Friday, September 30, 2011

9/30: Shut up, CVS! It's not Halloween yet!

But I can't complain about Halloween because I've already seen CHRISTMAS advertisements. I saw them in AUGUST. That goes beyond something worth complaining about into some Harlan Ellison-y story where there are only two binary holidays, and at the equinox we switch from one to the other.

Anyway, Halloween isn't just a time to put on costumes and receive candy: it's also apparently Celebrity Deathmatch. (Note: I originally wrote Grudge Match here: if anyone remembers that site, huzzah!) Amazon ranks similar items in to-100 formats, and so by regularly checking in on the highest-ranking costumes on Amazon, you can find out a metric -- almost certainly not the correct one, but A metric -- about what's popular. Among the early shoppers. Who don't make their own costumes. And can afford to spend $75 on a piece of yellow felt panted like Spongebob.

Being an author, I am very vaguely familiar with Amazon's page rank system, which always seems broken because there seem to be 43 thousand books listed as more popular than mine, because come on. Mario is IN RED FOIL on the inside jacket! RED FOIL! I paid an extra $2 per Deadpool comic back in 1995 for red foil. Now it's added for no additional charge! Plus: Spot varnish!

Wow, lot of tangents today. No more. Promise. (Hey, that's a weird name for a margarine. (Hey, did you hear that margarine is actually gray before the yellow food coloring gets added? And why does "OLEO" always make it in the crosswords? And who is the YMA Sumac lady they think is famous?)

Ahem.

Here is an article about halloween costumes. Super Mario is in the top five. This site is speculating that mario's popularity vis-a-vis Angry Birds can be tracked by whose costumes sell better.

There. That wasn't so difficult, was it?

Thursday, September 29, 2011

9/29: Marionomatopoeia

You have to see this --and by see this, I mean hear it with your eyes.

Kirk Hamilton has attempted -- and succeeded, because you'll be hearing these words clear as day -- in making sound effects for some of gaming's classic sounds. Think about it before clicking: what sound would you use to describe Mario's jump? The sound of him zoomping down the green pipe? What would become as iconic as thwip, snikt, and bampf? Read on and find out!

9/28: Post-signing high

Doylestown rocks.

Going there I knew one thing about Doylestown: I new a guy whose last name was Doyle, and he was from Doylestown. And he was an Army Ranger, so you made jokes about that or anything else about him at your peril. I expected a town full of big husky guys who all had my buddy's brushcut and weird eyes.

Nope. Doylestown is basically what you get if you try to design the perfect town, or at least my version of a perfect town. I parked a block away from the bookstore where I was siging, and lo and behold I parked in front of another bookstore. There were people on the street, hanging out and shopping. No empty storefronts. The movie theater was half a block away, had a gorgeous three-story sign, and was playing arthouse selections. If you say this town in a movie, you'd say "pshaw." You'd actually vocalize that word to describe how unrealistically beautiful they thought the world could be.

For two hours I got to talk to locals, play mindgames with Stephen H. Segal, and autograph as best I can with my hot dog-damaged right hand. (It's a tl:dr story explaining what that means: suffice to say I'm wearing a splint on my right hand.) We even exchanged Beatles casting challenges. His: recast the Beatles using today's musicians: I've got Meg White on drums, John...no, Robert...no, dang it, I can't cast it right. I'd need a month to get a solid answer.

After the signing, we stroll across the street, and Steve and I help introduce a theater pleasantly full of people to The Princess Bride. One guy was a complete newbie to it, but hardly anyone else had seen it in a theater. (Video game trivia for you: that baseball game in the beginning is hardball by Accolade, for the Commodore 64. Not an NES game: it was filmed before the NES was widely distributed.)

This has spoiled me for other signings. I'm now going to expect every bookstore to be in a gorgeous town, with wonderful people, new friends, and afterwards we go see one of the all-time classics films.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

6/27: Super mario vs Supermario.com

File this under "duh": Nintendo has, after years of (I'm guessing) kicking themselves for not realizing this was a no-brainer decision, acquired the rights to the URL supermario.com. As Nintendo Life points out, the dotcom address joins similar URLs for Zelda, StarFox, and Metroid.

And no,I didn't link them. I'm typing with a pencil for a right hand so copying and pasting is a big pain. Rediscover the URL window if you want to visit them. I'll be shooing kids off my lawn, drinking Metamucil.  

Monday, September 26, 2011

9/26: A Tanooki in the pocket is worth...?

I am the sort of person who looks at a keychain the way I look at a facial tattoo. Sure, some people ahve them, but why should I? it serves no purpose, there are disadvantages, and if i want to advertise how much I like something I don't need a lump of plastic/ink on my forehead to tell others.

I'm in the minority on this--at least regarding keychains. The only people who come immediately to mind who have facial tattoos are a comic book super-villain, Mike Tyson, and the LACKS IMPULSE CONTROL guy from Snow Crash. But most people don't mind adding plastic lumps, and the superfluous metal hoops that come with them, to their keyrings.  Maybe the teensy tare weight is enough to drop them half a pound over the year. Maybe they  like having pockets filled with folderol. I don't know.

Another thing I--who am not on the autistic spectrum but this post doesn't really confirm that theory--don'y get about keyrings is that people get MULTIPLE KEYCHAIN PLASTIC LUMPS. Why? At what point does it become a full-on collection you're now bound by the fates to carry around you, like a custodian of tchotchkes?

Anyway, if the pnot-keychain-despising person I describe is you, three things. 1) I do not judge you, and please do not judge me. We are separate people and can enjoy separate things. I enjoy ketchup: if you do as well, then that is the common ground we can begin to build a friendship upon. 2) You can get a Tanooki keychain if you preorder Super Mario 3D Land from Gamestop. 3) There are over 100 Mario keychains. I see no reason to stop collecting if you're of the type who would start collecting, other than you lack the money or the cubic volume in your trousers to contain the multitudes.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

9/25: Megamind's Tribute to Superm...

Most everything I watch on television was originally intended for five-year-olds. This is because i have a five-year-old, and if she gets a choice to watch a movie it won't be, say, Quiz Show. So we watched Megamind, one of the 45 or so films I taped thanks to DirecTV's HBO preview weekend. I used to watch everything, and I still watch way more films than the average human being, but  I just don't have the time/energy. So what's on the bottom on my DVR, below all these minty-fresh HBO films, are movies from the previous HBO preview weekend.

So I'm watching Megamind, and enjoying it a lot more than I thought. The superhero parody thing is (for me, at least) pretty played out, but this was a supervillain parody, which is always enjoyable. And I'm a huge Superman head from way back, so I caught various Big-S shout-outs that might have gone over regular viewers's heads. (Like how Megamind is basically Brainiac mins yellow in his CMYK mix.)

Then there's a training montage, and one of the training exercises is to avoid flaming barrels while jumping up a series of canted construction beams. And I think ,wow, that looks familiar. Why does that look familiar?

I did not actually kick myself when I realized. But metaphorically, I did.

9/24: Is Assist Play cheating?

One of the truly great things about the 21st century is that celebrities have collaborative lives with their fans. On a recent John Hodgman podcast he made a joke about a fake video game called "George Plimpton's Video Falconry." Two weeks later, someone had BUILT IT.

Odds are if you're a gaming afficionado you heard about that. But what you might not have heard about was why Hodgman was talking about video games in the first place. Two friends were arguing about if walkthroughs counted as cheating in a video game. It was both funny and authentic in its debating: everyone agreed that cheat codes were cheating (it's right there in the name), but what it the morality of GameFAQs?

Hodgman's conclusion was in two parts: yes, walkthroughs constitute cheating, but since there's no awards or external contests for playing games, there's no one you're "cheating" but yourself. So go ahead. Think about that: right on both counts.

Here's a new ethical twist, though; what happens when full-on "cheating" is included as a straight-up game element? Then it's merely part of the gameplay, no different than a weak Donatello "cheating" by scarfing a pizza. That's what New Super Mario Bros. Wii did, with the necessary "assist" mode.

And it's going to show up in Super Mario 3D Land as well. Which is fine, because it lets the game be moderately difficult for the dedicated, and still accessible for the person who maybe hasn't played a Mario game in 23 years.

Do you consider Assist Play cheating? Would you if it wasn't a standard option? Tweet me: @dailymario.

Friday, September 23, 2011

9/23: Paper Mario? Post-It window art!

Ever wonder what the three Ms in 3M stand for? I think we know one of them...


Apparently there's a bit of a "Post-It war" in Paris's offices. The hommes in Rue A makes a picture, and the hommes across the rue then have to come up with a better picture in response. Back and forth, all jour long. (Five years of French let me use those three italicized words without having to look them up!) It's not all Mario, but there's a goodly number of Italian plumbers on the windows of the City of Lights.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

9/22: The autotrophs began to drool

In September 2007 I made a bad decision: I read one review of Big Bang Theory that said it only paid lip service to geeks, and didn't DVR the first episode. If it's really good, I thought, it'll last at least five years, and get syndicated, and then I can catch up in reruns in large regular quantities.

S-M-R-T. That is EXACTLY what I am doing now. There's loads of other quality meats and produce available in the DVR, but no matter what else I see I want another hit of Sheldon and Leonard, and dialogue that stereoscopically pops out since it's actual fast-paced geekspeak.

I have watched knife QVC at 3 am with knife geeks. "Yeah, gold finish," one of them jeers at the screen, "like THAT'LL hold an edge." I have seen a D&D match go so catastrophically wrong the buffaloing player starts correcting the DM on incorrectly interpreting the module. I have had conversations about Star Wars that would out Kevin Smith to shame. I know geeks. And this show is as pro-geek as it gets.

I'm really hoping that one of the episode will deal with Nintendo. I've already seen a solid WoW campaign on screen --product placement, yeah, but a product these dudes would definitely place by their lonesomes if they existed. I want to hear Raj and Howard  fight over Shigeru Miyamoto. I want to hear "Shigeru Miyamoto" in a primetime network sitcom.

9/21: Philadelphians, prepare to geek out!

35 years ago, I was born in Jefferson Hospital in Philadelphia. Philly in '76 was swinging: all the flags of Constitution Avenue, the tall ships, Rocky. I remember none of that, but it's still a pleasant psychic weight. If I ever go into politics, I will milk the year and place of my birth like a cow. Like a cow.

But I'm back comma use-of-the-word-baby-to-signify-enthsiasm-instead-of-an-actual-baby. Coming to the Philly area -- specifically Doylestown. In one week, September 28, me and Quirk Books guy/easy-joke-about-his-name guy Stephen H. Segal will be signing our respective books --mine on Mario, his called Geek Wisdom -- from 6 to 8 pm. After that? After that we stroll across the street to the local cinema and watch The Princess Bride.

It's sure to be a fun night: loads of fellow nerds, one of the all-time great films, two books that will get you props if you are seen carrying them by the local middle school AV club.

Be there! Sunday Sunday Sunday! Wait, that chant doesn't work for a Wednesday event. Wednesday Wednesday Wednesday?!  Doesn't have the same ring. But it's Wednesday.

9/20: Mario's Canstruction in San Antonio

It's weird to look at a mall in a city you don't live in and think "hey, I've been to that mall." But the Canstuction content in San Antonio's North Star Mall made me realize I'd been there, a couple of times. Mostly to play at the Disney Store with my daughter, which was frustrating because she was a toddler and I was trying to keep her happy all day long, but she's a toddler. The Alamo is not exactly a touch-and-play museum. Very little is...but the Disney Store was.

Anyway, if you go there now you can check out a series of can illustrations, including some really impressive pieces that use the 3D nature of the mixed-fruit media sculpture (I kid, I kid). The Super Mario piece, titled "Super Mario Bros. vs Can Koopa" (not a bad pun), is pretty flat, but still impressive considering it's made out of CANS OF FOOD. And done for a charity, Hunger Action Month.

Monday, September 19, 2011

9/19: Level 1-1 of...Vancouver

There's a famous story about locals in London who pull a prank on a tourist. They show this famous "tube map" of  London's underground, and say that the tourists should walk from one station to another...since they were so close by. Alas, the adjoining spots are about a mile and a half away, since the map warped scale to show all the tube spots in relation to each other, not how they truly correspond with the Thames or aboveground streets.

Not every city has such an Iconic map as London's. One new contributor for Vancouver's map of its Skytrain system is Dave Delisle's brilliant map. I haven't hit Vancouver yet to confirm if this map actually works -- I was in Seattle for PAX, so I was close...! --but if any City of Glass locals are reading, drop me a line. I want to know if we can start Super Marioing transit systems all over the place, like headlice except good.

Friday, September 16, 2011

9/16: As Beaker would say...Me me me!

Aspiring authors take note: the day your book "comes out" isn't any different than the day before or the day after. Reviews will trickle in: they're not tied to the release date, but dance around its orbit, an Oortian critical cloud. There aren't B&N employees waiting to put the "TUESDAY" books out at 10 am when the doors open: some stores will already have your book stocked, some won't have it yet, others will have it but won't have the manpower to stock it yet.

In other words, it's not like a movie, which goes from 0 theaters to 4500 with the turning of a calendar page. Only Amazon cares, since that's the day they can start sending preordered copies out. Oh, and you, since you --and here feel free to read "me, Jeff Ryan" --assigned this date as THE BIG DAY. It's merely the latest in a series of moderately good-sized days you get along the road to publication.

Having a host of media appearances that first day -- or any day, each one gaining mass audience jomentum -- is very hard to pull off. Because once again, that's not how books work.

So it's weird to have so many interviews and pieces I've written all drop on the same day. Here's me on CNBC's Bullish on Books blog, me on the Working Radio radio show/podcast, me on the Writers' Digest blog, and me getting reviewed in Failure Magazine. Very proud about that last one: Failure doesn't just let anyone into their pages. You have to write a certain kind of book to make it in Failure.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Review: Harold Goldberg's All Your Base Are Belong To Us


Note: I've been reviewing some books for a newspaper, and one of the pile I was sent was a) terrible and b) self-published. Rather than trash a book no one knows exist, I asked my editor for another one. At the same time I got a hold of a copy of Harold's Goldberg's All Your Base Are Belong To Us, to pitch as a review. That didn't happen: they pick the books, not me. So here's the crazy-short version of what I would have said. The tl:dr version: thumbs up.

If you’re among the geeks who frequent the video game corners of the Internet, you’ll recognize the phrase All Your Base Are Belong to Us as a famously mistranslated arcade game. To everyone else, it’s gibberish.
Which is a shame, because Harold Goldberg’s smart, fascinating book about the history of video games is written for everyone, not just “hardcore” gamers. In a smidge over 300 pages Goldberg takes us from 1950s Long Island (site of a tennis game decades before Pong) to Pong itself, all the way up to World of Warcraft and Bioshock

Each chapter is studded with not gold coins but juicy tidbits. Nintendo, for instance, spent half a million dollars on a hit PC game (The Seventh Guest) it would never release, just so its rival Sega couldn’t have it. Sony (Goldberg was a honcho there) and Rockstar (makers of Grand Theft Auto series) get multiple chapters.
Goldberg’s behind-the-scenes stories rarely disappoint, even if you’ve never played more than Minesweeper. For those who say games don’t have good stories, visit behind the scenes.

9/15: The most amazing Luigi drawing of all time

I have a whole chapter in my book detailing all the various ways Mario has been drawn. Because you can make him out of blocks, just about any stackable object can be used.

Well, I'm calling it: this is the most amazing video game portrait of all time. ALL TIME. Maybe I'll qualify that as "...the most amazing Luigi portrait," but for now I'm still so mightily impressed I am saying it sans qualifications.

The medium that John Schuepbach used is another video game. No, no Mario Paint: Tetris. You know how the stray blocks come in various colors? Try to imagine the skill and artistry, what he had to hold in his head, to play a neverending hour-long game of Tetris exclusively so he can let green, yellow, and blue stray pieces fall in a precise pattern. Making a single line like this is tough: making 30 in a row without dying is a feat maybe unmatched in digital ode-ship.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

9/14: Say goodbye to the next 18 minutes of your life

Above is an -- excuse me, breaking out the fancy capslockhere, the kind I only use for guests -- above is an EIGHTEEN-MINUTE MARIO VIDEO from NINTENDO featuring EVERYTHING IN THE WORLD EVER. If you have an interest in that sort of thing, I'll see you in N+18. What's 18 minutes in the grand scheme of the metric cubic months you've spent on Mario games already?

If not, what exactly are you doing here again? It's exclusively Mario.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

9/13: Super Mario trashes President Obama

This anti-Obama ad certainly thinks so!

Being a big fan of the late William Safire, I will march forward and analyze the process of the video, while removing the content like so much egg yolk.He did that all the time in his language columns, talking about how politicians talk without ever referring to what precisely they were saying. A noble endeavor.

So, the video (which is from the group For America...which Safire would have a field day about, since the more polarizing a group the blander their name is. And wow, "For America" is about the safest two words imaginable in politics...) depicts President Obama as Super MariObama. He swims to a pair of boxes marked "tackle Debt" and "Fund Raiser," and hits only the latter. After being zapped by a Squid labeled Deficit Spending, he hits "The Can" with a golf club, then visits LuigiJoe. They decide to 

Technically, they do just about everything right. It's short! It's funny! It remembers Mario's white shirt when he was Fireball Mario! It zooms in to make things less static! The fonts! The sounds and backgrounds are right! As I found with the fine Portfolio/Penguin people, designers love Mario and will go out of their way to add little touches, like bitmapping a logo, to make it feel particular to your book. Whoever designed this ad wasn't a GOP strategist so much as a devoted IGN reader.

But as an analogy...I can understand what it means to hit the "fund raiser" box: hold/attend a fund raiser. But what would happen if one were to hit the"Tackle Debt" box? Isn't there a traveling room full of podia and suited men all promising to hit that exact box? And no one can say what's in there, what magical fix that will make us all of the sudden stop spending more than we bring in?

It's really flawed to say that a solution to a huge problem shouldn't even be attempted, just because there's no easy one-step solution. "Oh, yeah, that 8-trillion-dollar antique in the attic. Let's just put that on eBay." But I think it's also flawed to suggest that such a solution exists, but isn't being addressed because...why? Because Obama would rather spend more money? 

Wow, being Bill Safire is harder than it looks. Very hard to write about just part of something. But it's giving me an idea...I may return to this subject!

Monday, September 12, 2011

9/12: Death, Taxes, and Mario

Take a guess what's the most heavily subsidized industry in the United States. Coal? Oil? Ethanol? Corn?

Nope. Video games. According to this scorching NYTimes piece, it pulls in all sorts of high-tech and R&D tax credits. It's not being talked about much in the games industry, because it's really wonky and the sort of thing that had 0.1% to actually do with video games as we all know them.

But this is why so many games are still being made in the US, despite there being plenty of people in Russia and Brazil and China who know how to use computers. This is why companies like EA make bigger games every year, because their "R&D" tax write-off is for increased year-over-year spending. This is why publishing giants officially declare low or negatives revenues, because all those April 15 discounts nicely cancel out what in any sane world would be plain old profits.

I'm not sure this is bad. These high-tech jobs are exactly the sort of yah-America jobs that everyone should want to stay stateside. Canada is apparently spending absurd sums of money to lure these jobs across the St. Lawrence River. On the other hand, the word "subsidy" should be reserved for things like solar energy that need temporary extra capitalization to make their mark. in no sense of the word does a video game company need its hat (found in its hand) to be filled by Uncle Sam.

This all makes me wonder what Japan's tax code is like. They still do most first-party developing over there, so maybe the tax benefits aren't worth losing the control. Or maybe Japan's tax benefits are better.

And now, because you've been so kind as to read about tax policy, here's a link of all the SMB maps as images: http://ian-albert.com/games/super_mario_bros_maps/

Sunday, September 11, 2011

9/11: Britney's Dance Beat

Ten years ago today I chose a route to work (via Route 3) that at one wonderful points crests to give off a perfect view of the New York City skyline. Which was really two cities, one in midtown and then one downtown. Midtown's got the Empire State Building, downtown's got the Twin Towers. I passed them around 8:30 am.

This Tuesday was shaping up to be an excellent day for me. The Web site where I was a games reviewer specialized in the relatively unimportant. Contradictorily, the less important the story the more people seemed to click on it, and thus the more play we gave it. Being the games editor, you would think, would open up a wealth of unimportant stories.

But not: our site was mostly visited by females, and girls and women didn't care much about any type of game. They were on the site for celebrity news. That was why this Tuesday was going to be so excellent: There was a Britney Spears PlayStation 2 game coming out! At last, my games section would have a story the site's readers actually wanted to read about!

I hop into work just before nine, and start happily typing up my Britney story. Yesterday's big story for me was about a Simpsons line of cereal, so this will be two days in a row I have a big story on my hands. Hardly anyone else is working, though: they're all watching the TVs we have mounted up, which are usually on MTV.

Okay, fine, what's on, I think, turning. Then: Whoa! Awesome! Some little Cessna crashed into one of the Twin Towers! How in the world are they ever going to get the pilot out of there? Hope he was flying alone. That's probably a million bucks' worth of glass damage. Hope no one got hurt if any glass fell from where the plane hit. I go back to work.

The slow-news-day news footage,though, continues their helicopter shots of this hole in the building. It's smoking: seems like a lot of smoke for a little four-seater plane. At least I assumed it was a little plane. But as the news people tell me, the side of the building is massive. It could swallow an entire commercial-sized jet. If this turns out to be an autopilot mistake...

There is now a lot of standing around. We're a news site, but we have not much more to go on than what they're showing on TV. Then I remember my brother commutes via the World Trade Center PATH train. Which has to be a mob scene now. I try to save my story to the server, which requires inputting the day-and-date it was filed, and briefly panic when I can't remember if this is Tuesday or Wednesday, and which day it is. A Animal Crossing Calendar tells me: September 11. Ugh, my pun-seeking mind thinks, there's the New York Post headline for tomorrow.

Then a SECOND plane hits. And things start happening around the newsroom. If anyone can't stay, if anyone is too shaken by all of this, they can go home. No one goes home. We get our assignments. Mine is a quick summary of the history of domestic terrorism, based on the not-out-there speculation that this was purposeful. We need art for the story: I go to a federal Web site to get a picture of Osama Bin Laden, the guy behind the previous attempt to fell the Twin Towers. the site is getting pounded by traffic. Most all news sites for the rest of the day are pounded.

Still haven't heard from my brother. The Pentagon gets hit. The towers start smoking fiercely, hollowing out inside. My brother calls: he's alive. But he has terrible news: my cousin is dead. It's too much to process, so thoughts about it go on the back burner. One tower falls. Then another. I write a story about how this all looks like a movie. I near Tom Clancy on TV blaming this on people he doesn't like: forget who. A plane crashes in Pennsylvania: everyone realizes that was the one probably for the White House or the Capitol.

A coworker outside for a smoke comes back saying he just say a fighter jet scream by. The news is saying that all flights are grounded, that nothing is in the air. They're wrong: the military is patrolling New York City, ready to shoot down anything they find. The coworkers grabs his camera and heads into midtown: the subways are partially running), and walks the rest of the way down. He's going to document what he sees. The George Washington Bridge is flooded with ambulances and fire trucks: engine and ladder trucks from five states around are driving in to help. As with all the donated blood, very little of the good intentions end up being needed.

I call my friend Matt. Matt lost his mother this summer to a drunk driver. I lost a good friend who drowned. The death estimates around around three thousand people. Each one of them, we say, had the same web of connections and loved ones that our two deceased people did. A funeral helps lay out the map of grief for a single person and all they touched. Multiplying that by thousands is unimaginable, but we try.

Our web site has rom for three top stories. he top two are both about the attacks on America, which is what it was called for a bit. The third? "Mmmm...Simpsons Cereal." I tell the managing editor we should really spike that third story. My Britney story gets run, I think, but nothing pop culture is given any play for weeks. I write news stories, and once in a while talk about games when a Spider-Man game gets delayed to take the Twin Towers out of its backgrounds.

(Or, I write up the Flight Simulator angle of 9/11: that the terrorists either practiced crashing into the Twin Towers or were inspired by Flight SIm to do it. I'm not sure if either was true: they were based on the fact that the first Flight Sim level was NYC, and of course everyone tried crashing as their first act, and into the biggest thing they could find in downtown, which was the World Trade Center.)

Coming home that night, I got a toll-free ride on the turnpike. Some roads were closed, and so others were opened. The lanes were empty: everyone went home early to sit around without any way of affecting things. For that alone, I am very glad I was working as a reporter at the time. I was able to help people understand it. A lot of the other news orgs in NYC and DC were evacuated, so for a while we were one of the few left on the air, at least in our little corner of the Internet.

September 12th was my cousin's funeral. His death was unrelated to the terrorist attack, but all the family  gathering to mourn in his name couldn't help but expand the mourning for all the thousands who died yesterday. There was talk of war. I couldn't help but imagine me and my brothers would all be shipped to different places to fight. This would be World War III, had to be.

Britney Spears became the emblem of the "stupid crap" we, as a society, said we would no longer care about in the wake of the bombings. That lasted as long as most other resolutions did. But she is tied into my 9/11 memories, the way a coffee cup is for someone who received terrible news, and drops their cup.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

9/9: A Mario game from 1962!

One of the most fascinating things about the arcade scene over the years is that it's been around for a hundred years. We remember various types of pinball games, but not that the upright wooden cabinet used for arcade video games had been around for decades.

Take a look at this 1960s Sega arcade game:

SEGA-Periscope_flyer-230x300.jpg
See? Looks like a modern arcade game, except inside is a steampunk puppet show. Except it and thousands like it came FIRST, and thus most every video game was a digital version to replicate the decidedly analog experiences of the past. And the digital versions were so successful over the years that just about everyone who's not a gaming historian forgot they ever existed.

As a wonderful way of trying torecontextualize the past with the present, the Teague Group is Kickstartering an electromechanical software developers kit. Their demo of how such a game would look is to recreate a Super Mario level... in a cardboard box. Secure your jaw before watching!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

9/8: Only-in-Japan Mario games: collect them all

At PAX last week I tried out three new -- as in not in stores yet -- Mario games. I died more often than that guy who hated Arthur Dent (deep cut!) playing Super Mario 3D Land. I completely for about, uh, the 3D aspect of Mario Kart 7, and won handily with Bowser before remembering that I should have moved that dimmer switch. At least with Fortune Street I got my money's worth. (You had to pay $20 for each demo game, right? Right? You paid it to the homeless guy outside the convention center, right?)

While I was playing I chatted with the Nintendo rep why Fortune Street (which I think is in its tenth iteration in Japan) is only coming to us stateside now. He had no idea. I think I know: it came out at the same time as Mario Party, except there were much fewer minigames to play and there was math and believe it or not a pinch of strategy involved. God laughs when you try to strategize a game of Mario Party. With Fortune Street, though, it's possible.

Which brings me to today's Mario news: word has leaked of yet another Japan-only Mario game. This one is called Taiko no Tatsujin. It's a rhythm game for the Japanese drum, one of a series of such games. That particular type of drum isn't really played stateside, any more than we export Jersey Shore overseas (please please please let us not be doing that: God is punishing New Jersey enough with this weather for Snooki et al, and the last thing Jersey needs is the rest of the world to know about our guido surplus.)

Returning to the topic of fungal Goombahs, these games are available in America, if you know where to look. Most big cities have import shops, although you may need a special Japan edition of your console of choice to get the games to play. I haven't gone down the JRPG and bullet hell-laden rabbit hole yet -- yet -- since there are still plenty of games here I can play with words in a language I understand. And movies and books and TV shows and comics and cat medicine bottles, etc.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

9/7: Mario parodies are like pizza...

...even when they're bad, they're still pretty good. And once in a while, say when you're in my town, where I can WALK to five places who each offer slices to good you'd kill animals to taste them again -- once in a while, the pizza is really, really incredible.

I have seen an uncountable number of Mario parodies/tributes. By "uncountable" I probably mean thirty. That's still a lot. And I think this one may be the best: it's not funny, but it's not trying to for funny. It's trying for the subtle awe of getting lost in a game. I really expected it to end with the Nintendo logo and a note than the 3DS is only $169.99 now, but no: not an ad.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

9/6: All I hear is Mario Gaga

Quick Quiz: Born in Zanzibar to Zoroastrian parents, raised in India, knock to rock you, rightfully claimed to be a champion, evidence shows he likes to ride a bicycle, first-hand reports of his belief that full-figured woman :make the rockin' world go round," responsible for 93% of what the world knows about "Bohemia" (Rent explains the other 7%), so prolific and excellent his group has THREE greatest hits albums that have no bad songs.

The answer is Queen frontman Freddy Mercury, who also happens to open and close any argument of rock's greatest male vocals. And Google's tribute to Freddy (on what would have been his 65th birthday) is exhilarating, fun, queer, ridiculous, awe-inspiring, tremendous and as inspired as it is inspiring. All the things Freddy was, in other words.

And it's at least partly thanks to Super Mario. Seriously. Take a look at the "speed run" with an automatically-running Mario dancing along to a Queen tune. Now watch the Google video. (Note: that link probably won't work once it's the 213th anniversary of Eli Whitney or something.)

Same idea.

Some of the same execution.

Different men...but the same mustache.

Mario's always helped out princesses, so helping out Queen is a step up.

9/5: The greatest Mario games never made

I fell in love with NotStarring.com a while back: it lists all the actors and directors and guys named Et Al who were at one point signed on to make a film but then never made it. (Fringe fan-ficiton writers can create an entire Oscar pool based on alternate choices for all the world's great films, like Johnny Depp and Dew Barrymore in Titanic.

Some, like Eric Stoltz in World's Perfect Movie, filmed for a bit and were replaced. Others were let go before cameras rolled: I talk about how Tom Hanks won and lost the role of Super Mario in the SMB movie, shocking only because people briefly wanted to see Mario on the big screen.

The gaming equivalent of NotStarring is Unseen64. Are you in the mood for goods? Would you like those goods conveniently delivered to your doorstep, nay to your 13-inch laptop screen? Unseen64 will deliver those goods for you, free of charge.

The site's especially deep in Nintendo coverage, partly because of Nintendo's willingness to develop and then kill games like SNL skits that don't get enough jokes in the dress rehearsal. And partly because Mario games are development messes: Super Mario Galaxy, in a very different form, was shown off before the Gamecube even launched.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

9/4: London calling...for Mario

There have been various groups classing up video game music with orchestral sound, but none as name-droppy as the London Philharmonic. It helps that a lot of their choices already were orchestral pieces of music, with the occasional Koji Kondo Super Mario theme for good measure. Hey, a music pun.

9/3: Digital issues

I'm using digital as a pun, because this is not about digital games, but my pinkie.

My right small finger (you'd think it'd have a more official name than that, but no) is hurt. I cut it, the ER doctor sewed up the cut, I wore an aluminum biscotti for a few days, then a band-aid. No big deal...except when the stitches came off, I couldn't bend my pinky. It stuck out. No flexion, as they say.

Fixing that is a big deal. I have not just my pinky but my entire hand and wrist immobilized. It's been like this since Tuesday. Any movement at all send Palpatine levels of electroshock through my hand. I can't reach into my pocket. I can't hold a fork, toothbrush, razor, or comb.

And I can't type with a threesome of frustration, one-handed slowness, and a wealth of mistakes shining through. Trying to use my right hand to type is like Homer trying to eat the potato chips from the puppy-coat episode of Simpsons. I always think that THIS TIME it won't be agony before I finish a single word. And I'm always wrong.

It's taken me four times as long to write this as usual. I am counting the nanoseconds until this brace comes off. To a person who basically can't type, the world is one big taunting typewriter. So there may be some sporadicity to my posts for the next few days. Along with tears of impotent rage.

Friday, September 2, 2011

9/2: Get ready for...MariO

Mario. Portal gun. Downloadable to your computer, assuming you suspend your love of copyright for a moment to experience the love of gaming. The only way MariO could get cooler is if the gun made a "Bampf" sound effect, Nightcrawler style.

One of the best things about Portal is that the gameplay is so basic: it scales to 8-bit with not a whit lost. Ditto Mario, but he's always been 8-bit.
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Thursday, September 1, 2011

9/1: The newest Mario Kart track: Seattle

You don't need to have been to PAX, or be in Pearl Jam, or even have tossed salads and scrambled eggs all over your face to recognize the Seattle skyline. Yes, the Space Needle helps, but even without it it's a pretty distinctive city.

So much so that it can become the new star of a Mario Kart video. From what I can gather, this video has been around a little while, showing off how a road called the Alaskan Way Viaduct will drive when finished. A pre-viz of an engineering project. For fun, and because it's his town as much as it is Bill Gates's, someone added Mario putt-putting around that road.


Alaskan Way Viaduct definitely sound like a Mario Kart level.

8/30: The Better Book Title for Mario

I wrote the Mario book under the title  of "Super Mario: A Biography." (Putting that in quotes instead of ital for the geek-squared reason that mere manuscript titles don't take italics.) Pitched it to agents that way as well, since it's a) accurate and b) memorable. I was lucky enough to write a book where the title does all the describing one needs, so the subhead is gravy.


The title changed often after that: I didn't have a huge amount of say, but I think I had veto power if they went with something really lame. "Nintendominance," "Mario Rex," "Smashing Bricks," etc. We went with my original title and a new subhead eventually, decided upon by the people with vast warehouses of data about what sells books. Can't argue with them, especially when they agree with me!


But none of the titles may be as honest as Dan "Better Book Titles" Wilbur's.


Jeff Ryan: Super Mario: How Nintendo Conquered America
You can check out all the rest of his hundreds of titles at his site: you can also find a link to the site in the history cache of any computer I've used for more that two hours: the site is addictive.