[Interview] Five: Brian Altano

Five questions, five answers. Simple as that.
Author: Marc N. Kleinhenz
Published: February 1, 2011

TotalPlayStation's Five interview series takes the brightest minds from the journalistic and game development worlds and asks them to expound on their personal benchmarks of the videogame industry, exploring the crucial components of narrative, music, gameplay, graphics, and character.

Not much is known about the highly secretive – and clearly special – Brian Altano. He has worked as a features editor at IGN and its sister site, GameSpy (where he is a regular member on the Debriefings podcast), for the past two years; before that, in his own words, he’s “been writing and illustrating jaded comedy shit for the internets since 2003. It’s a living.”

Indeed, it is – as is being a “friendly neighborhood alcoholic,” which is also on his resume.

Go figure.

[Plot Point/Character Beat/Story Twist]
Roger Ebert hates videogames because videogames, as they exist today, will never have a Roger Ebert. Most of this industry's attempts at making their stories compelling, from grandiose and bloated summer blockbusters to snarky, minimalistic independent garbage, are rarely worth recanting by anyone with any serious sense of communicative integrity. Games either need to take themselves more seriously or just give up and admit that they are toys, and nobody wants to read a 3,000-word diatribe about the decadently balanced merits of Crocodile Mile, Hungry Hungry Hippos, or Teddy Ruxpin, although the warbled sound that a battery-depleted teddy bear with a cassette-deck heart makes as he narrates his own eulogy can speak metaphorical eons on the demise of our society and our reliance on technology.

That being said, let's pretend to negate all that so I can wax jaunty prose all over this lovely little medium of ours for a hot minute.


[Song and/or Soundtrack]
I often laugh at the type of person who owns and collects videogame soundtracks and listens to them regularly in their homes or during transit. The thought of dimming the lights and retiring to my bedroom with a glass of wine to serenade a woman as the ethereal blips of Koji Kondo's "Yoshi's Theme" drift through the Bose is something of pure terror. If you own a boxed set of Final Fantasy symphonies, we're not friends anymore.

In terms of enjoying a game soundtrack within the context of actually playing the game it was meant to be paired with, though, nothing fucks with Killer7's soundtrack. Nobody played that game because it was wildly original and had fantastic, twisted characters interacting in a brilliantly sadistic world, and most gamers would rather just kill Nazis and German shepherds, but, shit, play it if you have the means. The story centers around a violent and patently senile old man who conjures seven different personalities, all of which happen to be meticulously violent assassins. The soundtrack obviously matches the pacing of these characters by being both perfectly articulated and completely all over the place. Amidst this deranged musical sequence is a little gem called “Blackburn,” a laid back, smoked out, dusty piano-driven tune that sounds like something Portishead would've accidentally recorded at four in the morning, before Beth Gibbons could fully seize it as the perfect opportunity to savagely emote about her jilted love life. It sort of just pulses and spins in the same haunted way that the stage it accompanies in the game does, but it's no "guttural agro noise that plays every time you kill a Japanese werewolf in Black Ops," so what the fuck do I know?

[Gameplay Mechanic]
Dying. I hate games where I can't die. Every time I die in a game, I get to go live again in real life. I get to pretend that a Goomba watched me unfurl into the ether as he stood there contemplating victory before realizing that he's a pawn in a monotheistic dictatorship run by a rape dragon. In a society that will never accept him. In a world where his fellow compatriots can fly, breathe fire, swim above water, and ride clouds. And he doesn't even have hands. All he can do is walk. Back and forth. Forever. So I like to die in videogames because it keeps me away from them until I'm frustrated enough to be ready to return to them. Then I can just kill that worthless Goomba and not have to contemplate his would-be shitty life of worthless servitude and worthlessness.

[Graphical Effect]
As evidenced seconds earlier, my favorite graphical effect is the part in my childhood where Nintendo showed me something cool in 1985 and then convinced me to repurchase that exact same thing at least once a year for the rest of my life without ever changing it. This year will probably be the 270th time I'll buy Super Mario Bros. again, and, like taxes – fuck it – I'll do them and hope I can get something menial in return. Call it developer hypnotism, or don't, because that's a pretty clunky title. Then again, it can't be worse than radial dynamic environment blur, real-time perpetual object illumination, projected texture vagination, or anything else your average interviewee regurgitates right here.

The timorous-yet-ultimately-tawdry delivery of Inky the blue ghost's performance in the labyrinthine thriller Pac-Man has always stood head and shoulders above the competition for me. Many critics will laud Blinky as the real showstopper, what with his brazen, killer wit and unrepentant lust for the blood of our rotund protagonist, but Inky is a sleeper cell. One may expect to die at the hands of a focused murderer, but death comes from where you least expect it. In Pac-Man, it's a dejected cobalt apparition of doom. Inky was a pussy, but pussy can fuck a man up.

[The Five Archive]

Douglass C. Perry

Javi Rodriguez

Paul Semel

Andre Segers

Chris Roper

Dave Zdyrko

Micah Seff

Sam Bishop

Crispin Boyer

Rus McLaughlin

Chris Dahlen