to be met with overwhelmingly negative Steam reviews. Aside from connectivity issues and constant crashing, the most egregious issue seems to involve massive NPCs.

5. Did “Californication” predict the endless runner genre?

A viral tweet from Low Poly Depression reminded everyone about the fake game from the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ 1999 “Californication” music video, which shows Anthony Kiedis QTE-ing his way through some kind of Yakuza-style chase in L.A., Flea dashing through a Lorax scenario, and the whole band jogging around while the San Andreas Fault ruptures. It was made by future Little Miss Sunshine directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, who seem to have anticipated the endless runner genre.

Unlike many fake games used as background in other media — Desert Duty in 13 Reasons Why, that hunting game they play with the controllers turned off in Dragged Across Concrete — “Californication” gives you a sense that its makers were actually amped about gaming, and about Crazy Taxi in particular. As Low Poly points out, the concept was re-translated into a playable game in 2022 by indie developer Miquel Camps Orteza, putting it in the company of other fake-to-real titles like Kevin Costner’s Waterworld and Yeah! You Want “Those Games,” Right? So Here You Go! Now, Let’s See You Clear Them!. Due to obvious licensing issues, you have to play the song “Californication” manually in another tab as you play Californication; alternatively, you can set it to “Abracadabralifornia.”

Chum Box

  • Some mad scientist employed by second-rung anime gacha game Book of Yog came up with a novel “centaur” character design that is too horny to display in this family email. Some have speculated that the artist was inspired by the anatomical errors made by AI image generators; however it was conceived, it is not soon forgotten.
  • Highly anticipated multiplayer FPS The Finals was surprise-dropped during The Game Awards and can be played for free now. The competitive FPS scene is full of deeply entrenched live service games, so this is the biggest shakeup it’s seen in a while.
  • Sonic Dream Team appears to be the crisp throwback 3D platformer that Sonic nation has been pining for — but, in a cruel twist of fate, it’s a mobile game exclusive to Apple Arcade.
  • Stoned Lore is a Drunk History-style series where Fallout creator TKs-Mantis attempts to recap game plots while under the influence of the devil’s lettuce.
  • Retro deep diver MandaloreGaming made a video raving about years-in-the-making Thief mod The Black Parade, which he calls one of his favorite games of the year.
  • On 4chan, some users still derisively refer to Nintendo games as “bing bing wahoo” after the noises that Mario makes.
  • Ready to feel old? It’s been five years since a man demonstrated how to make Magikarp in the Soulcalibur VI character creator.
  • u m a m i, the artist behind a series of staggering soup animations, is back with Tyson’s Law.
  • FUMES is a Mad Max x Vigilante 8 vehicle combat throwback with sandy pixelated retro graphics and springy “rally-style” arcade driving. Demo here.
  • MySpace clone SpaceHey is still going strong at over 800,000 members. Scene kid avatars and usernames bookended by “xXx” abound on the network, which launched in 2020.
  • The powerful roar of 30 men letting go under a waterfall.

That’s it for this week. Next week, we’ll be getting as excited as Anthony Kiedis thinking about a new Crazy Taxi game.