Interview with Tommi Hartikainen, Composer/Sound Designer of Alien: Blackout

Twentieth Century Fox/D3 GO!

Twentieth Century Fox/D3 GO!

If you’ve played Alien: Blackout, you’ve undoubtedly noticed how hauntingly effective the soundscape is. Between the eerily beautiful music and the carefully crafted sound effects, Blackout has made an impact as a true sonic experience. We reached out to Rival Games’ Tommi Hartikainen, the lead composer and sound designer, to learn more about why this thing is such a joy to listen to.

How did you come to be lead composer/sound designer on a mobile game title? What about your background—in music, in design/mixing, etc.—made you well suited to this sort of project?

One can find a differing demographic of players altogether on mobile platform, and as the control mechanisms and the device itself are so different from traditional consoles or PC, it also creates new interesting possibilities for game design. We were excited to make the Alien franchise accessible to new players and put a new spin on it.

My background is quite colourful. I've worked as a [deep breath] game designer, writer, sound designer, musician, band leader, recording-, mixing- and mastering engineer, music producer, arranger, composer, dialogue editor, re-recording mixer, foley artist, field recordist … and my latest title of audio director just stuck to me in a good way. Having a firm grasp of most of these jobs is a must, and the experience I have acquired from music production, live music, installations, theatre, film and gaming is a substantial bonus.

Were you a fan of Alien before this? What’s your history with the franchise?

I was just a kid when I first saw Alien and was immediately enthralled and inspired by it. It is still most definitely one of my all-time favourite films. I have watched all the movies multiple times and still find new details and qualities I have not noticed before. The first time I was personally pitted against a xenomorph was either the really fine Alien 3 on Sega Mega Drive (as the Genesis was known outside North America), or the acquired taste that was Alien on Commodore 64. I do think I was late to that particular party.

What was the creative process like during Alien: Blackout? Were priorities, aesthetics, etc. laid out clearly from the beginning? Or was it more iterative?

Yes, we had quite clear goals, references and inspirations from the get-go. All departments did get to define their own vision with those goals in mind. We were aiming to capture—above all else—the atmosphere of the first movie, while incorporating that into what we do. We wanted to stay true to the franchise, but also make the game our own.

What are some of the challenges specific to designing for a mobile context? Did you find them creatively liberating?

Technical challenges are extremely motivating. Working with or around limitations, and to make best use of unique possibilities mobile devices offer can be very inspiring. The mobile platform presents specific challenges most notably with available hard drive space and to a lesser degree with processing power. Taking into account the humble default device speakers some choose to play on influences mixing greatly, as it must be taken into account.

The musical score is deeply evocative: string-driven and melodic, but somehow disembodied. It’s relatively static, harmonically—there are lots of pedal points, etc.—but it never feels like it’s actually at rest. It’s a wonderful sonic texture. What lead you in that compositional direction?

Heartwarming to find people enjoying the soundtrack! The hook with the music used in-game was that I wanted it to react, on more of a subconscious level, to the game events unfolding. It had to establish the underlying mood while still staying musically relevant, yet not forcing itself to the forefront. The layering- functionality presented its own challenges, especially to the development of themes and sound envelopes, so to speak. I wanted to reflect the feel and specific qualities of the films while...quite literally bringing something of my own to the mix. The songs used in the static set-pieces are a bit more straightforward in nature and they were in a position to afford growing more eventful, while still maintaining the atmosphere as top priority.

What are your favorite tools of the trade, musically speaking? In terms of notation software, digital audio workstations, mastering software, MIDI devices, etc?

I’d hate to bore you to tears, but I probably will, as I’m using the industry standard (latest) Pro Tools as my DAW and only recently hopped from Finale to Sibelius as notation software. Nothing out of the ordinary. I do maintain a colourful collection of gear from esoteric, weird vintage stuff to common studio mainstays. Microphones, preamps, rack gear, alternative monitoring, synths, midi controllers, drums/percussion, a variety of stringed instruments and their assorted stomp boxes, amps and cabs. I did recently switch to EUCON-based Avid Artist series in DAW controllers as a fun opportunity turned up. I have always found tactile, intuitive and ergonomic tools downright essential. Especially in the high-speed world of game audio. Mostly yawn-tier stuff, though, as I feel there’s a place somewhere for every single piece of audio gear ever made.

What’s your favorite score from the Alien series?

I’m very much into a lot of them for completely different reasons, but should I have to pick one, I’d go with the original Alien by Jerry Goldsmith. Groundbreaking, evocative soundtrack.

What came first: the score or the sound mix? Did they influence each other at all?

That’s a really good question! I started creating the soundscape for the game by recording, designing and mixing the basic ambiences of the space station, the humms and dronings, and the metal sounds that are very prominent throughout the game. They had to cut deep. The music started to take a sonic shape around that and yes, there is a deep level of reciprocation and a division of certain molds between the sound effects, voice overs and the soundtrack.

An added challenge was incorporating the original sounds we received for use from the franchise’s archives. Mostly xenomorph- voices to stay as true as possible to the world of Alien, but also some foley for it and some specific environmental sounds to take some load off from the tight schedule. I had to painstakingly compile, extensively layer, re-edit and re-mix these to form the cohesive aural picture I had tried to envision. So no, there was absolutely no flipping of assets, here.

One of the first things you notice when playing Alien: Blackout is how directional the sound is. It seems like many games—even blockbuster releases—treat sound more as set-dressing than essential for gameplay. When sound DEFINES the gameplay experience—as it does in Alien: Blackout—does that influence your creative decisions?

Short answer: totally. Long, rambling answer: The gameplay is number one. Everything has to facilitate, deepen or support intuitive gameplay. Soundwise, voice overs are always number one. Nothing carries as much emotion and creates such immersion as the human voice. Voice mixing, I feel, is one of my strong suits, so that played in our favour here, luckily.

We did have lines of dialogue between direction, game-, graphic- and audio design open non-stop throughout development, even though me having to spend so much time behind closed doors in the studio sure creates little bumps along that road, at times. I think we managed practically everything I set out to say with sound, here, and a reasonable compromise with the rest. Our audio programmer, Ville Ojala, did swimmingly incorporate my unfathomable jargon and wild ideas into concrete events in the game. He also took part in sound design when doing so, as it should be. Audio programming is a vastly underappreciated discipline.

Are most of the sounds created digitally? Or did you record foley?

From the sound effects I created, there are only a handful of sounds of digital origin. I did do a whole heaping bunch of metal sounds in particular, but also ventilation sounds, fans, radiators, electronic devices, switches, whistles and such.

What was your favorite sound to create, and how did you go about making it?

Having to choose just a single sound, I’d go with one of the very specific metal tones I did. One that was bendy, punchy, crackly, short and percussive. While the most comedic one to make, it was used in a most unamusing situation in-game. Campfire-mode, engage! My family got a new microwave oven, and while I was heaving the metal monstrosity from the car to our place, I happened to apply pressure on the surface plate and it made this glorious bouncy sound with a very pleasing resonance that followed. Instead of the kitchen, I carried it to the studio, close-miked it in a small, dry room with a 421 and...I think it was an 47- replica I turned out liking the most for some reason, recorded a few appropriate elbow-presses on the thing, edited the best few takes, threw on a whole slew of processing, et voila! I had yet again managed to both act and look incredibly silly at work.

LISTENER QUESTION (from Mike Andrews): What inspired you to create an original soundtrack to Blackout (without relying on preexisting cues and motifs from the films)? Were you given complete creative freedom?

I thought we’d be able to get the best of both worlds with an original soundtrack that’s inspired by—but not in debt to—the films. The xenomorph voices I re-mixed from the originals do plenty on their own to establish a direct auditory association with the franchise feel at a precise key point, in my view at least. I consider a cohesive, uniform approach most often the best way to approach audio, and having to borrow all music from the films clearly seemed more like a hindrance than a selling-point in favour of the game.

For all the new fans you’ve gained via your work on Blackout: where can we find more of your work?

We here at Rival Games are always working to create more quality entertainment, so my advice would be to stay tuned!

RISE: IS SENTIENCE THE KEY TO BEING HUMAN?

RISE is a concept short film starring the late and brilliant Anton Yelchin, Rufus Sewell, produced and directed by David Karlak. Lifting basic elements of the story from Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, RISE chronicles the plight of sentient robots and their will to live and exist in society among their human makers. This concept film is/was part of a larger campaign to get the film made. I hadn’t heard about it until today.

There’s a sequence in the film that’s almost a direct homage or recreation from a scene in the Animatrix. While the fate of Rise is up in the air, upon first look, this short film is not to be missed.

-Jaime for Shoulder of Orion: The Blade Runner Podcast

@SoundGoAsunder

Jaimeprater@gmail.com

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Alien: Blackout - The Perfect Organism Review

by Patrick Greene

Twentieth Century Fox/D3 GO!

Twentieth Century Fox/D3 GO!

For our full audio review, click here!

When Alien: Blackout was announced just days into 2019, it was met with a hurricane of bad publicity. And anyone even tangentially familiar with the gaming industry over the past few years could understand why: we’ve been told time and again that the future of gaming is mobile, and anyone who’s tried to play anything remotely “serious” on a mobile phone can tell you it’s almost always an awful experience.

I, too, cringed during the BlizzCon announcement about Diablo Immortal. I, too, boycotted Star Wars Battlefront II because the loot crate system was so clearly a cash grab.

I, too, desperately wished for a sequel to Alien: Isolation, which is not only the best Alien game ever made but one of the great survival horror experiences of our era.

And I, too, felt my stomach sink when the new Amanda Ripley game Fox had been teasing turned out to be a mobile experience looking for all the world like a Five Nights at Freddy’s clone.

But you know what? I’ve been playing Alien: Blackout in beta for nearly two weeks, and I want to go ahead and give you the bottom line right up front: it is available today for purchase on the Apple App Store, Google Play, and the Amazon Appstore, and we wholeheartedly recommend you buy it.

It’s mobile for a reason

Getting the obvious out of the way—it’s cheaper to develop a mobile game, and Fox is already deep into production on the Cold Iron Studios shooter coming later this year to PC and consoles—there are actual storytelling reasons for this being a mobile experience.

In Blackout, as in Isolation, you play the role of Amanda Ripley. Having survived the nightmare aboard the Sevastopol, Amanda has been hiding in the vent systems of the abandoned Mendel space station (a Weyland-Yutani vessel). She’s hiding, of course, because she’s not entirely alone: there’s a xenomorph on board. She’s been able to survive this far by patching into security systems with a rudimentary, handheld terminal.

And here’s the first stroke of genius in Blackout: because we play entirely from a first-person perspective, and interact with our environment almost entirely through this terminal—which exists in real game space, and can be put down and picked up—our mobile devices start feeling like the terminal itself. That simple design choice engages our imagination: turn the lights off, put some good headphones on, and you’ll forget you’re playing a “mobile” game at all.

More on gameplay in a moment.

So does it “feel” like a mobile game? The answer, in my honest opinion, is not at all. There are zero microtransactions, and the developer has publicly stated that there will never be any. You aren’t incentivized to earn coins. There are no ads. You aren’t unlocking cool new hats for Amanda to wear.

It’s a completely immersive, in-universe experience from beginning to end. Even the menu designs, which are reminiscent of Alien: Isolation, feel thought-out. Minimalist, with a touch of cassette futurism.

You pay $4.99 USD once, and you get access to a full experience that I’ve personally played for more than ten hours and haven’t gotten bored of yet.

A little help from my … friends?

The game begins when a Weyland-Yutani ship carrying four crew members is forced to dock at the Mendel for supplies. Realizing this crew is her best bet for getting off the station, Amanda reaches out to them via the handheld unit. Without key components, the crew is stranded—so you quickly reach an agreement to help get the ship flight-ready in exchange for safe passage.

Luckily for the crew, Amanda is an engineer. She’s managed to restore power to sections of the ship using solar panels, but the panels only provide power for eight minutes before the system cuts out and you’re in a blackout.

Try to avoid that.

Most of the game is played via a map of whichever deck you’re trying to guide the crew through at any given time. From this map—which exists on your phone just like the overlay exists on Amanda’s portable unit—you can open and close certain doors; monitor patches of the deck via motion sensors; and scroll through a handful of security feeds. You can also check in with members of the crew, telling them to hurry up, hide, etc. You can set objectives for different crew members (which is often vital, given the ever-expanding objective lists and the consistent eight-minute cutoff). They’ll have to divide to conquer, but the second they divide things get much more complicated.

Twentieth Century Fox/D3 GO!

Twentieth Century Fox/D3 GO!

The xenomorph, which resembles our dear friend from Isolation (closely modeled on Big Chap), is genuinely terrifying. I still get a little chill when I pick him up on one of the security cameras—especially if that camera shows his tail thwipping up into a ceiling vent, where I’ll be forced to track him using nothing but my ears (all the while guiding the crew through their tasks).

And this brings me to the next little brilliant mechanic in the game: this entire time, Amanda is vulnerable. In order to use the handheld units, she has to patch in to emergency power reserves controlling door access. And to do that, she has to open the doors of whichever tunnel corridor (or room) she’s in. So in order to access the map—and to keep an eye on the crew and the Alien—Amanda has to leave herself totally vulnerable to a sneak attack.

When this happens—and it does, a lot—you typically have a matter of a second or two to figure out which direction the Alien is coming from and which door you need to close. This might not seem like much, but as the game goes on you find yourself SURROUNDED with open doors.

And as soon as you close the door, your terminal goes black. It’s been powered down. So then you’re in a situation where you have no idea where the Alien is, what your crew is up to, etc. All you can hear are distant noises of scuttling and screaming.

One of my favorite aspects of Isolation is the fact that you have to really earn your progress saves. Not only are save points far from one another, but the machines take time to operate. And you’re completely vulnerable during that process. It’s great, then, to see the developers of Blackout using that same idea in a mobile game. The terminal takes FOREVER (in reality only about two seconds) to power on again. But you are completely and utterly blind during that process. And when it’s back on, you have to race to play catch up or you will lose any idea of where the xenomorph is.

The key to advancing is keeping as many members of your crew alive as possible, and this is where I see real potential for replayability. Between my iPhone and my iPad, I have five different concurrent save files at different stages and with different crew members alive. It’s great fun to try switching up tactics—once you get a feel for how the Alien’s AI operates (it’s not as sophisticated as Isolation, but it’s quite good), you can start taking real chances. Opening and closing doors in different areas to draw attention towards regions where you’ve got a motion tracker running; telling one crew member to run into xeno-infested territory so another crew member can finish a time-sensitive task; creating Alien 3-esque channels to direct the Alien around to certain places where he’ll have fewer escape options; etc. I look forward to swapping strategies with you all. I think we’re going to have fun with this, doing speed runs etc. as we get better.

Twentieth Century Fox/D3 GO!

Twentieth Century Fox/D3 GO!

The final stages are honestly brutally difficult. I haven’t been able to keep more than one crew member alive going into the final level, and that’s made things extremely complicated. But also VERY fun. The stakes are increasingly high (you’ll know what I’m talking about when you get there), and the possibility of making fatal mistakes goes up quickly.

In other words: it’s a real game. You’re going to have to work at it.

The Devil in the details

One of the reasons Blackout doesn’t feel like a mobile game is the consistent attention to the production design. The sound design and the musical score are both top-notch (I would buy that soundtrack in a heartbeat). The orchestral score, composed for this project, is hauntingly evocative. If you play this without headphones on, you are going to be getting only a fraction of the full experience.

Because you’re trapped in a hole most of the time—and because the security cameras and motion sensors only give you direct monitoring capabilities for a fraction of any given map—you HAVE to use your ears to make it through. Seriously, crank up the volume. You’ll hear faint scraping sounds when the Alien’s in the ductwork; you’ll hear crew members breathe heavily when the Alien is close; you’ll hear the Mendel shuddering in the vastness of space. And you’ll hear the voice acting, which is absolutely triple-A quality. The characters are distinct, and their personalities shine through as the game progresses—making it especially fun to try beating it with different combinations of them.

And the graphics are just astounding for a mobile title. I’ve played via screen mirroring at length—casting from my iPhone to an Apple TV and a Chrome Stick—and I can’t get over how good it looks. It’s not Alien: Isolation: the Alien will occasionally change direction unnaturally, crew members’ mouths don’t move perceptibly when they interact, etc. But none of that really matters, because virtually everything you see is via a closed-circuit TV system. And when you see from Amanda’s first-person perspective, it’s extraordinarily high-quality. Textures, shading, etc. It looks like a console title.

Twentieth Century Fox/D3 GO!

Twentieth Century Fox/D3 GO!

Is it Five Nights at Ripley’s?

No. I get the comparison—and there are some direct mechanical similarities, in that security cameras play a major part and you’re vulnerable as the creature moves around—but they feel nothing alike. I enjoy FNaF to a degree. I’ll play it for ten, fifteen minutes. But Alien: Blackout is much more strategically deep, and SO much more immersive.

The verdict

After one day of playing Alien: Blackout, I was prepared to give it four out of five stars. I was blown away by how much fun I was having, but I was nagged by this constant thought of “Oh, but it’s not Isolation 2. At the end of the day, we’re getting this instead.”

But having played it at length, now, I am giving it five out of five. It stands on its own, and to enjoy it for what it is is to separate it from what it isn’t.

It isn’t a sequel to Alien: Isolation. I still hold out hope that we’ll see a sequel (or a side-story from Creative Assembly) someday, and maybe we will. But that’s not what this is.

This is Alien: Blackout, and it’s fucking awesome.

Go play it and see for yourself.

Rating: 5/5

ALIEN 4K Steel Book Releasing in April

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Specs below, courtesy of steelbookbluray.com

“2019 is the 40th Anniversary of Ridley Scott’s classic Alien, and on April 1st Fox are bringing us this 4K steelbook release. which will be available as a Zavvi exclusive.

Pre-orders will be on Monday February 4th, so ignore the ‘sold out’ notice before then.

Pre-order: Zavvi

Alien is the first movie of one of the most popular sagas in science fiction history, and introduces Sigourney Weaver as Ripley, the iron-willed woman destined to battle the galaxy’s ultimate creature. The terror begin when the crew of the spaceship Nostromo investigates a transmission from a desolate planet and makes a horrifying discovery – a life form that breeds within a human host. Now the crew must fight now only for its survival, but for the survival of all mankind.

The UHD has the following: 

Directors cut 2003:2003 Audio Commentary by Ridley Scott and the Cast and CrewTheatrical Version 19791999 Audio Commentary by Ridley Scott [1979 Theatrical Version Only]Final Theatrical Isolated Score 5.1 Dolby Digital [1979 Theatrical Version Only]Composer’s Original Isolated Score 5.1 Dolby Digital [1979 Theatrical Version Only]Deleted Scenes”

OPINION: Let's have a blind hero

From Perception, by The Deep End Games/Feardemic

From Perception, by The Deep End Games/Feardemic

by Patrick Greene

We’ve all been talking about the future of the Alien franchise even more than usual lately, and that’s got me thinking about the sort of story I’d personally like to tell.

I’ve been playing various survival horror games for most of my life, so I’ve gotten pretty used to the usual tropes. But three games that scared the absolute shit out of me in recent years were PT (the Silent Hills playable trailer/demo); Alien: Isolation (obviously); and Perception (wherein you play a blind protagonist forced to navigate through echolocation).

And I’ve been thinking: how cool would it be to have a very small, very tight Alien film with a blind hero? We talk a lot about “putting the monster back in the dark,” and to me this’d be the most evocative way of doing so.

As the audience, we’d obviously still see everything. But identifying with a protagonist who can’t see the beast would set up a whole new set of fascinating dilemmas. What if the hero is trapped in a space they haven’t experienced before, and is forced to navigate with sound? Would it draw the alien towards them?

And traditionally, one of the chief advantages a xenomorph has over a human is its ability to creep in the darkness. What if the human were just as comfortable in those spaces? Could they turn the tide on the alien?

Plus, I’d love to have sequences where there’s virtually no visible light, but sound is extraordinarily amplified. Some of the best moments in the films come through sound cues. The chains rattling in Alien; the beeping proximity detector in the hive in Aliens; the howling windstorms on Fury 161. What if we were immersed in darkness and subject to extraordinary sound editing that felt like we were truly trapped with the monster?

I’ve also been thinking a lot about dreams lately (more on that coming in a separate post). A number of my favorite sequences in the expanded universe have been rooted in dreams (the Queen Mother, for example). Various rejected/altered scripts for the films have featured extended dream sequences that are absolutely fascinating. What if this blind hero, unable to process visual light in physical space, were more attuned to dream frequencies coming from a Queen Mother? Without being distracted by horrifying sights in the physical world, perhaps they’d be able to wage a deeper war in the dream space.

Just a thought, but I think it’d be a ton of fun to experience what a filmmaker like, say, Alex Garland (PLEASE) could do with this idea.

The Queen Mother, as seen in  Aliens: The Female War  (originally  Aliens: Earth War ). Art by John Bolton.

The Queen Mother, as seen in Aliens: The Female War (originally Aliens: Earth War). Art by John Bolton.

Travis Fimmel Cast in Ridley Scott’s New Sci-Fi TV Epic, Raised By Wolves

Ridley Scott is going back to Science Fiction. In what will be his first television series, Scott is adapting Raised By Wolves and has just cast Travis Fimmel (Vikings) in the one of the lead roles. The series will premiere on TNT. This is Scotts first foray back into the sci-fi genre since the underperforming ALIEN: Covenant was released in 2017.

More found at ScreenRant.

Travis-Fimmel-on-Vikings.jpg

It's official: Alien: Blackout is a mobile game, and it's dropping January 24

by Patrick Greene

“Heeeeeyyyyyyyyy …”

“Heeeeeyyyyyyyyy …”

Fandom has been buzzing about what “Alien: Blackout” could mean ever since Fox applied for the trademark back in November. We’ve known about an in-development shooter from Cold Iron Studios for nearly a year now, and speculation about a sequel to the legendary Alien: Isolation has been running rampant for years.

And just days ago, Fox began releasing a series of teasers saying “Amanda Ripley” and “Read. Play. Watch.”

With the release of today’s official Alien: Blackout trailer, we know what the “play” stands for: a mobile game.

Developed by D3 Go in conjunction with FoxNext, Alien: Blackout is set to release on January 24th at a price of $4.99 (you can preorder it today on the App Store, Google Play, and the Amazon Appstore).

Wait: it’s a mobile game?

Yeah, it’s a mobile game. This is either totally “meh” news or completely devastating, depending on who you are and what you’ve been looking forward to. Speaking personally (this is Patrick’s opinion, not necessarily the opinion of PO in general), I think this is totally fine. Fox is being very clear that this is a small piece of a larger picture (they even highlight the “play” in “Read. Play. Watch.” at the end of that trailer). If this were the only thing happening in our franchise this year, I think it’d be pretty upsetting. But the reality is we still have a Cold Iron game in development (which looks from all angles to be a marquee-level enterprise on consoles, PC, etc.).

We’ve already spent years being consistently told that a direct sequel to Isolation isn’t happening (which is awful news, considering it’s an unimpeachable masterpiece). Fox isn’t marketing this as “the” Alien: Isolation sequel. It’s probably healthier in the longterm to look at this as a nice little side experience. If Creative Assembly announced last year that they were working on the official followup to Alien: Isolation, and then announced at a major event that it was mobile-only—this would be a different story. But as it stands, this is just a little side product that fits into the bigger picture and offers another chance to engage with Amanda Ripley.

To that end: the basic mechanic here is that we are playing the role of Amanda, who is guiding a crew through a crippled WY space station using emergency controls on a holographic map. Similar in appearance (and apparently in practice) to the “rewire system” sequences in Alien: Isolation (see below), the gist is that we’ll be making decisions about which doors to open, which resources to conserve, and which risks to take as we help this crew escape a xenomorph.

A rewiring sequence in Alien: Isolation

A rewiring sequence in Alien: Isolation

The control layout in Alien: Blackout

The control layout in Alien: Blackout

Another bit of personal opinion here: the best mobile games are the ones that feel built from the ground up for a mobile experience. A reason Pokémon Go is so popular is because it uses inherent strengths of mobile phones—their mobility—as a core mechanic. Angry Birds took off because it could be controlled easily with a single finger, and its design was simple enough to work cleanly and fluidly on basically any smartphone processor. The only mobile Alien game I play with any regularity is a freakin’ pinball game, and it’s brilliant because it is absolutely nothing more or less than what I want out of a mobile gaming experience. It’s a few pinball tables that I can pick up and play for ten minutes while waiting for the commuter train in the morning. I get a chance to immerse myself in Alien for a few minutes, and it’s just engaging enough to make me turn the music in my headphones off (but not so engaging I miss the train).

I personally think Alien: Blackout will work. The concept is simple, the functionality won’t strain processors, the mechanics don’t depend on dexterity (which goes to hell the second you play on a mobile device), and the game is relatively short but built to be replayable (seven levels, with different outcomes each time based on choices you make). In that way, it sounds quite a bit like that Offworld Simulator Amazon Echo game we reviewed last April: it’s simple, repayable, and fun, and it’s a chance to have a little more Alien in our lives.

What about “read” and “watch?”

We still have “read,” which could be the about-to-drop Aliens: Resistance (coming January 23, i.e. a day before Blackout releases). Resistance is set to star Amanda Ripley, so that’d make a lot of sense—and it’s closely tied to Aliens: Defiance, which was a hit for Dark Horse critically and commercially. There’s also an Isolation novelization coming from Keith R.A. DeCandido (which of course is another Amanda-centric product).

And “watch” could signify many, many, things, but will most likely center around the long-rumored streaming series. A film announcement is unlikely given the state of the Fox/Disney merger, and last year’s short-film competition entries are likely still in production, so a web series (animated or otherwise) would make quite a bit of sense.

All this is to say: there is A LOT coming this year for Alien fans. Whether or not you’re thrilled about Alien: Blackout, rest assured that this is the first of many upcoming announcements.

It’s going to be a banner year for us.

Even if it kicks off with a mobile game.

final note.

Check out what Patrick and Jaime have to say on the news in this exclusive Rumor Control Video Update episode.

Is It Real? Creating the World of Blade Runner 2049

Chris Menges of Weta Workshop. Tomas LeMarquis. Loren Peta as Rachael 2.0.

Chris Menges of Weta Workshop. Tomas LeMarquis. Loren Peta as Rachael 2.0.

Shoulder of Orion: The Blade Runner Podcast was granted exclusive access to major players in Denis Villenueve’s masterpiece, Blade Runner 2049. The information discussed in these interviews is not available anywhere else. Weta Workshop’s miniature team, featuring Steven Saunders, Joaquin Loyzaga, and Chris Menges (pictured above), along with Rachael 2.0 star Loren Peta, and Tomas LeMarquis who performed Wallace Corp’s File Clerk opposite Ryan Gosling’s Officer K. Each interview provides unfettered access to the top secret behind the scenes process that would bring Blade Runner 2049 to life.


Shoulder of Orion: The Blade Runner Podcast is the only Blade Runner podcast of its kind, offering heady discussion on the themes, characters and processes of both Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049. For access to our repertoire of episodes and discussions check out our main site or find our episodes through iTunes, Spotify, Podbean, TuneIn or Google Play.


Shoulder of Orion: The Blade Runner Podcast was formed in August of 2017. After not finding an outlet of discussion for the Blade Runner films, podcast founder Jaime Prater decided to answer the void with an official fan podcast covering all things Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049.


Jaime Prater

@SoundGoAsunder

JaimePrater@gmail.com

NETFLIX Releases First Images From New Dark Crystal

The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance First Photos Revealed!

On the 36th anniversary of the release of Jim Henson’s original masterpiece, The Dark Crystal, NETFLIX has finally released three character images of the new Gelfling characters set to take the audience through a ten hour series, which will drop in 2019.

Deet: A Gelfling

Deet: A Gelfling

Rian: A Gelfling

Rian: A Gelfling


Brea: A Gelfling

Brea: A Gelfling

This next info comes from tvline.com

Gelfling Characters (in addition to Balfe and Domer)
Helena Bonham-Carter
Harris Dickinson
Eddie Izzard
Theo James
Toby Jones
Shazad Latif
Gugu Mbatha-Raw
Mark Strong
Alicia Vikander

The Skeksis & Mystics (in addition to Hamill and Samberg)
Harvey Fierstein
Ralph Ineson
Jason Isaacs
Keegan-Michael Key
Ólafur Darri Ólafsson
Simon Pegg

Aughra will be voiced by:
Donna Kimball

Additional characters will also be voiced by puppeteers from the production, including Alice Dinnean, Louise Gold, Neil Sterenberg and Victor Yerrid.

As previously reported, The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance will take place “many years” before the events of the film. “When three Gelfling discover the horrifying secret behind the Skeksis’ power, they set out on an epic journey to ignite the fires of rebellion and save their world.”

Louis Leterrier (Now You See Me, The Incredible Hulk) will executive produce and direct.

The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance will combine the art of puppetry perfected by The Jim Henson Company, with Louis’ vision, powerful storytelling and a mix of cutting-edge digital imagery and visual effects,” Cindy Holland, Vice President of Original Content at Netflix, previously said in a statement. “I can’t wait for families around the world to see how we bring these unique characters to life.”

The Making of ALIEN: A New Book by J.W. Rinzler Releasing

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by Jaime Prater

As ALIEN fans, there never seems to be enough material on the behind the scenes of an Alien film. 2019 marks the 40 year anniversary of release of Ridley Scott’s seminal science fiction film, ALIEN. In celebration of such a milestone Titan Books are about to release a new ‘making of’ book by author J.W. Rinzler.

“In 1979 a movie legend was born, as Twentieth Century-Fox and director Ridley Scott unleashed Alien and gave audiences around the world the scare of their lives.

To celebrate the movie’s fortieth anniversary, author J.W. Rinzler (The Making of Star Wars) tells the whole fascinating story of how Alien evolved from a simple idea in the mind of writer Dan O’Bannon into one of the most memorable sci-fi horror thrillers of all time.

With interviews with Ridley Scott and other key members of the original production crew, and featuring many never-before-seen photographs and artworks from the archives, The Making of Alien is the definitive work on this masterpiece of popular cinema.”

(write up from https://forbiddenplanet.com/266146-the-making-of-alien/)

The book has a scheduled release date of December 16th, 2018 in the UK. No word as of yet on a US release.

Leaks Save The Day: Behind the Scenes Image From Netflix' ‘Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance'

Puppeteers test out a state of the art Skeksis puppet.

Puppeteers test out a state of the art Skeksis puppet.

Since the announcement of a new ten hour prequel series, Netflix and The Jim Henson Company have been scant on details, offering no imagery, or footage despite the project having formally wrapped almost three months ago after nearly a full year of filming. Fandom has been uproarious in their desire to see something from the production. 


‘Resistance’ is unlike any other property that Netflix has produced because of its massive cult following and the fanbase that’s developed in the intervening years. The Dark Crystal, released in 1982, directed by Jim Henson and Frank Oz is a film that has stood the test of time and is a religion unto itself, only finding acclaim and success because of fan devotion. 


While the leaked image of a Skeksis appears to be a screen test, it’s a welcome sight in what has been complete silence as the wait continues. The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance is slated for a 2019 release, with no formal release date given.


JM Prater for Perfect Organism

@soundgoasunder


The Three Made One: Henson, Netflix and The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance


SUNDERED AND UNDONE

Kira swoops down to grab The Shard. The Dark Crystal 1982.

Kira swoops down to grab The Shard. The Dark Crystal 1982.

Most people think they’ve seen Jim Henson’s 1982 masterpiece The Dark Crystal when you ask them about it. 


“Yeah, with Bowie right?” is the typical response until you start describing The Dark Crystal


“All puppets, no humans, fantasy, kind of like Lord of the Rings.” 


Surprisingly a lot of people won’t even know what you’re talking about. They know Jim Henson and the Muppets and Labyrinth, but when it comes to The Dark Crystal, the film that Jim Henson himself called “the one that I’m the most proud of” they draw a long blank.

The Dark Crystal, takes place in a mythical world, where no humans live, as two elf-like creatures called Gelflings set out on a quest to heal their land from a growing darkness. That’s the general setup. When the film premiered in 1982, (a watershed year for many films) it did so quietly, to financial disappointment. It would go on to garner a cult following being screened on VHS, and DVD in the years after it’s debut. 


1990 saw the death of Muppet mastermind and legend Jim Henson at the very young age of 53. With Henson’s death, original Henson films and projects would eventually slow down, leading to the subsequent selling of The Muppets to Disney for safekeeping. Fifteen years after Jim’s death, would come the announcement of Power of The Dark Crystal, a new sequel to the original film, utilizing puppetry and state-of-the-art digital imagery to bring the world of Thra back to life. 


Power of The Dark Crystal would never see the light of day as a film, despite onslaught the cult fan base of the original film would become over the news. The controversial sequel would spend nearly 13 years in development hell before releasing as a comic series in 2017. In the intervening years the Henson company, dutifully managed by Jim’s children would begin an ongoing celebration of The Dark Crystal, starting with fan films and writing contests. 


For some leaders in the small but loyal Dark Crystal fanbase, the consistent engagement of fans by the Henson company seemed to suggest something else was happening. 


“It was very surprising seeing the engagement from The Jim Henson Company and fans of The Dark Crystal with the launch of DarkCrystal.com and having contests with writing, drawing and even film making as well. When the author quest was announced with plans of having Dark Crystal novels, there was some hope of big things to come, though we as fans never imagined what would come on May 2017”

Philip Mitchell, founder and host of Trial By Stone: The Dark Crystal Podcast. 


Kira atop a Landstrider. The Dark Crystal 1982.

Kira atop a Landstrider. The Dark Crystal 1982.


In May of 2017, Netflix announced a  ten hour prequel series to Henson’s The Dark Crystal. Aptly titled The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, the series will tell the events that would eventually lead up to the final journey as played out by the characters in the 1982 original. 

Jim Henson went on record stating that 

“The story itself doesn’t lend itself to a sequel,” (said Henson matter-of-factly). “You can tell another story in the same world, but the [DARK CRYSTAL] story itself is complete.”


Initially pitched as an computer generated animated prequel series, Netflix insisted that The Henson Company re-pitch the film with traditional puppets. The announcement video for Age of Resistance features elements from the video that  The Jim Henson Company pitched. 

For the fans of the original Dark Crystal film, Age of Resistance won’t be just another Netflix series. 

Philip Mitchell goes on to say,

"It's incredible, Netflix is taking  a very big gamble on The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance. The announcement was unexpected and welcome. For fans of the collaboration with The Jim Henson Company and Netflix to bring the world of Thra to life. The only reason the (Netflix) show exists is because of the fans, whether they're artists, filmmakers or even involved on official Dark Crystal material with Age of Resistance, they've made it happen, and I'm honored to be a part of The Dark Crystal community with my podcast"


What has to be generally admitted and remembered by both the Jim Henson Company and Netflix is the fans are the reason Dark Crystal found an other (and profitable) life on home video. It’s been the decades long dedication to the film by the fans that has brought us to the now year long wait until the series premieres. 




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Netflix has given 2019 as a general year of release, at the time of this writing, no set release month or date has been offered. What appeared to have been a mistake on the part of Netflix was the publishing of initial voice actors involved in the show, Helena Bonham Carter (Harry Potter), Gwendoline Christie (Star Wars) and Caitriona Balfe (Outlander). The information was quickly removed, but not before a user took a screen shot. Actor Jason Isaacs recently tweeted about his voice work on Age of Resistance further fueling speculation as to who is all involved. Isaacs would later delete his tweet. 


A now deleted tweet by Harry Potter actor Jason Isaacs

A now deleted tweet by Harry Potter actor Jason Isaacs


PROMOTING THE RESISTANCE 


With the exception an image of a crystal seen on a promotional poster for the Netflix and Chills panel event for the 2018 New York Comic Con, there’s not been one still, one piece of concept, or related artwork revealed publicly by The Henson Company or Netflix


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Netflix heavily promoted their Age of Resistance panel at the NYC Comic Con which featured series director Louis Letterrier and Lisa Henson. When the panel was over, Lisa and Louis spoke all of eleven minutes, and seemed to be unsure what to actually say.  The takeaway from the panel was that the series was being shot on Vista Vision, and that no CGI would be involved whatsoever, with the exception of the removal of wires and puppeteers, which Lisa assured the audience, was to give a more believable motion to the puppets. At the end of panel a two minute behind the scenes sizzle reel was screened to the handful of people who were present, and that was it. The heavily promoted panel didn’t really have much to offer. If you tuned in via SyFy Wire’s livestream of the panel, you would’ve seen the feed cut when the footage went live. 

So now, the fans wait, for something. Next on the horizon is Faerie-Con 2018 that promises to be a celebration of The Dark Crystal with several panels exploring the film, and two panels devoted to Age of Resistance, with the longest one being hosted by Dark Crystal and Jim Henson Royalty, Wendy Froud, and her son Toby Froud (the baby in Labyrinth). If that name sounds familiar, the patriarch of the Froud family is Brian Froud, the conceptual artist behind both The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth and Age of Resistance. Toby and Wendy will be hosting a near two hour Making of The Age of Resistance’ panel where they dive in to how the new series was brought to life. 

A crew shirt from The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance

A crew shirt from The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance

BUILDING A WORLD


The Dark Crystal released in 1982, after being in development since the mid-seventies. The film took a full six months to film. Age of Resistance wrapped a full year of filming in November, 2018. To make a series like this involved over 35 sets to be built, ranging in sizes and shapes so that puppeteers can properly maneuver within the environments without being seen. The amount of production, set building, prop-making and sheer number of puppeteers sourced for the film makes Age of Resistance the largest puppet endeavor of any kind produced for an audience. If successful, it will blend seamlessly into the world that Jim Henson brought to life, while building upon the myth that he helped to create. 



Puppets built for Power of the Dark Crystal

Puppets built for Power of the Dark Crystal


The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance is the literal passing on of the legacy of Jim Henson’s most prized and revered project. Fans and audiences everywhere wait with bated breath in hopes that the ten hour show will live up to the hype, while maintaining the legacy of a man that the world owes for the ongoing presence of Muppets and puppets in our lives. If Age of Resistance will succeed, it will be because of the efforts of the fans that have supported the original film from day one. Time will tell. 



by JM Prater

JM occasionally co-hosts Trial By Stone: The Dark Crystal Podcast

JM is the founder and host of Perfect Organism: The ALIEN Saga Podcast

Shoulder of Orion: The Blade Runner Podcast

@soundgoasunder on Twitter

Director of No Place To Call Home 2014 (documentary)






Musings of a Luvstruck Mind

by Iain Souter

I find Luv a truly tragic character. While I grieve for Joe, at the movie’s end, my heart breaks for Luv. She is Ariel and Caliban, both, to Wallace’s perversion of Prospero. A truly tortured being, a demigod child raised by a parent who is emotionally abusive to the Nth degree, fracturing her psyche and creating a monster. The glimpses of her vulnerability and inner torment - the eye twitch and the lone tear - are utterly convincing. In a thirty year career, I specialised as a detective in cases involving physical and sexual abuse, and of children, in particular. I always think of a seven year old boy, who had been raped by another boy - a teenager - who spoke quietly to me, in a monotone, which didn’t alter in pitch or intensity once, as he described exactly what was done to him. His face was frozen as his voice, emotionless and still, except for the tears, which fell constantly from his eyes, for over thirty minutes. He was entirely unaware of the fact that he was even crying, his emotional trauma was so great.

That is why I find her such a terribly sad character.  When Joe kills her at the end, it’s an act of mercy, of release. The way he gently strokes her cheek, after releasing her throat, tells me that he knew this also.

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It also resonates with me that Wallace calls her the best of all his “angels”.  I had a very Catholic upbringing. Catechism, mass, communion, confession and more catechism, on a daily basis, even before the school began (the school was affixed to the church, and more than half our teachers were jesuits and nuns).  It was always instilled in me that biblically speaking, angels are not the fluffy guardians who shield us from all harm, if we have the right colour crystals and our chakras are in harmony with their “true names”.  They were the messengers of God, and as such, they were truly terrible, both in aspect and character. When these swords of god were sent, plagues swept the land, or else nations fell, firstborns died, cities were blasted to ashes and even the faithful were turned to salt for disobeying a single command. They swept the world of life, for their God, bringing the rains. They are said to be the ones who shall unleash the end of all things, breaking the seals that unleash the Beast. They are not merciful beings. They have no souls - that gift was given to Man, and Man alone. This is from a Biblical point of view, of course, not a personal one.

So when Wallace speaks of his angels, and of Luv being the best of them all, and when she is clearly such a destructive and tremendously damaged character, wreaking death in the very heart of the police station, not once but twice? Yes, I’d agree with Wallace. HIS creations ARE meant to be angels. Swords of God, perfect in every way that he wishes them to be. Soulless, devoid of conscience, bred to obey him utterly and to bring him the stars and all the worlds beyond - and, I believe, somewhere along the way, help fulfil his yearning for godhood and possibly even immortality, through them.

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Luv is all that, and more; the distillation of the same savagery, which drove Batty in a killing spree through the the colonies, across the galaxy, and back to his flawed manipulative creator. While Joe represents the light side of Batty, which evolved from his feelings - his love - for Pris and his fellows, Luv is that darker side. While she echoes Rachael in appearance and playfully silken tones, she is Wallace’s sword, through and through, striking down any and all who get in the way of the quest to unlock the puzzle that maddens her creator and holds him back. He might as well be the hand striking Coco, or wielding the blade that ends Joshi and, ultimately, Joe. She is his creature, more effectively collared than any dog - regardless of how her childish ego has to demean and diminish this male competitor to her title.  This is why she lets him live, in Vegas, I believe. Because he has been brought to heel by someone fit to be his mistress - a better, matchless perfect servant of their Creator.  “Still the best”.  She forgets him, almost as soon as she turns from his unconscious body.  While her intention might, conceivably have been to let him die slowly, I believe the contrary.  This is a creature who has developed a taste for killing up close, in an intensely personal way.  Stabbing someone to death is an almost sexual act, providing a leave of gratification which simply cannot be felt by killing from afar.  While she clearly uses the drone to relieve her ennui, and thereby assist the hound they have loosed upon the trail of Rachael’s child, her face comes alive only when she strikes up close - the perfect, beautiful mask dropping, then, to reveal the savage lurking beneath the surface.  Caliban unleashed. 

Her childlike rage, the screeching, gurgling tantrum, when she realises, finally, that she has been bested by this same hound, is truly awful to watch.  It’s as mesmerising, as it is repulsive and tragic, all at once.  Euthanising a savage beautiful creature, which never stood a chance and never chose to be the way she has been moulded.

She breaks my heart, every single time.

It’s an incredible performance, by Sylvia Hoeks.  For me, it’s unquestionably the standout of the movie.

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The Special Effects Studio Behind Alien is Releasing Their First Behind the Scenes Picture Book

Courtesy of studioADI

Courtesy of studioADI

Written by Christopher Moonlight, The Making of Harbinger Down: A Pictorial Journey Through the Production of a Practical Effects film is a photographic tour through the production of Harbinger Down, the film that set out to prove that audiences still prefer practical effects creatures over CGI. 

Courtesy of studioADI

Courtesy of studioADI

After finding their animatronic creations left on the cutting room floor one too many times in favor of digitally animated monsters and spurred on by the outcry of movie fans everywhere to keep it real, studioADI co-founders Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff, Jr. decided to take matters into their own hands. 

Courtesy of studioADI

Courtesy of studioADI

The result was the #1 highest crowdfunding for a sci-fi/horror movie in history. Now, you can take a look behind the scenes of this unprecedented coming together of movie fans, filmmakers, and movie stars like Lance Henriksen, as they put forth their passion, experience, and can do spirit, to create what was not just a movie but a once in a lifetime event.

Perfect for aspiring filmmakers and sci-fi/horror fans, alike.

Courtesy of studioADI

Courtesy of studioADI

Courtesy of studioADI

Courtesy of studioADI

Courtesy of studioADI

Courtesy of studioADI

Courtesy of studioADI

Courtesy of studioADI

Pre-orders open on Special Edition Eaglemoss Power Loader

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Anyone who's ordered from Eaglemoss knows they do quality sculpts at very reasonable prices, so this just-revealed P-5000 is one to seriously consider.

It's 7.5 inches tall, crafted from metallic resin, and features a base that does just the right amount of storytelling.

Check it out on their website!

 

Nostalgia alert: the Alien 3 Pixel Art Funko Pop! is officially available

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We first saw a preview of this adorable guy last month; now, at long last, we can blow some money on it.

For many of us, the Genesis/SNES-era Alien 3 game was a formative Alien experience. Combining addictive platforming action with some badass art and music, Probe Software's game was eventually ported to everything from the Commodore 64 to the Game Boy.

Now, this 16-bit stalwart is gracing the seemingly infinite Funko Pop! vinyl line with its presence. Technically a repaint of the (also very cool) "8-bit" xenomorph, this Alien 3 version contains the same tricolor scheme we saw on that similarly awesome NECA runner variant from a few years back. 

It's only available through Entertainment Earth, so pick one up while you can!

Check out (and preorder) this insanely beautiful Big Chap ring!

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PSYCHO MONSTERZ is a wonderful repository of weird and beautiful collectibles, and this latest piece (developed in collaboration with JAP, INC; crafted by TORCH TORCH; sculpted by Wataru Mishima; and distributed through the ever awesome Sideshow Collectibles) is a true work of art.

Measuring just under two inches in length, the xenomorph's head sculpt is deeply faithful to Giger's original. And unlike some of those "other" Alien jewelry pieces we've all wasted money on through the years, this one's cast in actual silver and is heirloom quality.

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Preorders are open now, and the rings will be shipping later this year. They cost $475, which is quite reasonable considering the build quality and detailed sculpt.

If you pick one up, send us some photos when they arrive!

Perfect Organism Celebrates the Release of New Alien Saga Audio Drama

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F0R IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Where to listen:

In-universe Story Combines Acting, Sound Design, and Original Music to Tell the Story of Two Colonists Trapped in Hadley's Hope Shortly Before the Events of Aliens

Los Angeles, CA: Perfect Organism, the leading Alien saga-dedicated podcast on the internet, is celebrating the culmination of nearly a year of work with the release of an original audio drama written and directed by the show's founder, JM Prater. Titled Proximity: Last Stand at Hadley's Hope, the nearly hour-long piece is an immersive jump into what it might have felt like to be inside the Hadley's Hope colony on Acheron as everything fell apart and the xenomorphs overtook the colony. Focusing on two characters—the brother-and-sister team of Aaron and Anne Andrews—the story focuses on something integral to the Alien universe: isolation.

"I am continually interested in how humans deal when in extraordinary circumstances," Prater reflected. "Isolation is something I experienced as a child, while growing up in one of America’s last hippie communes. It’s an experience I continue to process as an adult." He also drew inspiration from historical events. "I’ve always been fascinated with the story of the Donner Party, that group of pioneers who disappeared in the mountains on their way to California while facing some of the darkest decisions mankind will ever face," Prater said. "I see the colonists of Hadley’s Hope similarly."

Patrick Greene, who plays Aaron Andrews, noted that this focus on character is what gives the drama its narrative thrust. "Ultimately, it's about people," Greene said. "It's about two people at the ass-end of the universe running from a cascading series of nightmares. But the fact that we stay with these two people from the beginning of the story to the end means that we start to see through their eyes. We experience these extraordinary events like they're happening to us. By the end of the piece, our pulse is racing because it feels like we're the ones being pursued." 

In addition to performing as Aaron, Greene composed the orchestral score and collaborated with Prater on the sound design. "Our priority from the very beginning was immersion," Greene said. "We structured the soundscape very deliberately from the start. It had to feel real. We wanted the listener to close her eyes and feel like she could almost smell the condensation on the tunnel walls."

Both Prater and Greene are lifelong Alien universe obsessives, and that passion shines through the piece. "What I think is important is retaining the mystery of the disappearance of the colonists, while telling a possible story of a few people in the colony during the alien infestation," Prater said. "Proximity: Last Stand At Hadley’s Hope is that story."

About Perfect Organism: Since its inception in 2015, Perfect Organism has been the premiere Alien saga podcast on the internet. Cohosts JM Prater, Ryan Zeid, Patrick Greene, Dave Gogel, and Mykal McCulloch dive deeply into all aspects of the venerable franchise: the lore, the history, the cinematographic and technical achievements, the soundtracks, the characters, and much more. In 2017, Perfect Organism branched out into Blade Runner fandom with a sister show: Shoulder of Orion: The Blade Runner Podcast. More information about all aspects of the Perfect Organism universe can be found at www.perfectorganism.com.