Monday, August 29, 2011

8/28-29: AfterPAX

Yesterday was the longest day of my life. So long it's still going on today.

I wake up at 3 am Seattle time, to catch a 3:20 shuttle to SeaTac. I went to bed close to 1 am -- hey, it's PAX -- so was working on 2 hours of sleep. One double-meat BK breakfast sandwich later, and I'm skybound, heading home.

But now things turn into Plains, Trains, and Automobiles. I land at my connecting flight in Chicago at Chicago-time noon -- don't ask what time this actually was, because I'd have to subtract two hours from Seattle but then add three because I kept waking up at East Coast time, and basically I was an empty stomach on two legs waiting for rest that never came. And after an hour talking to assorted and sundry at Amtrak, Greyhound (both cancelled), the airline (all flights either cancelled or booked solid as an impacted bowel until Thursday), and three car rental places, I find one that'll let me return it on the East Coast.

Want to know how far away Chicago is from my house? It's 850 miles. That's about 14 hours of straight driving. And I was on two hours of sleep. And there's a $350 "fee" for returning a vehicle to another rental place: the technical term, I think, is Primae Noctis.  So I need some carpoolers.

My plans of starting to yell "WHO'S GOING TO JERSEY!" at the rental booth wasn't needed, since I chatted up a couple from Princeton on the plane, and they wanted to get home as much as I did. So we split the costs, upgraded the subcompact for a mere $5, stocked up on bottled water, and turned the wheel due east and left it there for two whole time zones.

We drove for 14 hours straight. Wandered home at a time generally agreed to be "way too early" instead of "way too late," so I caught up on Twitter. Hours of sleep since Saturday morning: 2. Approximate weight my eyes will be tonight at 9 pm: Jovian gravity.

Here is where I avoid the conclusion of the story, where I am reunited with my family only for all of us to be stuck in a four-hour traffic jam trying to make a U-turn in an inland New Jersey town that legally had become an island due to flooding. I would have loved some time in Chicago, but I'd much rather be at home with my girls. Now my life can resume.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

8/29: More PAX! Fortune Street in action

The only downside of playing Fortune Street for half an hour was that I was ten feet away from very comfy-looking bean bag chairs, and I was standing the whole time. Me, another guest, and two Nintendo staffers took turns playing a smaller-size board than usual -- smaller so they could demo the entire game.

I said  to them I had no idea why it took ten iterations for this to be imported into America. My only guess is that they didn't want to dilute the Mario Party brand by bringing in a second Mario et co tabletop gaming sim, especially one so superficially similar. "Yeah, so that's basically Mario Party, I heard at least two passersby say. But I guess Mario Party itself was diluting its own brand -- SKU overload alert! -- so Nintendo's taking the chance that more on top of more is okay.

It's not. Fortune Street is Monopoly, slimmed down, with a lot of fun value changes that would grind any game not run by Sheldon and an army of Sheldon clones to a grinding halt. Example: when you get two properties next to each other, their value goes up a percentage, as does the rest they charge. And the adjacent properties' value goes DOWN correspondingly. On a console this math is done automatically, and you don't need to know if they carried the decimal properly: they did. But the value changes are one of the fun variables, and it doesn't take away from the gameplay nor slow down the game at all.

There are one or two too many menu options per turn, but clever touches like not asking you if you want to buy a property when you;re too broke to do so are nice. The Mario cast is included, as well as various Dragon Warrior stars and surprise guests...who have their picture on the cover so maybe "surprise" isn't the correct word there.

8/26: Things Falling Out of My Brain After PAX

My Friday:

9:55: Get to PAX and miraculously waltz into the Paramount theater, where people had previous been queueing for hours. Felt like Gladstone Gander -- and I]m not linking to anything today, because I'm using a friend's Netbook and things are weird, and I keep altering the display font size when I do something accidental, and if it gets much smaller I'll just be screaming "Help meeee! Help meeeee!"

Scott Jaffee, who gave us Twisted Metal and God of War, arrived to give us 75,000 words in an hour. He can talk like nobody's business. But since he wasn't introduced, and just dove right in with a story about going to college and getting keys and etc, I wondered why the guy introducing Scott Jaffee was talking so long to introduce him -- oh, wait, that IS the guy.

Then it was time for the Angry Video Game Nerd, who hosted from a double-wide convention hall. Wanted to go say hi after the show. So did about five hundred other people: He is an "internet celebrity" and all, but EVERYONE at PAX is regularly online, so cross out "internet" and just consider him a celebrity. I was going to pass on a copy of my book, but this man was mobbed up worse than a Corleone. I emailed him instead.

Basically, that was the rest of the day, except each new panel I visited -- Major Nelson, Mega 64, 1-Up, Giant Bomb, etc etc -- I came up with new ways to avoid the gigantic throng of the wish-this-was-only-metaphorically unwashed masses. Hit them up before the panel, immediately afterwards, in the hall between gigs, etc. Everyone was generous with their time, and one guy even refused a book, saying he had already ordered one! Achievement: unlocked!

Speaking of which, on my way back I passed by a Barnes & Noble. As I approach, I see they smartly have pulled all of their video game books to be displayed in the front window, the prestige spot usually reserved for the top bestsellers. There was my book, staring back at me. Popped inside, was treated like royalty while I signed the copies they had in New Releases, and floated my way back to the, alas, bus station to the Kirkland Park and Ride.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

8/25: PAX, here I come!

Hurricane notwithstanding, I'll be fling through the air with the greatest of ease in a few hours, heading to Seattle for PAX, the video game convention.

Nintendo's going to be at PAX, and I'm definitely going to stop by, and I'm really curious how they're going to react. I can imagine everyone there being supernice and friendly. I can also imagine someone getting a rictus grin and saying, "Hi, uh-uh, great, okay," and wandering off, talking into her jacket sleeve that Tulip is in the bouquet, REPEAT, TULIP IS IN THE BOUQUET! And then I stand there for five minutes confused while everyone asks me to wait, and then I'm asked to leave by large men.

Other reasons to stop by the Nintendo booth, besides awkwardness humor, are playable games. Super Mario 3DS, Mario Kart 7, the Kid Icarus game, Star Fox 3D, plus Shinobi and Sonic. No way am I passing up playing them before they're out.

Are you going to PAX? If you, if you see me, stop me and say "Shigeru sent me." Be the first person to say it and I'll give you a free book!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

8/24: Barcade exploits

I've been hearing about Barcade for years, and finally made it tonight to the Jersey City location for a book singing. Great night for it: the windows all opened outwards, and we displayed books int he windows. None were yoinked, but more than one fell down by a light breeze.

Let's see if I can remember how many games were there, or what I played vs what I watched others play. (it's that sort of old-school arcade feel: Don't think anything from beyond 1995 was available to play.) Sit-down Atari Star Wars with vector graphics, Tempest, Tapper (the Budweiser version, not that Barcade would otherwise stood to having Bud on tap), Burger Time (a complete meal there), Q*Bert, JoustGolden Axe, Sinistar, Asteroids, Outrun, Rampage, Gauntlet II, Millipede, Defender, Zaxxon. For every one game I remember there's one I'm forgetting.

And Mario Bros. And Punch-Out. And Donkey Kong. Hank Chien practiced on the DK at the Brooklyn Barcade, but Al the Barcade manager said that the Jersey version show sup in the Dr. Kong documentary.

Thanks for a great time, everyone! I may not be back to sign books, but Ill definitely be back!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

8/23: How Super Mario Should Have Ended

Last week I passed around a fantastic How It Should Have Ended clip on Harry Potter. I've seen a LOT of Harry Potter parodies at this point -- almost as many as I've seen Mario parodies -- and the humor almost becomes secondary to how well they aped the film's mood and voices and dramatic feel. The cleverness of the writing is usually secondhand, because any fool can slam a keyboard but it takes actual manhours to design characters that look and move and feel like Snape and Hermione and so on,

This isn't not as good-- not much could be as good as the reachdeeping on display for Deathly Hallows Part 2-- Deathly Harder. But I can guarantee that the Mario clip takes a turn you don't quite expect, but will be very happy to see actually happen.

-- "No, stop, that's not how you use that." Heh heh heh...

8/22: Super Mario Jenga

Note: writing two today, but I'm dating this one as yesterday to keep the shattered illusion of continuity.

One of the funniest earthquake Tweets I saw today was RTed by Patton Oswalt, along the lines of 'Man, what a terrible Jenga player I've become." My personal joke contribution made no sense if you didn't watch the WWF in the 1980s, and knew who Tugboat's tag-team partner in the natural Disasters was.

But bringing up Jenga is a doggone perfect way to introduce a brand new Mario game, Super Mario Balance Block. it's basically Jenga -- but then again Boom Blox was basically Jenga, and that found a way to make Jenga a Steven Spielberg action movie. This is an actual physical game, with rows of question blocks and rows of bricks and some mushrooms, and you have to remove them without making the whole tower topple.

I'm running out of ways to say Jenga here. But it looks like it's not going to be sold in US stores, not unless there are a hundred thousand people who are all thinking "I've held off buying Jenga for years because it doesn't make me think about 1986 enough."

Monday, August 22, 2011

8/21: On Super Mario Piracy

For years if not decades, Nintendo has been scared of piracy. That's one of the core reasons why the kept the cartridge format going, and why the Gamecube discs were little rinky-dinks. And for anyone who thinks their concerns were unwarranted or exaggerated, here ya go.

The man who was arrested for allegedly uploading Mario and Phoenix Wright games was from Japan, but he could be from anywhere. The Internet is one big  five-and-dime with a nearsighted shopkeeper, and if you want to use a five-fingered discount to acquire something you can. In fact, for a few years last decade with Napster it took people years to realize that they were stealing at all.

I remain conflicted about this, and probably always will. On one hand, I love the idea of Creative Commons, and information wants to be free, and the idea that piracy is a "popularity tax" because it's not like Lars Von Trier movies are the ones being BitTorrented. The concept that no matter hwo steals the artists and publishers that produced the work end up enriched by it due to exposure and ancillary popularity is tremendously appealing, like finding an alternate universe where Nutella tastes as good as you hoped it would before you actually tasted it.

I have two hands, though, lucky me. And the other hand realized that "I" did not publish my book, a large media corporation named after a flightless bird did, and that they paid me for it and are paying for all the printing and shipping and marketing costs. And, like every other book they put out, they took a calculated risk that people would enjoy the subject matter and the cover and my writing enough to buy it. And it'll take a while -- months or years -- to ultimately figure out if that risk was worth taking or not. And this is a rabidly inopportune time to start saying that people don't have to pay to take things they want to take anymore, because computers.

Nintendo has two hands, too. They're surely behind this Japanese guy getting arrested: they're really Jack bauery about talking down pirates, or at least creating the illusion that they are tough on pirates. In reality, you at home could probably be yo-ho-hoing it after an hour reading the right sites. I don't mean downloading, I mean uploading. it's the uploads that are the problem, of course, the fresh meat that everyone will them be able to download and replicate like (let me put on my Hugo Weaving American accent) A VIRUS, MR. ANDERSON.

On the other, pick any of the dozens of t-shirt stands on the net. They've got Mario t-shirts for sale. Go see how hard it is to find a mario game to play in a Flash browser window. Nintendo knows about this stuff. They don't care. It's a) unstoppable, and b) good marketing. Mario is not a new idea that needs to be sold any more than Coke is. "Why, a brown soda in a red can? Good thing I saw that 2011 advertisements, I'd never heard of such a concept before!" Coke's interested in continual sales, just like the Big N.

One of the dirty secrets of piracy is that it may -- your mileage may of course vary -- be better for your little tidbit crumb of media than trying to stop it. I know it's done blockbuster damage to the music industry, and I can use blockbuster both to refer to the bombs that destroy a block and Blockbuster Video, which no company ever wants to be compared to as opposed to with. I really don't know how it is with bookstores, but the fact that Borders is closing ain't good.

So I have a double standard with piracy. I don't do it myself, but right now I have a hard time getting myself to despise anyone else who does it. This double standard also applied to huge moral and philosophical swatches of my life, and I highly recommend it to one and all.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

8/20: Sonic NOT in Mario 3D after all

So, remember this? Which I wrote up yesterday? Yeah, it's fake.

The site I found it on claims that it's their "thing" to make things up on Friday. Not visiting that site anymore.

But I bought it, right up the to sinker. And I apologize. Because I got played. And it pretty much sucks.

Friday, August 19, 2011

8/19: Super Mario Land 3D: Now with more hedgehogs!

On the first page of Ernest Cline's Ready Player One is the first of what promises to be a thousand 1980s references. He's describing how bad the world is, and the phrase he uses is "cats and dogs, living together." If you didn't hear Bill Murray and Peter Venkman saying those lines, singsonging them like a couplet, then on some basic level I don't "get" you. And you probably don't "get" me. And that's fine, and we can be friends, but not kindred.

The news today that one of the playable characters in the upcoming Super Mario Land 3D would be SONIC THE $#(*^$(*#^$#( HEDGEHOG has me automatically reach for the "cats and dogs" line, like a morning-show DJ grabbing the slide whistle when the conversation turned to dropping pants.

I know that Sonic and Mario have been sharing the Olympic Games franchise in recent years, but still: in my mind, these are two mighty rivers of talent, two vast separate bodies of water. And another line from the immortal Ghostbusters comes to mind, about crossing the streams...