Sunday, July 31, 2011

7/31: Nintendo might not be trapped in 1983 any more

I've had some interviews lately, and the reasonable question of Nintendo's online strategy comes up a lot. I've started joking that Nintendo was a pioneer with online gaming access way way back in 1983, and int he 28 years since have not altered their plan much. For instance, the concept of "playing a game with someone else" still seems to strike the Big N the way a hoarder shrugs off a question of why he needs the empty boxes of Cheerios. It strikes at a much deeper core problem.

In Nintendo's case, that problem comes from a very rigid definition of what a "game" is. When they caved and allowed Netflix access on the Wii, and twisted into pretzels to say that they were still making game-playing first? And just allowing Netflix access so that people would be more likely to play the Wii since they would be using it more? That wasn't BS: I think that's jejune off the charts.

But the world of technology users is adapting, and what people say they want/actually want/actually need is different than it was even five years ago. Apple is eating Nintendo's lunch selling devices that costs less that the 3DS, have games that are a whole lot cheaper, and have a monumentally superior selection in quantity, and arguably in quality as well. Nintendo is like that bait-and-tackle shop still selling nightcrawlers and hellgramites for $7 a pint when the new Walmart is selling them for $4.

The way stores like that survive is to offer stuff Walmart DOESN'T: open up a pizza parlor next door, or a dry cleaner. Nintendo really really doesn't want to compete on price, not for hardware and double-whammy negatory not on software. And just as much, it doesn't want to sell its games on nonNintendo platforms.

Big N honcho Satoru Iwata looks like he might finally begin steering Nintendo to a new course. He and Miyamoto are apparently involved in a three-year plan to increase Nintendo's online audience. Worst-case scenario, this will be "now you can pay $40 for an 8-year-old Mario port without going to the store!" Best-case scenario, they'll begin tapping into the huge, huge audience that willingly forks over digital cash for games and DLC and maps and the chance to call a ten-year-old a bad name over a headset.

Iwata and the other Nintendo heads all also took a pay cut, as a flagellation over the 3DS price cut. 3DS sales will officially be underwater: it will cost more to make one than to buy it. Next week, they might start knocking iPhones out of people's hands, or seeing if some script kiddie could please please write malware for Lion OS.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

7/30: The robots who play Super Mario

Robots: is there anything they can't do?

First they beat us at chess. Then Jeopardy. Now they're taking away our most precious culturual achievement: Super Mario Bros.

You may have heard of tool-assisted speedruns, which is basically a best-out-of-however-many-it-takes kind of thing: you're always playing, but all your individual best times on levels are then stitched together into a Franken-run. This ins't that. This is full-on artificual intelligence programs edsigned solely to BEAT YOU AT THE ONLY THING IN LIFE YOU CARE ABOUT. (The preceding sentence was only for Billy Mitchell.)

Considering how difficult chess can be, or even Potent Potables, this should be a snap. But there's no opponent in this, only a fastest time, and therefore finding a way to better a score, and then finessing your AI to recognize the shortcut and take it, makes the Mario-playing robots all be in competition with each other. Which is really the only way we're going to survive to Robopacalypse: pitting them against each other, us the puppet masters desperately hoping our Pinochios don't go rogue and realize they don't need us.

I'm joking, of course. I've got a Roomba, and had the confidence in its servitude to attach a death laser to it. I can hear it now, busily scurrying around me, and have complete confidence it will neve ****poof****

...

...

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<c: run program "death to meatbags".exe>
<run program "evil laugh".mu.hu.ha.ha.ha>

Friday, July 29, 2011

Thursday, July 28, 2011

7/28: How low can you go, Mario?

Tons of Mario news today, most all of it leading from this. This, if you did not click on it -- it's okay -- says that Nintendo made 25 billion yen less than it thought it would this quarter, and lost just about the same amount versus last year. The big difference between this year and last year is this year the #DS is out, and it appears to not be making the slightest bit of difference sales-wise.

So Nintendo's doing something different. First, it's slashing the prices of the 3DS. What once was $250 is now $169. That's $80 less. That's a lot, especially for a console not even six months old. Nintendo has only done the Crazy Eddie thing one other time, with its other 3D system, the Virtual Boy. The price change will be mid-August.

For people like me who bought in early, Nintendo is trying to make them feel like they didn't just flush $80 down a toilet. Anyone who basically turns their 3DS on and goes online in the next two weeks gets signed up for TWENTY free downloadable games, some right now and some down the road. Is that enough to appease early adopters? Maybe. Is the price cut enough to lure in the gamers? Not for Chris Kohler. If you read nothing else here, read what he has to say: it makes a huge amount of sense, and casts Nintendo as a company that doesn't quite know what to do, save for the obvious thing that would net them a lot of money.

And least we forget, the shining knights of Nintendo are edging closer to the horizon. What was called Super Mario 3DS is now being called Super Mario 3D Land, for my money a better title. It drops in November. And Mario Kart 3DS is now...dramatic pause... Mario Kart 7! It hits stores in December, just in time for Annual Gift Man.

7? Yes, seven. Counting the SNES, N64, Game Boy Advance, Gamecube, DS, and Wii versions, the 3DS makes for the seventh iteration. It's not being referred to as 3D anymore, even though it still is. This might be to make the regular Mario title feel more special, since Mario Kart sells itself.

7/27: Parlez-vous Francais, Mario?

I haven't mentioned this yet (partly because I don't know the release dates) but the Super Mario book has sold translation rights in a couple of other languages. Or countries: I'm not sure how it works. They're translating it into Portuguese for the Brazilian audience (Obrigado, by the way, if you're from there). But I don't think the deal includes Portugal itself. And it seems silly to have two parallel translations of the book into Portuguese. But I'm sure there's some standard agreement made to share the translated text across all markets that want it, and I'm just a bunny-hunting noob wondering why this one guy is good at attacking and this other guy is good at healing.

I bring up translations because French/France is a language/territory we've sold the book. And I think I know why: they already have a Mario history book. Voila, I appropriate say, or maybe voici! Yep, L'Histoire de Mario -- The History of Mario is a real book, by William Audureau. Looks like it's part of a series on Nintendo over the years, written by various hands.

The weird thing is I can't find it on Amazon.fr anywhere. And my French is, how you say, rusty? I can make out a few nouns and articles, but I keep throwing individual verbs into Google to see if they mean kick or kicked or will be kicking. It is around this point I remember that I do not speak French, any more than I can drive stick by sitting confidently at the wheel, pressing down on the clutch like i was outracing  an explosion, and stalling the car into an ugly lurch. (True story.)

So if anyone out there is bilingual, please fill me in on where I can get Mssr. Audureau's livre. If nothing else, I want to see what he's got in there that I wasn't able to dig up. And if anyone's thinking about buying English/American rights, please do! The world needs more Mario.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

7/26: I'll do the dishes when I finish this Infinite Mario level

I have been trying for what seems like weeks to pass on this next link, but it never works. it's still not working, since too many people are visiting the site. About ten years ago, when Slashdot was the only social aggregator site in town, that was called Slashdotting. Now there are whole teams of mirror-site experts, who appear to have no job but loads of available bandwidth and time to Samaritan it up freelance, who find a site that's down and create duplicates of the contest to that everyone on the web can share.

The site I want to tell you about is Infinite Super Mario Bros. (I can at least link you to Jason Kottke, the most recent person to webfail the site.) You can imagine what it would be like, even if you can't actually access the site now. Take a solid Mario board...and just keep adding obstacles and turtles and fungi and coins. Goes on longer than Benjamin Button's runtime.

Infinite games can be fun: there was an Indy game on floppy disk that rearranged its map so each game was a new series of quests. And of course most casual games like Bejeweled and Tetris don't end unless you lose. The continual playing is relaxing: there's no pressure since it's not like you have the stink of failure if you lose: there's no way to win. It's zen.

Monday, July 25, 2011

7/25: Yoshi: the velociraptor of choice parents decorate their baby's room with

Who's the cutest wittle velociraptor in the world? Who? Who? Possibly the inhabitant of this nursery right here:

That's right, Yoshi took care of Baby Mario in Yoshi's Island 2, and he and his fellow little-y yoshis will take care of the lucky baby who gets to hang out below some of Nintendo's cutest dinosaurs. Actually, I think we can definitely say THE cutest dinosaurs, because who else is going to qualify as a cute dinosaur? Nothing from a Turok game. Or a Jurassic Park tie-in. Certainly not Resident Evil or Primal Fury.

Comes complete with a SNES-controller lullaby machine, Miyamoto-ish paintings on the walls, and hopefully not one of those poison-spitters in the corner. (Thanks to Josh Harrison at Ology for letting the world know about this.)

Sunday, July 24, 2011

7/24: Luigi's sad Vegas street life

The next time you go to Las Vegas, you may notice Mario and Luigi walking the streets. And Superman. And Batman and Zorro. But they're not visiting from New York, Metropolis, Gotham, and California. They're all from Los Angeles. Wait, Zorro is from there, scratch Zorro.

Parts of Downtown Los Angeles have been overrun by costumed out-of-work actors who dress up like cartoons, superheroes, and celebrities, posing for pictures and earning what tips they can muster. And sometimes going a bit crazy from the desert heat and thinking they are the people they pretend to be -- which is the theme of at least one or two Kurt Vonnegut books. Anyway, there are more tourists is Las vegas than LA, and much less competition, so the costumed set has moved.

You can rent one of these costumes for $40 a day. Any tips you gather above it -- the article says good muggers (that's people who mug for the camera) can pull in up to $250 a day -- are yours to keep. Rough life, especially if every minute of your job involves standing in a 105 degree desert wearing a giant foam head that a different person was sweating in yesterday and trying your best to be merry to passersby.

Hopefully the Mario and Luigi work as a team. if they were on either side of he street calling to tourists like a dog that can only have one master, you know most everyone's beelining to Mario. Luigi only gets the ironic hipsters wearing Garfunkel/Oates t-shirts.

7/23: World's greatest birthday party

Five reasons why a Washington boy named Sam had an epically epic Super Mario party.

1) Authentic green pipe for the green pipe.

2) Chocolate mustaches: when you get tired of pretending it's facial hair, it's like an inch away from your mouth.

3) Specially labeled bottle water.

4) Superstar cookies. (Still want to call them a Starman. It's the Princess Toadstool rebranding issue all over again.)

5) Gaming during the party. Ain't really Super Mario if he's not there on the teevee box.

Friday, July 22, 2011

7/22: Shell on wheels: turtle gets wheel for leg

So the clean little secret behind this blog is that I save a few hours of scouring Blues News and GameSpot and Kotaku and (insert name of favorite gaming news site here) and juts have Google Alert bring me the tatterdemalion links of the day in one fell swoop. And often they pull in some chaff along witht he wheat: that's fine.

The chaff today was so amazing I'm posting it instead of the wheat: sorry; yet-another-discussion-about-what-Super-Mario-will-be-like-in-3D! Because we got a turtle here who lost a leg in a fire, and they glues a plain old swivel chair wheel on him, and now he's rockin' in like Robocop. Or should I say he's not rocking it but ro--no, no I won't say that. That's KSL broadcasting' pun. I'll stick with my own pun -- a lifetime of TMNT fandom has given me a wealth of turtle and shell puns to pluck.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

7/21: Super Street (Art) Fighter Mario

A few days ago I tweetered this little bit of magic in Toronto. For those who don't live in a big enough city to experience it, this is street art. it kinda looks like graffiti, and depending upon the police officer/building superintendant you talk to it is vandalism, but it also beautifies and spritzens up a regular day.

The excellent documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop tells the story of street art, most notably via Banksy (who directed it) and Stephan Fairly (who gave the world not only the Obey Giant icon but the Obama Hope poster). Also in the mix is a French guy called Space Invader, whose thing is 8-bit (and earlier) art, mostly Space Invaders, hence his name.

Playing off that theme (street art is a very small world, with a lot of homages) is OakOak, another Frenchman. He's tagging Duck Hunt, He's tagging Game Boys, he's tagging Mario. One of many, many questions modern art thus brings to the table: is the only difference between art and a viral Nintendo ad campaign that Nintendo is not paying for this? Is pro bono bombing for the Big N still an ad?



That Spider-Man one is pretty rad, though.