Mario: The man, the myth, the junkie

It’s 10 a.m. on a Monday morning in the Mushroom Kingdom. Green pipes across the land are festering with piranha plants and authorities have deemed them unsafe for travel. It’s a dirty job and someone’s got to do it, but the man usually up for the job can’t bring himself to get out of bed.

At Mario Brothers Plumbing—a tiny shack in the middle of nowhere—business is slow and the stench of used fire flowers wafts down the hall from the sleeping quarters. Stalwart co-owner Luigi sits at the front desk with a look of concern on his face.

“My brother is considered a hero,” says Luigi. “I used to consider him a hero myself, but lately he’s just been putting himself before everyone else. He can’t stop getting 1ups. He can’t stop getting coins to pay for 1ups. He’s got more lives than he can count. But what about my life, Mario? My life.”

In this file photo, Mario repeatedly roughs up a local Koopa for 1ups.

In this file photo, Mario repeatedly roughs up a local Koopa for 1ups.

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New processor spurs Gamerscore increase, controversy

Microsoft has increased the maximum allowable Gamerscore for Xbox Live Arcade (XBLA) games to 400 Gamerscore and 30 Achievements. Xbox gamers and indie developers worldwide are rejoicing while activists are protesting the environmental and human costs of the increase.

“The impetus for the increase comes from a major technological advancement,” says Richard Leckstein, vice-president of product relations at Microsoft. “This of course being the introduction of the Titan X4 Gamerscore processor embedded in each new Xbox 360 console.”

The Titan X4 is the result of years of research and development. The Xbox 360’s current Xenon CPU can barely handle the processing required to push 200 achievement points through the system, so Microsoft’s engineers have leveraged a new mineral called achievementium to create a fast CPU solely for computing Gamerscore.

“With a 400 Gamerscore limit, we can offer more achievements than ever before and solidify our position as the leader in Gamer cred.”

Gamer cred

Projected E-peen values for 2012.

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Video Games as a Rock Band

You’re at a rock concert. Thousands of fans are cheering.

Who are they cheering for? The lead singer? The hot guitarist? Maybe they’re just there for the music.

Video games are a lot like a rock band. I’m not saying video games are like the game Rock Band, although there are some games like Rock Band, like Rock Band 2. I’m also not saying video game developers are like a rock band, although clearly they are in more ways than the video game itself is.

If all the components that make up a video game (graphics, audio, programming, design, production) were in a band, what roles would they play? How would they appear in the eyes of the casual observer? When they put on a concert, who stands out? Slap on your wristbands and find out.


Graphics – The Lead Singer

Their microphone is turned up the loudest. They stand front and center on stage. They are always in the spotlight.

For someone who knows nothing about music, they can at the very least comment on a song’s vocals. “That’s a nice voice”. Similarly, someone who knows nothing about video games will first comment on a game’s visuals. “It looks realistic!”

Sight is humans’ primary sense, so it is natural that graphics are the easiest video game component to respond to. Long before the first line of code is written, concept art is used to convey what the game might look like. It comprises the “video” part of the term “video game”.

Lead vocals are often the most defining aspect of a band. Without hearing any instruments, you can tell which band it is from the vocals. By the same principle you can identify a particular game from a simple screenshot. They often receive the most attention, much to the chagrin of their band mates…


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10 Enemies of my Enemy

You’re about three quarters of the way through the latest AAA action game and you’re tired of shooting the same bad guys over and over again. Suddenly, a third party enters the fray and starts killing your enemies for you. Pretty sweet, huh? But then you realize they also want to kill you. Not so sweet.

This has become a popular trend in gaming (stemming from literature and cinema most likely), and it arises in the same way almost every time. There’s nothing inherently wrong with adding variety to a game in the form of a new enemy type. It is rather curious however that the “three faction mentality” seems to permeate the action genre these days, as if mandated by some unwritten law. Let’s take a look at just how prevalent this phenomenon is.

10. The Flood

In the Halo series, the main antagonists are the alien race known as the Covenant. After killing thousands of Covenant, you eventually run into The Flood, a parasitic lifeform that infects other living beings. These Flood don’t have any allegiances, or a mind of their own for that matter. They are controlled by a sentient being known as the Gravemind, who for some reason is able to communicate with Master Chief and arranges for him and the Flood team up against the Covenant forces in Halo 3. The Flood have the dubious honour of being one of the most hated enemies in gaming, not because of their evilness but because of how fucking annoying they are to combat. You can guess that it’s a godsend when you end up in the same room as them and they’re on your side rather than on your ass.

Eeny, meeny, miny, mo...

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10 Disney characters turned into killing machines

For as long as there have been video games there have been Disney-licensed video games. Sure, we could take a look at the recent Kingdom Hearts series and find all sorts of Disney heros/heroines kicking various amounts of ass. But it would be a lot more fun to go back to a time when Disney clearly did not give a shit about how their licenses were handled and the likes of Capcom and Virgin Interactive weren’t afraid to get their hands—or rather, the hands and paws of beloved 90’s cartoon icons—dirty. The following games may look innocent, but rest assured their body counts rival those of any action movie of the same era.

10. Aladdin

He’s about to show you a whole new world…of pain. Everyone’s favorite fez-sporting vagabond dispatches Jafar’s palace guards via the ancient Arabian technique of jumping on their heads. To add a little flavor, Aladdin can also stun foes with a barrage of deadly…apples. Even though he is pictured on the box wielding a scimitar, he never actually uses one in Capcom’s SNES version of the game. That would be too easy of course, as the sight of a scrawny baggy pants-wearing kid is enough to instill fear in the hearts of those who cross him.

He's one jump ahead of the bread line. They're one jump behind the dead line.

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The Protagonist Party

What would it be like if a bunch of modern video game protagonists got together at a party? Confusing, to say the least.

Hey! Solid Snake, how’s it going?
Nathan Drake! Good to see you, man.
Hi guys. I’m Alan Wake.
Nice to meet you, Alan Wake. I’m Nathan Drake, this is Solid Snake.
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Yo dawg, so I heard you like simulators…

Most games can be called a simulation of some sort. Gran Turismo is touted as the “Real Driving Simulator”; Rock Band simulates being a stage musician; Noby Noby Boy simulates…something.

Then there are games that go deeper (I don’t need to post a screen from Inception because I know you are already thinking it). I’m talking about simulated activities in real life being simulated in a video game. Did I just blow your mind? Stay with me. Video games aren’t the only alternative to doing things we actually want to do but can’t because of financial and/or ethical reasons. But things start to get puzzling when a developer decides to take those activities and turn it into a video game.

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NBA Jam: A true underdog story

We sat down with the original members of the virtual San Antonio Spurs team that delivered one of the most memorable performances in NBA Jam history. What follows is a first-hand account of their extraordinary struggle.

On a cold wintry night in late November, the electricity of the crowd at the Palace of Auburn Hills was palpable.

The 1993 San Antonio Spurs suited up to face their arch-rivals: the unstoppable juggernaut known as the 1993 Detroit Pistons. The two teams had squared off many times in the past, but this night was different. This night—though the Spurs knew they had amassed many statistical victories—was the night the Spurs felt they would truly win.
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Anti-aliasing protest rages on

SAN FRANCISCO, CA—Hordes of angry protesters have gathered outside Jagged Realms headquarters in what the media is describing as the most pathetic display of activism in recent history.

“As loyal consumers, we demand that all our games feature 4x full-scene anti-aliasing, 60 frames per second, and 1080p Full HD resolution,” said Brad Symington, spokesperson for the Coalition of Unemployed Neurotic Techies. “Several of our members have suffered myocardial infarctions due to the lack of anti-aliasing in games such as Battlefield: Bad Company 2.”

The Coalition has been petitioning for 3 days straight, and they say they won’t leave until their demands are met.

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Communications Failure

“Bzzt…Sssshkk…Crackle…listen up, hero. Get to the frmrcomfrtre ASAP. There isn’t much time…ksssshhhh.”

Thanks, mysterious stranger! I have no idea what you just said but I don’t really care. I’ll just move towards the dot on the map that magically appeared.

Does this sound familiar? If you play big-budget shooting video games, it should.

Radio communication has been used as a plot device in video games for a long time, and in most settings, it makes sense. You’re a lone soldier/space marine or whatever in an alien environment with no one to turn to for help. But without guidance, who will teach you how to play the game? The instruction manual? Ha! That’s where Mr. or Mrs. Radio Voice comes in.

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