In November, Nintendo is coming out with a mini NES gaming system that includes 30 games and a classic controller. Among the games are Legend of Zelda, Dr. Mario, Bubble Bobble, all three Super Mario Bros., Excitebike, Castlevania, and Metroid. It hooks to your TV with HDMI and will cost $60.1
Taking inflation into account, the original NES Deluxe System (with R.O.B. the robot) sold in 1985 cost $664 in 2016 dollars. When it was released in 1987, Legend of Zelda retailed for $111 in 2016 dollars. Zelda was one of the more expensive games and some of the games included with the Classic Edition came out later, but say a typical game is $80 in 2016 dollars. That's $3000 worth of games and system crammed into something that fits in your hand and costs $60. Moore's Law!↩
Scott Lininger and Mike Magee built a fully playable WebGL version of the original Legend of Zelda, which came out 30 years ago. Works in any modern web browser. Not sure how long this is going to be up, but it'll be fun while it lasts.
Legendary designers Shigeru Miyamoto and Takashi Tezuka broke down the first level of the game for Eurogamer. (My favorite part? The subtle way that Mario is designed to have "weight," and how this affects the player's identification with and affection for the character.)
The original instruction booklet for Super Mario Bros. details how "the quiet, peace-loving Mushroom People were turned into mere stones, bricks and even field horse-hair plants." That means every brick you break in the game is killing an innocent mushroom person that would have been saved once Princess Toadstool "return[ed] them to their normal selves."
Digg has a video on the character's evolution (including cameo appearances in other Nintendo games):
Samir al-Mutfi's "Syrian Super Mario" reimagines the game with obstacles faced by Syrian refugees. (Grimly, the player has 22,500,000 lives to lose.)
In talking about an upcoming game (more on that in a bit), Nintendo's Shigeru Miyamoto and Takashi Tezuka discuss the process they used in designing the levels for the original Super Mario Bros. Much of the design work happened on graph paper.1
Back in the day, we had to create everything by hand. To design courses, we would actually draw them one at a time on to these sheets of graph paper. We'd then hand our drawings to the programmers, who would code them into a build.
Here's the full video discussion:
Now, about that game... Super Mario Maker is an upcoming title for Wii U that lets you create your own Super Mario Bros levels with elements from a bunch of different Mario games. So cool...I might actually have to get a Wii U for this.
This is pretty much the same process I used when designing levels for Lode Runner back in the day.↩
Using Motorola, Nokia, and Nintendo as examples, Tero Kuittinen explains how dominant tech companies are lulled into "a comfy trip to the grave" by huge but ultimately short-lived successes before new paradigms take over.
For years, Nintendo has believed it could reject smartphone and tablet apps, yet still flourish. The reason for this delusion is familiar -- it's the toxic Last Blockbuster Syndrome that doomed the consumer electronics divisions of Motorola in 2004 and Nokia in 2007. Often at the start of a massive trend shift in consumer electronics, dominant dinosaurs get one massive hit built on a nearly obsolete paradigm, and that allows them to be lulled into a comfy trip to the grave.
The best example from the past few years is when Motorola, Nokia, and RIM were flying high with their phone products when the iPhone came along and changed the game.
And just like that, the North American videogame industry ground to a halt. Hardware companies (like Atari) went bankrupt, software companies (like Sega) were sold for pennies on the dollar, and retailers (like Sears) vowed never to go into the business again. Meanwhile, Nintendo quietly glided through the bloody waters on a gorilla-shaped raft. The continuing cash flow from Donkey Kong enabled Arakawa, Stone, Judy, and Lincoln to dream of a new world order, one where NOA miraculously resurrected the industry and Nintendo reigned supreme. Not now, perhaps, but one day soon.
Harris is also working on a documentary based on the book. And Sony is making a "feature-film" adaptation of the book as well. Cool!
In this video, Bo Jackson's historic quarter-long run against the Patriots is recreated on Tecmo Super Bowl almost exactly. I tried to figure out how many yards he actually ran, but I can't count that high or fast. Apparently a Tecmo quarter lasts about 1:54 when the clock is allowed to run.
Miyamoto, who is responsible for creating or overseeing the creation of Mario Bros, Donkey Kong, The Legend of Zelda, and many other games, is stepping down from his role as manager of Nintendo's Entertainment Analysis and Development branch to work with a smaller team on smaller games with much shorter timelines.
"What I really want to do is be in the forefront of game development once again myself," Miyamoto said. "Probably working on a smaller project with even younger developers. Or I might be interested in making something that I can make myself, by myself. Something really small."
"This is absolutely not true," said a spokeswoman for Nintendo. "There seems to have been a misunderstanding. He has said all along that he wants to train the younger generation. "He has no intention of stepping down. Please do not be concerned."
Labels corresponding to address values have been added to every line to make the code easier to follow for beginners interested in understanding the inner workings of a Nintendo game. The labels also make the code easier to debug if it is modified. At this time, the source code is still a work in progress but it is much farther along than the original document. The title page is completely documented. The intro routine, end routine, password scheme and sound engine are described in detail. About a third of the game engine is detailed and about half of each game area page.
Project Cafe, or the Wii 2 as everyone else is calling it, is Nintendo's next gaming box. IGN has some details:
According to sources with knowledge of the project, Nintendo's next console could have a retail price of anywhere between $350 and $400 based on manufacturing costs, and will ship from Taiwanese manufacturer, Foxconn, this October, putting the earliest possible retail release anywhere between mid-October and early November.
In his games, Miyamoto has always tried to re-create his childhood wonderment, if not always the actual experiences that gave rise to it, since the experiences themselves may be harder to come by in a paved and partitioned world. "I can still recall the kind of sensation I had when I was in a small river, and I was searching with my hands beneath a rock, and something hit my finger, and I noticed it was a fish," he told me one day. "That's something that I just can't express in words. It's such an unusual situation. I wish that children nowadays could have similar experiences, but it's not very easy."
In a recent interview for the 25th anniversary of Super Mario Bros., Mario's baby daddy Shigeru Miyamoto revealed that the infinite 1-up trick was included in the game on purpose but that the minus world was a bug.
"We did code the game so that a trick like that would be possible," Miyamoto revealed. "We tested it out extensively to figure out how possible pulling the trick off should be and came up with how it is now, but people turned out to be a lot better at pulling the trick off for ages on end than we thought." What about the famed Minus World? "That's a bug, yes, but it's not like it crashes the game, so it's really kind of a feature, too!"
I highly recommend you use Google Chrome to play JSNES. Thanks to its high performance canvas element, and a clever optimisation by Connor Dunn, it runs at full speed on modern computers. Mac builds are also available. Otherwise, it just about runs on Firefox 3.5 or Safari 4, but it's hardly playable.
Features include four-player collaborative play (!!) and something called "demo play".
The game will also be the first game on the Wii to feature "demo play", where players will be able to pause the game, let the game complete the level for them, and resume play at any time by unpausing.
In my house, this was called the "give the controller to my 11-year-old cousin and let him show you how it's done" feature. I both hated and loved that feature. (via object of my obsession)
Punch-Out is coming to the Wii (@ Amazon)...the teaser commercial features Isiah Whitlock, Jr., who played Clay Davis on The Wire, as Little Mac's trainer. It's worth watching to hear Whitlock's comparison of comebacks and yo-yos. (thx, rob)
Tetris didn't start with the Game Boy, of course (Pajitnov created it for the PC in 1985), but the Game Boy made it mainstream. Ultimately, Tetris proved so popular that it quickly drove sales of Nintendo's handheld console into the millions. Tetris's grown-up gameplay also attracted adults to Nintendo's new platform, expanding Game Boy's potential audience beyond the usual adolescent NES set.
Somewhere, I still have an original Game Boy with a Tetris cart wedged into it.
"Actually I think it's pretty good," she said. "You can definitely get a workout. When I started doing it, I realized all the activities were pretty much on point. There were some things I didn't like, like the alignment in a couple of places. But over all, I thought they did a good job and this will be a good tool for people who can't make it to the gym."
The Wii Balance Board will be released in the US and Canada early next week.
Ooh, there's going to be a Dr. Mario game available for the Wii at some point, playable over the network. It's already downloadable via WiiWare in Japan...which should not be confused with the Virtual Console downloadable games even though the difference is really confusing.
This game has been announced as supporting the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection service. This will feature online racing and battle modes, both of which are capable of up to 12 simultaneous players. It has also been confirmed that there will be online leagues, with international and local rankings. This will take place from within an entirely separate Wii Channel. This channel will also feature the option of sending saved time-trial ghost data.
A pair of videos showing off Wii Fit, a balance board device for the Wii. Looks pretty interesting, although if it's marketed as exercise equipment, I fear it may not do so well. The board and a Wiimote in each hand could make for a pretty convincing skiing experience.
Update: Hmm, the Honda Fit and Wii Fit logos look pretty similar. (thx, dave)
The latest installment of Super Mario has received plenty of notice for its revolutionary style of gameplay. But just as striking is the intricacy of its sound design. One convention of the game is a Pull Star, a floating anchor that Mario can grab with some sort of magical, musical force which, when activated emits a creepy, almost theremin-like wail, wavering just a bit before solemnly sliding down in pitch. This sound is one of those elemental formulas for touching an emotional soft spot. The other day I was playing a level with a series of Pull Stars in succession and my girlfriend implored me to stop, as it was making her sad, and not only because I'm a grown man playing a child's video game. Here is an example of the Wailing Pull Star (and a taste of the very Vangelis-like score scattered throughout the game).
Also: via Boing Boing Gadgets, footage from a live orchestra scoring session for the game. Mario's creator, Shigeru Miyamoto sits aside and supervises.
Also also: I noticed that the menu for selecting levels to play is a musical instrument in its own right, allowing the player to create melody with chord changes and everything. It's a subtle touch.
He explained that no matter how large you make the playing field, if you walk long enough you will run into a wall, and that will make you turn around, which makes the camera turn around and runs the risk of making the player lost. With a sphere, Mario can run all he wants without falling or hitting a wall... a useful concept for getting players totally absorbed in the moment. Koizumi added that the best thing about spherical worlds is the "unity of surface," and the "connectedness." Neither will the player get lost easily, or need to adjust the camera - by using spheres, Koizumi said, they had created a game field that never ended.
They also talk about the Galaxy's two-player (well, 1.5-player really) feature, which is a really nice way of getting a second passive player involved in what is essentially a one-player game. (via snarkmarket)
An appreciation of the Real Super Mario Bros 2. The game was released in Japan in 1986 but was considered too difficult/weird for US gamers and a different Mario 2 (based on a Japanese game called Yume Kojo: Doki Doki Panic) was released to the US.
In most games, you trust that the designer is guiding you, through the usual signposts and landmarks, in the direction that you ought to go. In the Real Super Mario Bros. 2, you have no such faith. Here, Miyamoto is not God but the devil. Maybe he really was depressed while making it -- I kept wanting to ask him, Why have you forsaken me? The online reviewer who sizes up the game as "a giant puzzle and practical joke" isn't far off.
The whole upshot is that RSMB2 is now available on the Wii Virtual Console as Super Mario Bros: The Lost Levels. And for the record, I loved SMB2.
Update: Just to be clear, this is my second time through the book. (Last time was, what, 4 years ago?) Trying to make more of a study of it this time.
Update: Suggestion from Ian: "Get 3 bookmarks. 1 for where you are reading, 1 for the footnotes, 1 to mark the page that lists the subsidized years in order." I'm currently using two bookmarks...will get a third for the sub. years list.
In the Kottke/Hourihan household, much of the past 4 weeks has been spent determining which has the most sensitive built-in accelerometer: an iPhone, a Nintendo Wiimote, or our newborn son.
The iPhone was eliminated fairly quickly...the portrait-to-landscape flip is easy to circumvent if you do it slow enough or at an odd angle. The Wiimote might be the winner; it registers small, slow movements with ease, as when executing a drop shot in tennis or tapping in a putt in golf.
Newborns, however, are born with something called the Moro reflex. When infants feel themselves fall backwards, they startle and throw their arms out to the sides, as illustrated in this video. Even fast asleep they will do this, often waking up in the process. So while the Wiimote's accelerometer may be more sensitive, the psychological pressure exerted on the parent while lowering a sleeping baby slowly and smoothly enough so as not to wake them with the Moro reflex and thereby squandering 40 minutes of walking-the-baby-to-sleep time is beyond intense and so much greater than any stress one might feel serving for the match in tennis or getting that final strike in bowling.
The Nintendo Wii, and the bowling game in particular, is a big hit at an Illinois retirement community (average age: 77). "'I've never been into video games,' said 72-year-old Flora Dierbach last week as her husband took a twirl with the Nintendo Wii's bowling game. 'But this is addictive.'"
Wii Sports trades the onscreen complexity of goals and objectives and puzzles for the physical, haptic complexity of bodily movement. Since the days of Pong, games have been simplifying the intricacies of movement into unified codes of button pressing and joystick manipulation. What strikes you immediately playing Wii Sports -- and particularly Tennis -- is this feeling of fluidity, the feeling that subtle, organic shifts in your body's motion will lead to different results onscreen. My wife has a crosscourt slam she hits at the net that for the life of me I haven't been able to figure out; I have a topspin return of soft serves that I've half-perfected that's unhittable. We both got to those techniques through our own athletic experimentation with various gestures, and I'm not sure I could even fully explain what I'm doing with my killer topspin shot. In a traditional game, I'd know exactly what I was doing: hitting the B button, say, while holding down the right trigger. Instead, my expertise with the shot has evolved through the physical trial-and-error of swinging the controller, experimenting with different gestures and timings. And that's ultimately what's so amazing about the device. Games for years have borrowed the structures and rules -- as well as the imagery -- of athletic competition, but the Wii adds something genuinely new to the mix, something we'd ignored so long we stopped noticing that it was missing: athleticism itself.
He's not exactly right -- for example, drifting in Mario Kart is difficult to do until you develop a "touch" for it and is not easy to explain to others -- but the Wii does take it to a new level.
Browsing the various Nintendo Wii forums around the web, I've noticed more and more people pratically bragging that they play the Wii sitting down, flicking their wrists instead of the beautiful and healthful full-body motion that nature intended. These couch potatoes shall not be suffered. For the Wii purist, I made this prototype for a tshirt:
A ladies version is also in the works, even though the pun doesn't work as well.
How do motion-sensing video game controllers (like the Wii remote) work? "The accelerometers used in the Nintendo controller are thinner than a penny, small enough to fit twelve on a postage stamp, and sell for under $6 a piece. They can accurately measure forces more than three times stronger than the pull of gravity in three directions - up and down, side to side, and forward and back."
From over 220 entries in the Celebrity Mii Contest, the judges have selected their favorite celebrity avatar created with the Nintendo Wii. And the winner is Dave Curry with his Zach Braff Mii:
Judge Spencer Sloan of Goldenfiddle said of this entry: "What's beautiful about this one is the truth in this piece. Yes, Braff, you're a nose and some lip. Bravo to the artist for taking a risk." Judge Jen Bekman of the Jen Bekman gallery said of the Braff: "There is this eerily human quality - I mean it really looks like him, as a person, in a weird way." The Braff Mii was not the most faithfully rendered celebrity Mii but with a few broad strokes, Curry created something more than the sum of its parts and ventured close to art. Well done. As the winner, Dave will receive the Wii game of his choice and a 3-D statuette of the Zach Braff Mii provided by Fabjectory.
Here are some other entries the judges felt strongly about (i.e. the runners-up) with commentary:
Jack Black by both Brandon Erickson and Shane Walsh
Jen: "Faithfully rendered."
Spencer: "The artist really captured Black's unsettling feline qualities with confidence and skill, and for that he/she must be congratulated."
Condoleezza Rice by Alex Chang
Jen: "The Condi one looks like her and also is a caricature at the same time, embodying the devil-essence that surely corrupts her soul."
Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Stephanie Goins
Spencer: "This one is like the Mona Lisa. I cannot escape her glazy stare, try as I may. She's perfect in every way."
Woody Allen by Adam Preble
Jen: "Great, immediately recognizable, somewhat of an easy target though."
Frida Kahlo by Adriana Tatum
Vito Corleone by Benjamin Lim
Jen: "Don Corleone came close to being my top pick before I decided that he too, was a bit too easy."
Steve Zissou by Mark Husson
Spencer: "Nice work on the hat, I guess, but the moustache is weird. Plus, no pock marks. And Stevie definitely needs him a frown."
Admiral Ackbar by Eric Eberhardt and Mike Boccieri
Spencer: "Admiral Ackbar is fantastic, obviously, because I immediately knew who he was, and maybe you didn't. I'm interested to find out whether the artist went in with Ackbar in mind or saw him in some of the available features. Very well done, indeed."
Klaus Nomi by D.J. Ross' girlfriend
Spencer: "The Klaus Nomi is a strong work but possesses little confidence. This Klaus is all fear.
More timid mime than weirdo alien swagger."
And here are the rest of the finalists that the judges had to choose from. You may notice a few excellent cartoon entries...the judges felt that while they were worthy finalists, they did not merit the top spots because of a lower degree of difficulty involved in their construction (i.e. making a cartoon character with what is essentially a cartoon editor).
From top to bottom, left to right: Velma from Scooby Doo, Hannibal Lecter, Jack Skellington from A Nightmare Before Christmas, Dick Cheney, Tom Cruise, Hulk Hogan, Jennifer Wilbanks (aka The Runaway Bride), George Costanza, Charlie Brown, and V from V for Vendetta.
Missing from the finalists are the multiple Michael Jacksons, Hitlers, Satans, Walter Sobchaks, Beatles, and Kim Jong Ils. So many Mii versions of all these people exist online that it didn't feel right including them in the final round because they were both too easy and too easily copied from elsewhere.
Finally, a personal favorite that didn't make it into the final round:
David Foster Wallace by Nick Maniatis
I get the feeling that in the Maniatis household, there are a lot of Wii Tennis matches pitting Wallace and Hal Incandenza against Tracy Austin and Michael Joyce. Awesome.
Thanks to everyone who entered and to the judges for deciding amongst such a strong field of entrants.
1. Mike Buckbee of Fabjectory has offered to make a physical statuette of the winner's celebrity Mii. So cool! The company currently does characters from SecondLife and SketchUp models, but they're branching out into making Miis and the winner's Mii statuette will be among the first that they produce.
2. I have extended the contest deadline until the end of the day on Wednesday, Dec 13. Lots have entered, but there's room for more.
3. Spencer Sloan of the excellent celebrity gossip site, Goldenfiddle, has agreed to lend his celebrity expertise to help judge the contest. I am working on getting another judge as well...stay tuned for further information.
Meg and I set out to do a John Lennon Mii last nght, but as soon as we saw these eyes, we switched to Paul McCartney:
Not too shabby for a few minutes work, but I know you can do better. So, I'm having a contest to see who can make the best celebrity Mii. The rules are as follows:
1. All Miis must be made with the Nintendo Wii editor, not this Flash editor (which is cool, but not the same).
2. No cheating! Make your own Mii, don't just copy someone else's.
3. I love your mom, but she's not a celebrity. Frances Bean, you can ignore this rule.
4. You retain exclusive worldwide rights to your Mii and its image, save for giving me permission to post it on kottke.org as part of the contest.
5. Judging will be done by me and possibly a panel of "celebrity" judges if I can scrounge some up. The family and friends of the judges can enter, but will be held to much higher standards than everyone else, just as in real life.
6. Only two entries per person. (And don't enter two in your own name and then have your friend email in two more. Pick your best two, send 'em in, and take your chances.)
7. Entry deadline is Monday, December 11th at 11:59 pm ET. The entry deadline has been moved to Wednesday, December 13th at 11:59 pm ET. I will announce the winner at some time shortly after that.
To enter, make your Mii, take a photo of it on the screen (make sure the Mii is clearly visible in the photo), and send a link to the photo to email@example.com with a subject line of "Celebrity Mii Contest" (no quotes). You can also send attachments but because of my spam situation, I cannot guarantee that they will get through to me...send a link to your entry to make sure. There will be some still-as-yet-unspecified prize (I'm thinking a Wii game or something like that) awarded to the winner. Good luck!
1. Not only do I want to play it again right now (so badly) despite having to stand up and move around and stuff, I want to play it again right now (so badly) because I want to stand up and move around and stuff. Reminds me of my 15yo self; all he wanted to do was play hours and hours of basketball in my driveway.
2. With the Wii Sports Pack, Nintendo has made it possible for those who are not physically gifted to nonetheless discover and explore their athletic gifts (like manual dexterity, quickness, timing, etc.). Even your gray-haired relatives can excel at bowling: "It was her 1st time ever playing video games and she has a high of 155 so far. Wii rocks!"
3. Possibly the best thing about the Wii is that you don't really need to be told how to use the controller. The boxing game has zero learning curve (just punch!).
4. Nintendo is betting the farm that just like megapixels don't matter as much nowadays when buying digital cameras as lens quality, camera features, etc., the number of polygons your console's processor spits out at what resolution matters less than how fun the games are. As someone who's nonplussed by fancy graphics in video games, I'll take that bet.
5. The menu interface is a little clunky. Did they not have time to get it right?
6. The day it's possible to buy NHL '94 through the Wii's Virtual Console, my life, such as it is, will be complete.
7. I'm curious how much fine control is possible with the Wiimote after a couple weeks of practice. With a conventional controller, very tiny adjustments are possible by pulsing or tapping the joypad or joystick...you can easily move Mario right to the edge of the staircase or subtly adjust your direction your kart is pointed on the track. But I found it difficult being that precise with the Wiimote while playing Super Monkey Ball.
Of all the news over the past few days about the launches of Sony's PS3 and Nintendo's Wii, the most interesting has been the differing responses of the people waiting to purchase the different consoles. While the launch of the PS3 was marred by violence (people robbed of their PS3s in mall parking lots, crowds trampling people in a mad rush for games, police needing to quiet unruly crowds waiting to buy with pepper bullets, etc.), the launch of the Wii was peaceful, with no reports of violence that I can find. This comment on Digg is typical of the sentiment I've seen expressed online about the two groups of fans:
Try working at a Circuit City... went in for a 7am meeting and got badgered by the losers. I have to say the "wii-tards" were much more tame than the "ps three-tards."
There are several obvious reasons for the PS3 violence: the PS3 was possibly more anticipated, their initial supply was more limited than that of the Wii, and the machine is more expensive. But the difference in reaction also has something to do with the goals of each company in regard to their respective systems and the types of people each system tends to attract. Nintendo is focused on play and fun: the Wii is the fun system...about people of all ages enjoying the process of playing games. The PS3 is more about competition, who wins, who loses, and who frags the most enemies in the most spectacular fashion; cutthroat survival of the fittest. These are generalizations of course, but I find it interesting that the Nintendo gamers, who are attracted to play and fun, didn't cause as much trouble as the PS3 fans, who are more into competition.
After we had waited in line for almost two hours, Nintendo World closed the store early (at 5:30) and instead of making the announcement themselves, the Nintendo World employees sent Rockefeller Center security out to intimidate the crowd into dispersing. It was surreal - on what should have been Nintendo World's finest day, they were closing early and sending out fake police to scare away their customers.
Nintendo released the Wii at midnight today. Predictably, bloggers and media outlets are having a bit of fun with the gaming console's name. Here's a sampling of headlines from newspaper stories and blog posts with Wii wordplay:
Gone with the Wii
Gamers Wii bit excited
Are Wii Ready?
Playtesters say 'Wii' to console war question
Wii Won't Rock You
And away Wii go
Gamers Go Wii Wii Wii All the Way Home
The things Wii do for love
'Wii'kend So Far
No Wii for Mii... for now :(
Wii were successful (barely)
Wii Are The World: War Of The "Hard To Resist" Game Consoles
Wii Will, Wii Will Rock You.
Oh Wii Oh...
A Wii bit of gougery
Come On Over and Wii'll Play!
Wii-lcome to the Twilight Zone
Wii would like to play!
What Wii can do
Only a Wii Bit of Excitement
PS3 Fans: "Wii are a bunch of idiots"
Wii Wish You an Early Christmas (If You're Famous Enough)
Be Kind to the Wii Folk
Wii Love It! All about Nintendo's new gaming console
A Wii-bit too late
Are Wii ready?
Wii Want to Play
Wii for Yoo and Mee
To Wii or not to Wii, that is the question!
A Wii Bit More
Oh, the humani'wii'. (Apologies...I'm so'wii'. (No, 'wii'lly. (I can't stop, send help! Hurr'wii'!)))
Driving on the Interstate through the metropolitan tri-state area during a 1.5 hour downpour is like playing 700 continuous laps of Baby Park against 7 other players. I'm beat. (ps. It's a simile anyway.)
The following is a great 2004 BBC documentary about Tetris, the man who created it, and the lengths that several companies went to in order to procure the rights to distribute it. Tetris - From Russia With Love:
Alexey Pazhitnov, a computer programmer from Moscow, created Tetris in 1985 but as the Soviet Union was Communist and all, the state owned the game and any rights to it. Who procured the rights from whom on the other side of the Iron Curtain became the basis of legal wranglings and lawsuits; the Atari/Nintendo battle over Tetris wasn't settled until 1993. There's an abbreviated version of the story, but the documentary is a lot more fun. A rare copy of the Tengen version of Tetris, which was pulled from the shelves due to legal troubles, is available on eBay for around $50.
Their work, compiled in the "Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance," a 900-page academic book that will be published next month, makes a rather startling assertion: the trait we commonly call talent is highly overrated. Or, put another way, expert performers -- whether in memory or surgery, ballet or computer programming -- are nearly always made, not born. And yes, practice does make perfect. These may be the sort of cliches that parents are fond of whispering to their children. But these particular cliches just happen to be true.
Deliberate practice entails more than simply repeating a task -- playing a C-minor scale 100 times, for instance, or hitting tennis serves until your shoulder pops out of its socket. Rather, it involves setting specific goals, obtaining immediate feedback and concentrating as much on technique as on outcome.
"Deliberate practice" reminds me of a video game a bunch of my friends are currently hooked on called Brain Age. Available for the handheld Nintendo DS, Brain Age is based on a Japanese brain training "game" developed by Dr. Ryuta Kawashima. The game measures the "age" of your brain based on your performance of simple tasks like memorizing a list of words or addition of small numbers. As you practice (deliberately), you get faster and more skilled at solving these mini-games and your brain age approaches that of a smarty-pants, twitchy-fingered teenager.
Speaking of talented teenagers, this week's New Yorker contains an article (not online) on Ivan Lendl's golfing daughters. In it, Lendl agrees that talent is created, not born:
"Can you create athletes, or do they just happen?" [Lendl] asked me not long ago. "I think you can create them, and I think that Tiger Woods's father proved that. People will sometimes ask me, 'How much talent did you have in tennis?' I say, 'Well, how do you measure talent?' Yeah, sure, McEnroe had more feel for the ball. But I knew how to work, and I worked harder than he did. Is that a talent in itself? I think it is."
Translation: there's more than one way to be good at something. There's something very encouraging and American about it, this idea that through hard work, you can become proficient and talented at pretty much anything.
Very high on the list of things that don't need to be advertised is Tetris. Chances are you remember this Tetris commercial from the 80s anyway. "Use your thumbs, use your eyes, find yourself Tetrisized!"