Saturday, April 30, 2011

4/30: To Mario, happiness is a warm question-mark box

I'm wondering exactly how easy it is to make "good" special effects. Not world-class, but good: whatever is on network television sci-fi. That's the constantly raising standard of "good." Five years ago we'd all be falling all over ourselves aghast at how wondrous V's production design was: now we can see right through its bland greenscreen virtual sets. "Oh, so a spaceship looks like a bunch of gray hallways, filled with people having boring conversations. Who knew a spaceship looked like a late-model hockey stadium?"

Having gotten that off my chest -- every week I would watch a new V and a Wire rerun, and my brain had some sort of metal-fatigue from the quality height difference -- let's take a look at the same sort of shaky-cam CG-elements-in-real-life VFX put to much better use. And remember: send this footage back in time ten years, and it would be cooler than The Matrix. Now: eh, it's maybe okay for a comedy bit on YouTube, In five years' time we'll be interacting with photorealistic film characters on our cheapo flipphones, taking it for granted that the world deserves to be this rich and morsel-y for us.

40 seconds in got me, too.

Friday, April 29, 2011

4/29: Mario's leaping? It's gotta be the shoes!

YouTube has been kind enough to reach back to the antidiluvian days of the mid-80s for the commercial, which features Spike Lee and Michael Jordan, a golf/gambling enthusiast who -- not many people remember this -- was a pretty successful basketball player back in the day. Spike brazenly proclaimed MJ's flight time ability came from his shoes. The blatant untruth of such a statement thus became a selling point for Nike, and if you'd like to pick a particular cultural tipping point when we as a society decided that the sizzle was worth more than the steak and raced headlong down the tubes, here you go.

Another fellow who is known for his jumping prowess is -- well, look at the title of the blog, take a wild guess. And in honor of Mario's 25th Anniversary (which really is the waning months of the year-long 25th-anniversary "celebration" Nintendo has been kind enough to tell us to celebrate -- isn't the slide down these tubes fun?), Converse has made a pair of Charles Taylor shoes -- I don't call him "Chuck" because I don't know him that well -- studded with about 200 Marios. As a bonus, the Converse star is replaced by a Mario Superstar. Mario, Chuck; Chuck, Mario.
Converse x Super Mario Bros. 25th anniversary shoe photo
Only in Japan, coming this summer. Funny, I thought Mario already has a custom shoe...

Thursday, April 28, 2011

4/28: Okay, who gave Mario a Portal gun?

Seriously, who did it? Because it's pretty brilliant. Most every Portal 2 review I've read reaches for the SMB yardstick to describe the innovation and simplicity and geometric progression of ideaspace that the portal gun creates. So giving one to Mr. 8-Bit Superstar's a perfect idea, and in under two minutes he come sup with some winning ways of using it. In Mario's adept hands, not even the cake may be a lie any more.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

4/27: Green me, Seymour!

The humble piranha plant has been one of the mainstays of the Marioverse. It's gotten bigger and smaller over the years, but its nitrogen-deprived roots are always the same: Venus flytrap on steroids.

You may be seeing it a lot more in the coming years, and decades. If all goes according to bioplastic plan, this symbol here...

...will be the face of "bioplastics," which is the one-word shorthand for "this bottle used to be corn." How? Ask someone crunchier/with a masters in bioengineering for the details. But the hoped-for result is that this will be as commonly seen as the ouroborian blue arrows that denote recycling.

It may still take a while for gamers to see this without wanting to wait until it sinks, then race over it. We'll learn.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

4/26: Sorry, Our Network's Yoinked

So remember how last week Shigeru Miyamoto talked to the press in London and Paris? Odds are yes, because every day someone grabs a new "tidbit of an interview and goes running with it around the Kotaku/Joystick Division/Gamespot/Ars Technica-verse. He's got plenty of reasons to talk to the press this week -- keeping the momentum going for the 3DS. He's dropping news about Mario games like they're Times Square flyers for comedy clubs. But some thought that maybe he was doing so to counterweigh Nintendo's recent stock and financial issues.

I have to think that Sony is caught in an even bigger game of teeter-totter with the press right now. They just dumped a big heap of good on one end of the balance beam: TWO new portable gaming devices! The S1 and S2 are set up to play PlayStation titles and whatever Sony puts in its App store, if I could be so bold and guess there will be an app store. (Other predictions of mine: Project Gem, that someone will use the pun "hammer time" when reviewing Thor next week, and that the ocean will continue to be salty. At least two are right!)

A year ago certain people -- they're listed in the dictionary under "wrong" -- said that the iPad was a mere media consumption device, and that such things wouldn't ever sell. And that people wouldn't want to play games without having some tactile acknowledgement of if your greasy fingers slip off the buttons. Sony seems to be courting them with S1 (cough, cough, iPad) and S2 (cough cough, DS). if there was a Nintendo rep next to me, I'm sure that rep would be poking me to remind everyone that neither deivce will have 3D games or media, neither will have Nintendo content, and neither seems like it will play PSP or PS2/PS3 games. So who's up for Tekken 3 or Xenogears?

Hmm, that other end of the balance beam looks empty. I guess it is. Guess I was wrong: Sony didn't have any catastrophic, this-actually-affects-you-personally, 'perfect-storm'-is-a-really-overused-term-but-in-this-case-it-seems-an-understatement sort of bad news to report. My mistake.

Monday, April 25, 2011

4/25: Nintendo's marching to the beat of a different plumber

I don't have too much to say today that you can't read elsewhere. Like on the front page of every news source in creation. Mostly I just wanted to use that plumber pun.

But there is a certain circle-of-lifeiness to Nintendo, over the same 24-hour periods -- and that 24-hour period being Easter -- that it's ending one game system's career while starting the eugenesis of a new one. The first-half is that the Wii 2, or Project Cafe, or -- I still think this is going to happen! -- Project Gem, whatever the sucessor to the Wii will be, will be in 2012, and shown off this year at E3.

The second part (and I am resisting the urge to just paste in the entire lyrics of Live's Lightning Crashes) is the demise of the Game Boy Advance. Yes, it's not made anymore, and games for it aren't made either, but the DS Lite still had compatibility with GBA cartridges. Not so with newer DSes, or with the 3DS. They don't take up much room, but look for the Gamestops of the world (like the four in your local mall) to phase them out of rotation, the same way Ernest Brian Games (namesake of EB Games) decided one day that N64 cartridges and Dreamcasts discs weren't worth the stocking space.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

4/24: Super Mario gets his Kenny G on

The Super Mario canon has seen a lot of musical innovation, but for all the great strides in covering Koji Kondo's classics, no one took it an extra step and synched up the music to an actual Mario game.

So without further ado, here's the smooth jazz sounds of Eight Bits of Jam over top some Super Mario Bros. 3 action. Odd to think that, if not for software limitations of the day, the actual soundtrack might have sounded a lot more like this than what we all heard.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

4/23: Miyamoto says nothing, is quoted voluminously

Dang it.

So I had just finished writing three or four paragraphs, going into what in retrospect was too much detail and way too much bellyaching, about how everyone in the gaming press is covering Shigeru Miyamoto's non-news comments that he's working on a new Mario game and hopes to have it done by Christmas. Which would be news if we in the gaming press did not already know each of those facts, and know them for months already.

And I went on to say that I was reluctantly covering the Miyamoto announcement, not because it was news -- it's not! It's still not! -- but because at a certain point of saturation nonnews becomes news by its sheer ubiquity.

And then my post got deleted. So instead of writing it again I'm simply summarizing it. With a lot less bile and spleen and other 17th-century bodily humours, because even though no one will ever read that previous lost-to-the-ethers post, it felt good to express it. Tomorrow we return to actual-reporting-on-Mario-memes, not just meta-commenting-on-why-I'm-not-reporting-on-Mario-memes.

Friday, April 22, 2011

4/22: Will you-a marry me, a-Mario?

I was going to go for a zeitgeisty two-fer, linking to some Super Mario Galaxy-related bit of this or that because today's Earth Day, just as Wednesday was the BP oil spillnaversary. But lo and behold, someone decided to pop the question using an actual ? block. So we're going to watch this instead:

Congratulations Silvas and April! The Internet has 25 million suggestions for what your groom cake should look like.

And not to steal their thunder or anything, but here are some other, different Super Mario proposals.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

4/21: Mario. Sonic. London. 2012. Duh.

This is not the biggest surprise in the world, but it's still new of a heretofore unmentioned Mairo game, so here goes: Mario and Sonic's third contribution to the Olympic minigames is now official. Mario and Sonic at the 2012 Olympic Games is now on like Donkey Kong. (That is, if DK would deign to be in the franchise: he's off doing his thang elsewhere.) Sega is making the wise choice of releasing the game to coincide with next summer's Olympics. New sports include soccer and riding -- so is this Nintendo's way of repackaging Mario Strikes Charged again? We'll find out in a year and change.

 I should really run that paragraph by Nintendo's lawyers, seeing as how they filed paperwork to adopt "It's on like Donkey Kong" as their own intellectual-property child. Which should be news to Ice Cube, much less Peyton Manning, who were the Ted Danson and Steve Guttenberg to Nintendo's Tom Selleck.

And wow, this has turned into Dennis Miller writing a Family Guy for sheer tonnage of unrelated pop culture references.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

4/20: The Super Mario BP Memorial

I killed myself a couple of days ago looking for something that connected Mario to Tax Day. I did find one or two little things, but nothing of note. Ditto for 3/17. But today, 4-20, today I have something memorable. And no, it has nothing to do with marijuana.

Today is the one-year anniversary of the BP oil spill, which more than one person decided to portray as affecting the life of Mario, who I guess is a fungible enough property to count as a Gulf resident.
And for the ironbutts out there who want an 11-minute version of this...

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

4/19: Unveiling Nintendo's Project Gem!

Presidential candidates have a financial reason to vie for office for months before officially announcing: there are fundraising rules that kick in once a campaign is official. Gaming companies have a financial reason to as well: sales of current consoles go into the toilet.
So Nintendo’s silence on what will replace its hugely popular Wii, nearing ninety million units sold over the last five years, is certainly understandable. But drumbeats nevertheless fill that silence: Wii game production has slowed, with very few first-party titles being released. And not to repeat the previous sentence, but if the Wii were a person it would be entering kindergarten and losing milk teeth. 
What the next step will be isn’t something incremental, like it did by adding a camera to the DS (the DSi) or embiggening the screen (the DS-XL). So no HD Wii, or three-Gamecubes-duct-taped-together edition. Nintendo is mum, but here is my evidence for what I’m going to dub not Wii 2 but Project Gem. (You’ll see why.)
Nintendo’s development cycles for both hardware and software is years long, sometimes almost decadal. For instance, the touchscreen that made the portable Nintendo DS such a hit in 2004 was first conceived nine years earlier, as a Game Boy Color accessory. The Wii’s movement-based gameplay was considered for the Gamecube, well before anyone had made a single urine joke about the Wii. Even Super Mario Galaxy’s microplanet gravity system was around in demo form for over a decade.
That they’re working on something is no surprise: skunk works at Microsoft and Sony are surely toiling away at what will be the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox 720, or whatever their new names will be. (Both are on ten-year development cycles, so no one expects either to announce anything for the next few years.) The difference, though, is that they’re basically building muscle cars: the most NOS, the better.
Nintendo opted out of that horsepower contest with the Wii, which not only comes in a distant third in terms of processing ability versus the 360 and the PS3 but doesn’t even match up to the original Xbox in some areas. This was Nintendo’s masterstroke, because it allowed them to focus on applications and software for first-party “amusements” (as Nintendo calls its games) that have set all sorts of sales milestones. After years of claiming the Wii shouldn’t even count as a next-gen system, Microsoft and Sony both responded with their own movement-based gaming add-ons last year: the excellent Kinect and the lukewarm Move. 
That brings us to the hypotheticals: what, exactly, will Project Gem be, now that its rivals have their Wii playbook? HD screen? In the controller? Looks likely. But there's something else, I think. 
#1: Project Gem won’t be sheer oomph. Nintendo ceded that terrain a long time ago, and grew incredibly profitable because of it. Its fortune has been in what a key employee called “lateral thinking of withered technology.” In other words, come up with a new idea that can be made with inexpensive parts.
#2: Project Gem is an idea that’s been around for years. Nintendo’s resident guru Shigeru Miyamoto wants his employees to keep a drawer full of ideas they have but can’t implement, due to technological restrictions. Check that drawerful of ideas every year or so, he says, because improvements may make it feasible. 
#3: Project Gem may not lend itself to every game. Want to know how the DS’s touchscreen was implemented into Nintendo’s hallmark Mario games? It wasn’t, not really. Similarly, there’s not much in New Super Mario Bros. Wii that requires shaking a controller: they could have done without it. The idea doesn’t have to be a perfect fit with all existing genres: the goal is to engender new gaming genres.
#4: Project Gem will continue Nintendo’s wet-match approach to multiplayer. Multiplay games are Halo and Call of Duty jocks’ bread and butter, but Nintendo – despite decades of early innovation in the arena – remains all thumbs at it. If that was going to change, it would have changed years ago. Nintendo was smart enough to stay out of the telephony business due to everyone else in there knowing the business better. Multiplayer games are almost as removed from Nintendo’s core competencies as telephones, sad to say, so don’t look for them to host, say, a console version of MAG.
And thus, Project Gem, Nintendo’s new gaming console, will be…a hologram generator. Not just “holographic data storage” but a real, true, just-like-Star Wars hologram machine.
Buttressing facts for this wild slice of speculation: First, Nintendo started calling itself an “amusement” company a few years back, instead of “video game company.” As with WWE dropping the artifice of realilty when it started calling wrestling “sports entertainment,” Nintendo’s nomenclature may have tipped their hand that the next console wouldn’t require a TV to operate. (Also why they seem uninterested in anything looking nice on a plasma.)
Second, Nintendo has a head start with holographic technology. Its augmented reality, or AR, cards that ship with the 3DS produce gaming images against whatever backdrop you place them on. It’s like a They Live video game, except you can only see the game through the 3DS’s viewscreen. (The same tech has been used for years used to draw first-down lines in football games.) 
It is a pretty big step to finding a way to create a device that sprays ribbons of light that would hold a 3D image, and ideally let you interact with it. But the gaming potential for such a device is astounding. Pick-up sticks, Jenga, Operation, doll houses: they could all be done virtually. Card games: the machine could deal and flip ephemeral cards on a table. Remember R.O.B., from way back in 1985? He could be a virtual action figure. Include a camera with the set-up and you could take pictures of your own head. A virtual chat with a friend could include their floating head in your room. 
True, many top-selling genres of games – shooters, adventure fare, RPGs, sports – would have a rocky adjustment. But this device wouldn’t be any better fit for a standard third- or first-person game than the Wii was, and the Wii is the lightning Nintendo’s trying to rebottle here. And who’s to say that there’s not a wonderful way to simulate the net play of a tennis match, or the chess-game strategy of a sniper battle, or the collecting challenge of a Mario title, with a little floating cloud of image?
Third, and most convincing of all to me, is they’ve already shown it off. Here’s a hologram displaying an ad for the 3DS from a February 2011 gaming trade show. Nifty, yes? I’m putting my money down that they didn’t commission a hologram machine just for the fun of it. This would be a prototype of the final machine, delivering gameplay that’s akin to the AR cards, except without having to look through the 3DS to see it and interact with it.
The rumors of a Wii price are lookign pretty substantial, since you can walk into a number of stores and buy one for less money. Buy we're still two months away from the big E3 trade show. That leaves Nintendo without something new to trump. Sure, they have the new suite of big stars coming to the 3DS – Mario, Link, Kid Icarus (the Terrence Malick of video games) – but that’s all to be expected. 
Could Project Gem be announced, and possibly even released, this year? Odds are, no: there are several more million Wiis and Wii games to be sold first. (The stated goal is to outsell the PlayStation 2 …good luck with that.) But next year, possibly. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. And as Phoenix Wright (or any other lawyer) could tell you, many wills are ...holographic.
Endnote: yes, for those who are wondering, the inspiration for the name Project Gem is the mid-80s cartoon show Jem and the Holograms. But I decided that while I'm way the heck out here on this limb, I may as well have some fun with it. 

Monday, April 18, 2011

4/18: Don't let power-ups fall into enemy hands!

I'm a big fan of Death Star PR. And Robot Chicken. And that issue of GI Joe where you saw the day-to-day workings of the Cobra town. The whole genral idea that the "bad guys" are in fact living just as complicated a life as the good guys, moreso, because they have the cognitive dissonance of being terrorists or invaders or cake-deprivers, what have you.

So I love this. This for those of you not willing to go ahead and click, is a series of propaganga pictures made with the SMb roster of villains, mixing WWII-style lines with more modern designs, 100% fewer Swastikas, and some Flash-animation stylings. (But I see Flash-animation stylings in design everywhere I go, so maybe what I'm seeing is just "style," the way ketchup doesn't taste like "that ketchup at Burger King one time.")

Anyway, if you're superlazy, too lazy to just pound a link and reward a worthy Super Punch site with your eyeballs, take a gander below:

Which one's your favorite? Buy them here.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

4/17: The best thing you'll read all day

I'm writing a daily blog about Mario-related bits and ephemera, and while that's cool and all it doesn't always parallel with the World's Most Incredible People. You made a Mario cake, great, that's nifty. Depending upon if you pixellated it or included deep-cut characters like Birdo and Dry Bones and that puppet guy from Super Mario RPG maybe it's even awesome. But there's creativity, and there's creativity.

I'm not going to say much more about this article by Crystal Olivera in The Monitor about gamer Mike Begum, other than three things: 1) his first game was Super Mario Bros. 3, so respect; 2) he's currently metaphorically kicking literal ass in Super Street Fighter 4, and 3) dude does not use his hands to play, but has found a way to not only play but to school others. Reading this will probably be the best part of your day.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

4/16: Eliza Doolittle wears Super Mario

About ten years ago I was phenomenally up on pop culture. I grokked it on a molecular level. When I saw Jennifer Aniston on the cover of TV Guide, I -- swear to god -- thought, "Hmm, they used the season-seven Friends photo shoot image: I think Twist already used that as a cover shot last year. Poor form."

A few months after that job ended, a remarkable issue of Jane magazine showed up one day, Remarkable because I didn't know who was on the cover. (I think it was Mischa Barton.) The first switch grass of ignorance was working it way up through the concrete parking lot of my brain. Within a year, it was like I Am Legend/The World Without Us out there: I knew no one who was on the radio. A year after that, I didn't even know what radio stations there were. A year after that -- again, swear to god -- the entirety of music had as much relevance to my life as, say, zydeco has in your life.

 All this is to say: there is someone named Eliza Doolittle who wore a t-shirt with Super Mario on it. This is apparently news, not because she's named after a George Bernard Show character but because she's famous. A famous singer. What genre? Dunno. What nationality? Presumably English. She was in Los Angeles for something called "Coachella," which is obviously a nonsense word.

Friday, April 15, 2011

4/15: London Marathon is getting brotherly love

I know a lot more about Mario marathons than actual marathons. And, in fact, Googling "Mario Marathon" sadly brought up Mario Lopez. I say sad not just because I'm reminded of how many hours I've lost to Saved by the Bell (possibly more than the Final Fantasy franchise, and I'm including Final Fantasy Legends in there) but because that phrase should be bringing up this and especially this.

So now, possibly for the first time - okay, I sincerely hope for the first time -- Mario (and Luigi!) will be in an honest-to-goodness 26.2-mile race. The London Marathon is this Sunday, and brothers Will and Max Mackintosh will be running dressed as the Super Mario Bros. Hopefully they won't go fully authentic, because overalls have got to chafe.

They're doing it all for charity -- CLIC Sargent Nurses, in particular, which rises funds for children with cancer. They're aiming for 7500 pounds, which is a lot of gold coins, so hopefully they hold down the B button for some extra speed. Learn more, and/or donate here.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

4/14: Super Mario is a good ol' boy

Koji Kondo's theme for Super Mario Bros. is a many-covered song. It's been Hawaiianed up on a ukulele.
It's been played on an instrument I'm guessing 91% of gamers thought was fictional, the ocarina.

It's eurhythmically played on some guy's hands.

The nation's two favorite musicial activities, beatboxing and fluting, were combined for this performance.
Millions have heard this two-guitar version of it.
But this may be the first time a decent bluegrass band has covered it. Which is fitting, because Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto loves bluegrass music. Live on tape (via YouTube), from the UK, but based is Arkansas: the Cleverlys!

4/13: Do the Konami Code on your coffee table

One could writ a whole book about video game controller, because that’s where the innovation is in the computerized input system. Think about computers: the keyboard is a modified typewriter: Charles Dickens would grasp it in a second. The mouse is newer, but still precedes me and a couple of other billion people on the planet. Specialty tools like Wacom tablets are peripheral for specifics applications: you wouldn’t buy one to use with Excel spreadsheets.
Apple has given use a true new interface in the clickwheel, which sacrifices almost every feature we say he prize for simplicity: it does one or two things so well you can do it with a single finger while not paying attention, not even looking. The touchscreen was another true innovation: hide the buttons under glass, and then change them up however you want.
The world of video games offers by far the most variety of devices that, basically, are a bunch of buttons mapped onto an ergonomic hunk of plastic. We’ve had joysticks, d-pads, sliding contact plates, paddles, dials, little on-off switches, dimmer switches, and, thanks to the Atari Jaguar, a controller with a built-in telephone from 1978.
But the single biggest controller of all time has to be the one from the NES. It was massive, about five feet across, required a team lift to pick up, and a mallet to just depress the select button. It was so…what? You don’t remember the controller being that big? You think it was actually kinda small?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

4/12: Mario's greatest, er, weirdest hits

Growing up, Cracked was the poor man's Mad Magazine. It scored a coup hiring away the great DOn Martin, but every non-Martin page was still lesser Mad. And at a certain point around age 12, Mad stopped being as funny as it used to. Mad's the same as always, but most readers began to outgrow it.

Cracked has found a new home, though, as a Web site with snarky, well researched, hilarious (and often profane) lists of bizarre stuff. Add to its roster of the worst superhero cartoons, weirdest rapper names, and lamest fight scenes this list of the weirdest things ever seen in Mario games. There are some good deep cuts from the Marioverse in here: the Minus World, of course, but also oddities from Mario Party and Superstar Saga spinoffs.

Monday, April 11, 2011

4/11: A little taste of what Mario in 3D might be like

Nintendo's stock price is dropping, and the suspicion is that it's due to Mario, Link, Samus, and even benchwarmer Kid Icarus (seriously, the dude radiates warmth: melted wax conducts heat very well) not being seen yet. And Nintendo is quite serious with it's when-its-done policy of releasing games -- as evidence of that, they not three weeks ago (if you can distantly recall) had a launch of a console without any big first-party titles.

Yes, I would like to play (and write about) a new 3D mario video game. I'm not alone. But I, along with everyone else on the planet not named Kevin Zeeff, merely complain about the lack of 3D Mario: we don't actually do anything about it. (Note: I exclude this guy from people who haven't done the world a solid and made Mario in 3D.)

Kevin, being the example, did something about it. Take a look at SMB3's World 1-1, rendered in three dimensions straight out of Paper Mario Wii. (Or, at the very least, Dr. Tongue's 3D House of Stewardesses.) He's done a lot of other amazing gaming videos on his YouTube channel, like Sonic looking for work and slumming it in various other games.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

4/10: Doctor Kong: in theaters soon!

Anyone who watched the documentary The King of Kong remembers the two main characters, locked in a continual conflict. No, not Mario and Donkey Kong, but Donkey Kong challenger Steve Wiebe and champ Billy Mitchell.

A check of the Twin Galaxies scoreboard (which you can do if you're a registered member, which I am not, which mens odds are you are not either, which means even if I was the link I posted wouldn't work for you, so just imagine it) reveals that neither Michell nor Wiebe currently holds the live DK high-score record. So who is this newcomer with the high score, and does he have his own documentary so we can get to know him better?

The answers are, in order: Hank Chien, MD, and yes. Chien is a Harvard-trained plastic surgeon from New York City, who started playing DK when he saw King of Kong. During a snowstorm late last year, he set the new record. And it just so happens that a documentary filmmaker was filming him for a piece on regulars at a Brooklyn arcade called Barcade, and when he set the new record, the doc gained new relevancy.

As this IFC interview with Hank Chien and filmmaker Alexis Neophytides shows, originally it was going to be a feature-length pieces about a bunch of Barcade regulars, with the name "The Regulars." The Chien-specific version is now called Doctor Kong. I've heard King of Kong as well was originally about what in the finished movie is a mere subplot: the old lady who is trying to set a Q*bert record. Mitchell was coaching her, but the Wiebe-Mitchell rivalry was so interesting director Seth Gordon focused on that instead.

Final note: All three DK players met a few weeks ago at the KongOff. I was there, too: if you're in the area, definitely stop by Richie Knucklez's arcade on a Friday night for a freeplay marathon or two. I was able to pass on bound galleys of my Mario book to Mitchell and Wiebe, but not to Chien. Chien was continually busy on the machine, so didn't have a spare hand. And I was loathe to interrupt him while he was operating. So, Hank, if you're reading, shoot me an email ( -- I've got a book for you to check out!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

4/9: Reason #41 why the Super Mario Bros. movie stunk

In a possibly futile attempt avoid a daily conversation of the Lost Levels, let's instead talk about the Super Mario Bros. movie. It's not that good. The book has a few pages of wild descriptions of the chaos of the set.

And here's a new story: at least some of them were making it up as they went along. Richard Edson recently was asked by The Escapist about the SMB movie. (Personally, I'd have asked him about driving Cameron's Ferrari first.) Edson said that he and costar Fisher Stevens basically made their dialogue up, since what was on the page, um, what's a nice synonym for "stunk"?

"So we did theirs and it was predictably lame, but we did it the best we could and then we said "Hey, Annabel, Rocky ... We took the liberty to improve the dialogue. You want to hear it?" [And they said] "Yeah, yeah, yeah. Let's just shoot it," and we got all set up. So we went into our dialogue and it got laughs and they loved it and that was eventually used, but from that moment on we got permission and the license to rewrite all our dialogue, come up with new scenes, whatever we wanted to do. They were more than happy to do it and so Fisher and I would get together and we would work on scenes and we would come up with our dialogue and it got to the point where we wouldn't even do their dialogue anymore."

As the shoot progressed, their dialogue actually started to add new plot points and discard old ones, which one would think directors wouldn't be okay with. But we would have no Crow and Tom Servo, no Siskel and Ebert, no Beavis and Butthead, if it weren't for the brave men and women who set out to make top-quality films--and then didn't.

Speaking of movies involving Super Mario Bros/mentions of Ferraris, there's a new movie out the features both. It's The Wrong Ferrari: A Screwball Tragedy, by musician Adam Green, filmed on his iPhone, and he rounded up some celebrity friends -- Macauley Culkin and Pete Doherty, among others, to pretend they get transported to the Mushroom Kingdom via a bad drug experience. 

You can see The Wrong Ferrari right here. No, wait, that's not right: Right HERE. Warnings: not rated, apparently some full frontal junkage, heaps of drug references, and filmed on an iPhone.

UPDATE!: The Richard Edson review came from Super Mario Bros.: The Movie Archive, not the Escapist. My bad for not sending the link direct to the source. I have just come back from an hour-long jaunt into the vast warehouseian collection of facts they've assembled. It goes on and on, like the matte painting from the end of Raiders, and there are treasures to be found.

Friday, April 8, 2011

4/8: The Man Behind the Mario Marathon

The earthquake and subsequent tsumani in Japan has deveatated the country, and (among the rest of the world) the gamer community has stepped in, in ways big and small.

Samual Mundy is stepping in as well, and if his contribution is big or small is up to you. Starting at noon today, Friday, the Canadian high school senior will be running his own Mario marathon (not this one, though), staying up 36 straight hours powering through classic after classic. "For the marathon, I'm playing Super Mario Bros. 1, 2, Lost Levels [editor's note: I'm telling you we can't go three days without mentioning this title], and 3, then Super Mario World, Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine, Galaxy, and New Super Mario Bros. Wii," he told us in an e-mail. Most will be via the Wii's virtual console.

That sounds like it would easily fill up his 36 hours, which runs all the way through Saturday at midnight. Any plans to recoup for Sunday? "On Sunday, I actually have to work at 10 AM," he admitted, adding with what has to be sarcasm: "I'm sure I will be useful."

He had an internal goal for how much he wanted to raise: $500. Thanks to friends at school and the Interwebs, he's already exceeded that goal: not bad, considering he hasn't logged in a single second of gaming! He's stayed up late burning through games -- who hasn't? -- but never pulled a true all-nighter.

Mundy is better known online as Ast Onok, a reviewer of games, books, movies, and whatever else catches his fancy. When not staying up for 36 hours straight living la Vida Mario, he's plowing through StarCraft II and, since he lives on Prince Edward Island, possibly getting drunk on raspberry cordial. (Yep, just made me an Anne of Green Gables joke no one will get.)

All the money is going to a very good cause, the (right now overwhelmed) Red Cross. Want to help? Shoot him your PayPal digits at And follow his progress at

Thursday, April 7, 2011

4/7: Super Mario Parkour

One of the most basic skateboardings tricks is the ollie. And it is a trick, not just a move: kick up the board as you jump, so it appears the board is magically connected to your feet. Decades of snowboarding (where the board really is attached to your feet) and Tony Hawk games have lessened the impact of the ollie, which any kid with a half-hour's time in front of the lirbary steps can pull off.

But when it does get pulled off, the word to use to describe it is grace. Freerunning has that same sort of grace, turning everyday fire hydrants and standpipes and milk crates into your own personal jungle gym. At its best, it makes people living cartoons, as invincibly bouncy as Jackie Chan--in one of his Hong Kong movies where safety is an unlit scented candle and awesomeness is magma.

If you want to experience freerunning on your own, it's sometimes look-attaining (wrong subdivision) to try it on a busy street. It's ironic, yes, that such a poetic form of expression made to use common obstacles needs to be confimed to a specially made gym, a Romper Room for grown-ups who want to relive that scene from Casino Royale where Bond just RICOCHETS from one floor to the next via elevator. (Or, if you're a comedy fan, this.)

A gym in Los Angeles called Tempest Freerunning Academy is trying to bridge that gap. And take a wild guess how they decided to communicate the joy of jumping in their establishment. Hint: it involves the guy in the banner illustration of the blog.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

4/6: I Am Super Mario's Complete Lack of Surprise

The fall of 1999 will go down in history as the greatest time to hit the theaters. American Beauty, Being John Malkovich, Three Kings, Boys Don't Cry, The Insider, Toy Story 2, Green Mile, Bringing Out the Dead, Man on the Moon. And sticking around theaters from the summer were Blair Witch Project, Sixth Sense, The Mummy, Notting Hill, and Eyes Wide Shut. Lost in the shuffle were films that any other year would be the cream of the crop: Iron Giant, Galaxy Quest, Office Space, Election, Rushmore.

For me at least, above them all is Fight Club. It turned me onto Chuck Palahniuk. It made me unable to read him without hearing Edward Norton's diction. It made me a lifelong devotee of David Fincher, and when I say "lifelong" I'm not just making as joke about Benjamin Button. Or Benjamin Button's runtime.

I am absolutely the perfect audience, on other words, for a Mario/Fight Club parody. This clip goes out of its way to ape the Dust Brothers-y shrinking font, the second- and third-act weirdness, the natural response if someone hits Super Mario, the--okay, I'm ruining jokes the more I say. It even gets into spoiler territory, in what in retrospect should have been -- but wasn't -- a really obvious joke.

But I'm once again breaking the first rule -- the first two rules, really -- of Smash Club. I'll say no more.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

4/5: Behold...the Quad Run!

A while back, there was a wonderful "computer-aided," "automatic," "fake" demonstration of Super Mario World's cover of a Queen song.

It'd be hard to top that.

Really, really hard.

You'd have to do something above and beyond simply coming up with another song for a quad run.

What I'm saying is someone has done it.

A dude going by the vowl-dump monkier of "Agawaf" has done it, though. His quad run involves the four NES Mairo classics: Super Mario Bros., The Lost Levels (seriously, can we go three days without this game coming up?), SMB2, and SMB3.

And he beats each game, using the same controller. Four simultaneous games.

How? How in the name of Crom the Uncaring could he DO this?

The technical specs are here. Basically, Agawef used every trick short of blowing in the cartridge -- pressing left and right simultaneously, purposefully taking damage so long as Mario didn't die, jamming the buttons to make Mario stop without actually ceasing to press the movement button, etc. More power to him, of course, and good luck to anyone who tries doing this for Super Mario World, Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine, and Super Mario Galaxy at the same time.

Monday, April 4, 2011

4/4: Behind the Scenes at Super Mario Bros. 2

Chris Kohler has already done Mario many solids in his book Power-Up, but now he's pulled the curtain on a new aspect of mid-80s Mario development.

So: Super Mario Bros. 2. Just about everyone knows that this is the odd duck out of the Mario world. (Well, everyone in the smallish subsection of global population who plays video games and care about their history: there are one billion grandmothers who think we're all kind of foolish for thinking about toys this much.) What is now known as the Lost Levels came out in Japan, it wasn't a good fit for the USA, so Nintendo scratched the serial numbers off Doki Doki Panic and released it (with its rutabaga-y gameplay) as SMB2.

Not so simple, Kohler points out, scoring some great behind-the-scenes interviews for Wired's Gamelife section. Nintendo was at work on a whole other scrapped idea for SMB2, which mixed vertical gameplay with Mario-style jumping. It ended up not working out, but certain elements of it (changed to pulling rutabagas, because nothing odd about THAT) worked its way into Doki Doki/SMB2. As a result of this reporting, we are one step closer to what John Hodgman would capslockingly call COMPLETE WORLD KNOWLEDGE about Mario.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

4/3: A new Mario game you've never heard of

There's an entirely NEW Mario game coming out...and you haven't heard of it.

There's a reason for that. Several, actually. First, this is a Japanese-only game. Second, it's an arcade game -- which goes hand-on-hand with Japan-only, since the arcade scene here in the States isn't nearly as robust as the Land of the Andromeda Strain. No, wait, wrong Michael Crichton novel: Land of the Terminal Man. Dang it, Land of the Rising Sun.

Third, the game's not even out yet. And fourth, it's not a Nintendo first-party game: the Big N commissioned Capcom to make it. So it's not like Shigeru Miyamoto, already at work on two new Mario 3DS games, had any hand in this.

And that's why you have not heard of Super Mario Bros. Wii Coin World. But there's a possible fifth reason, as if four were not enough. News about this broke on the first day of April, which in the world of news about anything is a big stinky red flag that the story is bogus. As bogus as, say, Miyamoto defecting to Sony, or a special new room found in a Zelda game with one of everything. The people who write these limpid stories should be ashamed of themselves.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

4/2: College in a nutshell: a Mario beer pong table

There has never been a Mario/Pong crossover -- Alleyway came close, using the paddle-game genre with a Mario cameo, but it ain't Pong.

Now, though, we finally have the 40-years-in-the-making Mario/Pong crossover! You can -- excuse me, i'm just being told..uh...ah...I see. Okay, never mind. it's not a Mario/Pong crossover.

It's a Mario/BEER PONG crossover!

Behold! 100 hours of work! Three hundred separate individual elements! Just about every sprite seen in SMB3! Polyurethane, Polyurethane, Polyurethane! All in one way-too-small kitchen!

Friday, April 1, 2011

4/1: Adam S. Stephens, the new King of Kong

There is a new King of Kong.
The new record holder is Adam S. Stephens. Stephens, according to Twin Galaxies, hit an unprecedented 1,110,600-point high score in Donkey Kong. Stephens is well known by the arcade score-chasing crowd, currently holding top scores in a dozen games, including Centipede, Asteroids, Space Invaders, and Star Castle
“I’m blown away by this,” Walter Day, Twin Galaxies proprietor said. “You have no idea how many records I’ve seen ‘signed,’ as it were, by Stephens. If you measured nothing else but sheer quantity of high scores, Stevens would win in a walk over probably the next 25 competitors, combined. He’s that prolific.”
“Stephens is a legend, so I don’t mind losing to someone who’s been putting up top scores for so long,” previous record holder Hank Chien said. Billy Mitchell, current record holder for a taped performance, added: “It was only a matter of time before the world saw [Stephens’s] initials up on DK, next to the USA I use for my signature.” Steve Wiebe, another past record holder, added “When you think of the letters on every high score you’ve ever seen, Adam S. Stephens is always there.”
Furthermore, Stephens has revealed himself to have been a longtime player of arcade games, going back decades. “I’ve hit probably every arcade in the country, possibly every single machine. I seem to get the high score especially often in bars, or really anyplace there’s alcohol. Sometimes I’ll get three or four high scores in a row.”
What is Stephens’ secret? “I keep thinking about my initials up there. That’s really my motivation: knowing that the next person who steps up to the machine will see my first, middle, and last initial up there. I like to think that people might smile upon seeing it, because they know the effort it took to get it up there.”
Stephens added that many people even adopt his own initials, as a way of tributing his prowess with games. “That’s an especially big honor, because there’s no other reason someone would do that other than respect for me, for gaming, for the next seven-year-old boy with his mom who comes up to the cabinet to play.”
Extra challenging is many arcades’ habit of unplugging machines, thereby erasing all previous high scores. “Yeah, that bugs me,” Stephens admits. “A whole bunch of my friends who are high scorers, we all feel that’s an unnecessary sleight. Me, Peter Ogden O’Neal, a British gamer named Brian Ulster Morris -- all the a-list guys.” He added that Diane Isobel Curtis is another top player, but something goes by her maiden name of Klein, which causes confusion.
So any more goals for Stephens? “There’s one goal I’ve never been able to top: Art Allen. He’s my only real competition.” Arthur Albert Allen holds top records in Crazy Taxi and Defender. “I hate to say it, but I get a sense of laziness from Allen’s play style, like he doesn’t even care about who sees his initials.”
Allen, who is developing an abridged version of Twitter that’s only three characters long, responded thusly: “ACK. Meh. SFW? BFD. AMF, AAA.” The response took six posts to send. Punctuation has been added for effect.