kottke.org posts about video games
Someone spent hours making a
playable version of Super Mario Bros in Excel. See also the Excel spreadsheet artist. (via digg)
Update: Two corrections. The spreadsheet program is actually OpenOffice, not Excel. (Excel is almost a genericized trademark at this point.) And the in-spreadsheet game isn't actually playable...this is a stop motion video of still frames.
I don't have a PS4 or Windows machine, so I can't play No Man's Sky (which seems to deliver on the long-ago promise of Will Wright's Spore), but through the magic1 of Spotify, I was listening to the soundtrack this morning.
Other video game soundtracks I enjoy include Monument Valley and FTL.
Update: See also Robin Sloan on the appeal of No Man's Sky and how it is like reading.
Play Anything is a forthcoming book by game designer and philosopher Ian Bogost. The subtitle -- The Pleasure of Limits, the Uses of Boredom, and the Secret of Games -- provides a clue as to what it's about. Here's more from the book's description:
Play is what happens when we accept these limitations, narrow our focus, and, consequently, have fun. Which is also how to live a good life. Manipulating a soccer ball into a goal is no different than treating ordinary circumstances -- like grocery shopping, lawn mowing, and making PowerPoints -- as sources for meaning and joy. We can "play anything" by filling our days with attention and discipline, devotion and love for the world as it really is, beyond our desires and fears.
Reading this little blurb, I immediately thought of two things:
1. One thing you hear from pediatricians and early childhood educators is: set limits. Children thrive on boundaries. There's a certain sort of person for whom this appeals to their authoritarian nature, which is not the intended message. Then there are those who can't abide by the thought of limiting their children in any way. But perhaps, per Bogost, the boundaries parents set for their children can be thought of as a series of games designed to keep their lives interesting and meaningful.1
2. This recent post about turning anxiety into excitement. Shifting from finding life's limitations annoying to thinking of them as playable moments seems similar. Problems become opportunities, etc.
3. Ok, three things. I once wrote a post about bagging groceries and mowing the lawn as games.
Two chores I find extremely satisfying are bagging groceries and (especially) mowing the lawn. Getting all those different types of products -- with their various shapes, sizes, weights, levels of fragility, temperatures -- quickly into the least possible number of bags...quite pleasurable. Reminds me a little of Tetris. And mowing the lawn...making all the grass the same height, surrounding the remaining uncut lawn with concentric rectangles of freshly mowed grass.
What I'm saying is, I'm looking forward to reading this book. See also Steven Johnson's forthcoming book, Wonderland: How Play Made the Modern World.
Whoa, this is the coolest! Jason Wright's Brand New Subway allows players to alter the NYC subway system as they see fit. You can start with existing maps and the choices you make affect ridership and the price of a Metrocard.
Players can choose to start from scratch or one of several NYC subway maps (including present-day, maps dating back to the early 1900s, or maps from the future). They can build new stations and lines to expand the system to new areas, or tear it down and redesign the whole thing. The game intends to evoke an imaginative spirit, to empower people to envision transportation according to their needs and desires, and to arouse the fun of tinkering with maps.
This project is an entry in The Power Broker Game Design Competition, the goal of which is to adapt Robert Caro's The Power Broker into a playable experience. Wright explains how his game hits the mark:
Bottom-up vs. top-down design. Moses was infamous for his top-down approach to urban planning. He held "the public" as a concept in high regard while simultaneously showing contempt for the individuals who made up that public, in the form of arrogance, spitefulness, and an utter lack of concern for the millions displaced for his expressways and parks. Later on in his career, as the span of his projects increased, Moses would make monumentally important decisions about the fate of a neighborhood without once setting foot there. He was known for building 13 bridges and hundreds of miles of parkways despite never driving a car.
Although Brand New Subway might appeal to someone who enjoyed SimCity but who has never set foot in New York City, it's targeted primarily at those who actually ride the subway and who might feel invested in what they design. In that regard, it inverts Moses' paradigm by encouraging players to improve on transportation in their own neighborhoods and in ways to which they have a personal connection.
I reeeeeeally didn't want to spend the rest of my day playing with this, but that super express train from Manhattan to JFK isn't going to build itself! (via @byroncheng)
Steven Johnson's new book, Wonderland: How Play Made the Modern World, will be out in November. In it, he describes how novelties and games have been responsible for scientific innovation and technological change for hundreds of years.
This lushly illustrated history of popular entertainment takes a long-zoom approach, contending that the pursuit of novelty and wonder is a powerful driver of world-shaping technological change. Steven Johnson argues that, throughout history, the cutting edge of innovation lies wherever people are working the hardest to keep themselves and others amused.
Johnson's storytelling is just as delightful as the inventions he describes, full of surprising stops along the journey from simple concepts to complex modern systems. He introduces us to the colorful innovators of leisure: the explorers, proprietors, showmen, and artists who changed the trajectory of history with their luxurious wares, exotic meals, taverns, gambling tables, and magic shows.
Here's Johnson's introduction on How We Get To Next.
They all revolve around the creative power of play: ideas and innovations that initially came into the world because people were trying to come up with fresh ways to trigger the feeling of delight or surprise, by making new sounds with a musical instrument, or devising clever games of chance, or projecting fanciful images on a screen. And here's the fascinating bit: Those amusements, as trivial as they seemed at the time, ended up setting in motion momentous changes in science, technology, politics, and society.
[Ok, riff mode engaged...I have no idea if Johnson talks about learning while playing in his book, but I've been thinking about this quite a lot lately so...ready or not, here I come.] Being the parent of young children, you hear a lot about the power of play. I've never been a fan of a lot of screen time for kids, but lately I've been letting them play more apps on the iPad and also Mario Kart 8 on the Wii U. I've even come to think of their Kart playing as educational as well as entertaining. Watching them level up in the game has been fascinating to watch -- Minna (my almost 7-year-old) has gone from not even being able to steer the kart to winning Grand Prix gold cups at 50cc (and she's a better shot with a green shell than I am) and Ollie (my 9-year-old) is improving so rapidly that with his superior neuroplasticity and desire, he'll be beating me in just a few months.1
Ok, but what is Mario Kart really teaching them? This isn't about preparing them for their driver's license exam. As dumb as it sounds,2 Mario Kart is a good vehicle (har!) for learning some of life's most essential skills. They're learning how persistant practice leads to steady improvement (something which isn't always readily visible with schoolwork). They're learning how to ignore what they can't control and focus on what they can (Minna still watches green shells after shooting them but Ollie no longer does...helloooooo Stoicism). They're learning how to lose gracefully and try again with determination. Most of all, they're learning how to navigate an unfamiliar system. Teaching someone how to learn -- knowing how to learn things is one of life's greatest superpowers -- is about exposing them to many different kinds of systems and helping them figure them out.
Update: Johnson is hosting a podcast based on the ideas in the book.
The Internet Archive has collected the first dozen years' worth of Nintendo Power magazines. I was a subscriber to Nintendo Power for the first couple years, having previously received the Nintendo Fun Club Newsletter. The first issue contained an extensive guide to Super Mario Bros 2, teased a game called Lee Trevino's Fighting Golf, and the Legend of Zelda was ranked the #1 game, ahead of Mike Tyson's Punch-Out, Metroid, Super Mario Bros, and Kid Icarus.
The July 1991 issue shows how good Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak was at Game Boy Tetris:
"Evets Kainzow" is "Steve Wozniak" spelled backwards.
Update: Foursquare founder Dennis Crowley made his way into the high score list in the magazine twice in 1990; once for Strider and again for Ninja Gaiden II (alongside Steve Wozniak's massive GB Tetris score).
Will I ever get tired of this trope? Apple should make David Attenborough the Siri voice...I would immediately start using it more.
From stop motion video wizard PES, the death scenes from five classic video games like Centipede and Asteroids recreated in stop motion using everyday objects like cupcakes, pizza, watches, and croquet balls.
In a short video, Joss Fong and Dion Lee of Vox explore how free mobile games are engineered to make money using behavioral psychology.
By collecting troves of data on how users play their games, developers have mastered the science of applied addiction. And with the rise of "freemium" games that rely on micro-transactions, they have good reason to deploy the tools of behavioral psychology to inspire purchases.
Back in 2013, Ramin Shokrizade explained The Top F2P Monetization Tricks:
To maximize the efficacy of a coercive monetization model, you must use a premium currency, ideally with the ability to purchase said currency in-app. Making the consumer exit the game to make a purchase gives the target's brain more time to figure out what you are up to, lowering your chances of a sale. If you can set up your game to allow "one button conversion", such as in many iOS games, then obviously this is ideal. The same effect is seen in real world retail stores where people buying goods with cash tend to spend less than those buying with credit cards, due to the layering effect.
Purchasing in-app premium currency also allows the use of discounting, such that premium currency can be sold for less per unit if it is purchased in bulk. Thus a user that is capable of doing basic math (handled in a different part of the brain that develops earlier) can feel the urge to "save money" by buying more. The younger the consumer, the more effective this technique is, assuming they are able to do the math. Thus you want to make the numbers on the purchase options very simple, and you can also put banners on bigger purchases telling the user how much more they will "save" on big purchases to assist very young or otherwise math-impaired customers.
Having the user see their amount of premium currency in the interface is also much less anxiety generating, compared to seeing a real money balance. If real money was used (no successful game developer does this) then the consumer would see their money going down as they play and become apprehensive. This gives the consumer more opportunities to think and will reduce revenues.
Mike Rose also discussed the psychological aspect of freemium games in Chasing the Whale: Examining the ethics of free-to-play games:
On the topic of in-app purchases, Griffiths says, "The introduction of in-game virtual goods and accessories (that people pay real money for) was a psychological masterstroke."
"It becomes more akin to gambling, as social gamers know that they are spending money as they play with little or no financial return," he continues. "The one question I am constantly asked is why people pay real money for virtual items in games like FarmVille. As someone who has studied slot machine players for over 25 years, the similarities are striking."
Griffiths argues that the real difference between pure gambling games and some free-to-play games is the fact that gambling games allow you to win your money back, adding an extra dimension that can potentially drive revenues even further.
Update: In 2009, Chris Anderson wrote a book called Free: The Future of a Radical Price in which he argued that freemium was going to be an important business model.
The online economy offers challenges to traditional businesses as well as incredible opportunities. Chris Anderson makes the compelling case that in many instances businesses can succeed best by giving away more than they charge for. Known as "Freemium," this combination of free and paid is emerging as one of the most powerful digital business models. In Free, Chris Anderson explores this radical idea for the new global economy and demonstrates how it can be harnessed for the benefit of consumers and businesses alike. In the twenty-first century, Free is more than just a promotional gimmick: It's a business strategy that is essential to a company's successful future.
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
There's is no way I am not getting one of these. There's no way to buy online yet, but keep your eye on this Amazon search and I imagine it'll show up sometime soon.
One of my all-time favorite iOS games1 receives a big update today. Alto's Adventure has added two new modes, an endless relaxing Zen Mode and a Photo Mode for sharing your favorite moments.
Zen Mode is a new way to experience the game. We've stripped away many things from hillside; no scores, no coins, no powerups, and distilled the game down to its purest elements. There's no on-screen UI competing for your attention -- it's just you and the endless mountain.
The developers were persuaded to add this mode because of letters from fans who liked the relaxing aspect of the game. An excerpt from one such letter:
I play games as a way to calm me down when I'm feeling anxious or down. But it's been difficult to find games at the moment that don't feel aggressive and violent (not that I'm against dealing out justice as Batman or taking out bad guys as Nathan Drake, they are good fun!)
Your game offers something different. Alto's Adventure doesn't make me more stressed than I already am. Skiing down a mountain is calming (especially helped by the music, props to your music maker!). It makes me feel as if I'm progressing and being productive without the frustrations of getting to that next level in narrative games or other mobile games.
I've played Alto's Adventure a lot over the past year and a half. Like very a lot. At first, I played because the game was fun and I wanted to beat it. But eventually, I started playing the game when I was stressed or anxious.1 It became a form of meditation for me; playing cleared my mind and refocused my attention on the present. Even the seemingly stressful elements in the game became calming. The Elders, who spring up to give chase every few minutes, I don't even notice anymore...which has become a metaphorical reminder for me to focus on my actions and what I can control and not worry about outside influences I can't control.
So thanks to Snowman for building such a great game...I truly don't know what I would have done without it.
Update: From Sherry Turkle's 1984 book The Second Self, a video gamer talking about how playing games make him feel:
Well, it's almost, at the risk of sounding, uh, ridiculous, if you will, it's almost a Zen type of thing... where I can direct myself totally and not feel directed at all. You're totally absorbed and it is all happening there. You know what you are supposed to do. There's not external confusion, there's no conflicting goals, there's none of the complexities that the rest of the world is filled with. It's so simple. You either get through this little maze so that the creature doesn't swallow you up or you don't. And if you can focus your attention on that, and if you can really learn what you are supposed to do, then you really are in relationship to the game.
And Turkle adds (emphasis mine):
When he plays video games, he experiences another kind of relaxation, the relaxation of being on the line. He feels "totally focused, totally concentrated." And yet David, like Marty and Roger, indeed like all successful players of video games, describes the sense in which the highest degree of focus and concentration comes from a letting go of both.
I feel exactly that while playing Alto's Adventure. Total relaxed concentration.
Also, after this post alerted Corey Glynn to the existence of a global high score list (on which he held 15th place), he went out and absolutely crushed the high score by more than 2 million points. I bow to your superior skill, sir. (via @mznewman)
Wes Copeland recently shattered the all-time record high score for Donkey Kong with 1,218,000 points. During the 3 hour and 20 minute game, he didn't die a single time.
It's how he took the title, though that's so staggering. Copeland did not lose a single Mario in the game. He took his first life all the way from the first level all the way to the end, cashing in the extra lives to obliterate all comers.
"This will be my last record score," Copeland wrote on Facebook. "I don't believe I can put up a game any higher than this." Copeland had set 1.2 million as his ultimate goal in Donkey Kong, and said he'd retire from competition if he could reach that.
Copeland's effort was a nearly perfect score; though the theoretical maximum is 1,265,000 points, the randomness of each game limits the number of points available before reaching the kill screen. If you're looking for pointers, you can watch the entire game here:
The Art of Atari showcases the design of the iconic company's video game packaging, advertisements, catalogs, and other stuff. Judging from my reaction to just the cover, I might die of nostalgia if I were to see the inside. Might be worth the risk though.
See also season 3 of Boss Fight Books featuring books on SMB3, Mega Man 3, Katamari Damacy, and more. (via df & @robinsloan)
NES player darbian just broke his own record for the fastest time through Super Mario Bros. He completed the entire game in just 4 minutes 57.260 seconds. But the most entertaining part of the video is watching his heart rate slowly creep up from 80 bpm at the beginning to ~140 bpm in World 8-2 and spiking to 171 bpm when he beats the record. (via digg)
Update: Compare that with this insane level from Mario Maker:
In this post about Minecraft yesterday, I wrote a footnote about educational-ish1 apps on my iPad:
On my iPad, I have a screen full of educational apps that the kids can work with pretty much anytime they want without asking.
I posted a screenshot of that page on Twitter, and I wanted to follow up with some App Store links as well as some links to other apps that people tweeted back at me. (Note: my kids are 6 and 8, so YMMV.)
Minecraft Pocket Edition - Duh. It doesn't do quite as much as the full versions available on other platforms, but they're improving and adding stuff all the time and the touchscreen experience is great.
The Tinybop Collection - Beautiful, fun apps. The kids most often work with The Everything Machine and Simple Machines.
Mate in 1 - A game that challenges you to find the checkmate using just one move. Ollie takes chess after school once a week, so I downloaded this for when he wants some extra practice during the week. See also Mate in 2.
Monument Valley - This is a straight-up game, but it's so well-made (I love the soundtrack) and the logic puzzles are genuinely challenging that I'm happy to let them work with this one. Ollie has made it all the way through while Minna is still on level 9. Gonna get the Forgotten Shores IAP too.
The Numberlys - This one has ceased to be educational for my kids, but it's great for the younger set.
Crazy Gears - 99 levels of mechanical puzzles involving gears.
Hopscotch - Use an intuitive drag-and-drop interface to build games. It includes many video tutorials for learning how everything works.
And here are a few recommendations from others that I am eager to try out:
Quick Math Pack - Four math apps, including multiplication, fractions, and telling time. See also Prodigy Math Game, The Counting Kingdom, the DragonBox apps.
Barefoot World Atlas - An annotated world atlas. This looks great...downloading now.
Epic! - A eBook library for kids 12 and under with 10,000 titles. A couple of very strong recommendations from people for this.
Brain It On - Draw shapes to solve challenging physics puzzles. See also LiquidSketch.
Endless Reader - For beginning readers. The same company, Originator Inc., has many other apps as well.
Professor Astro Cat's Solar System - Learn about the solar system with a cat and mouse as tour guides.
Deep Green - Top-notch chess game.
Lots of good stuff there...I've downloaded a few already. I really really wish the App Store had a try-before-you buy policy. I have no idea which of these apps the kids will actually like/play and it would be nice not to have to spend $50 to find out. Anyway, thanks to everyone who shared their favorites. Let me know if I've missed anything great!
Clive Thompson's article for the NY Times about Minecraft captures what many players, parents, and teachers find exciting about the game that seems like more than just a game.
Presto: Jordan had used the cow's weird behavior to create, in effect, a random-number generator inside Minecraft. It was an ingenious bit of problem-solving, something most computer engineers I know would regard as a great hack -- a way of coaxing a computer system to do something new and clever.
In addition to learning about logic and computer science, various educators have also touted Minecraft's lessons in civics, design, planning, and even philosophy. If you've ever seen little kids playing with blocks, you've noticed that some of those potential lessons there too.
Block-play was, in the European tradition, regarded as a particularly "wholesome" activity; it's not hard to draw a line from that to many parents' belief that Minecraft is the "good" computer game in a world full of anxiety about too much "screen time."
Among the parents I know, Minecraft is not classified as a game...it's very much tied to education.1 And when listening to the kids and their friends talk about it, if you can get past the endless chatter about zombies and diamond armor, their understanding of the whole world of possibilities is quite sophisticated.
And I can't resist commenting on this little aside about Lego:
Today many cultural observers argue that Lego has moved away from that open-ended engagement, because it's so often sold in branded kits: the Hogwarts castle from "Harry Potter," the TIE fighter from "Star Wars."
Until very recently, I was in that camp of cultural observers, frustrated by the brands and paint-by-number aspect of contemporary Lego kits. But my kids play with Lego a ton and I've observed plenty of open-ended engagement going on. Sure, they sit for 20-30 minutes putting the kits together using directions, but after they're "done", the real play begins. Ollie's Star Wars ships dock at Minna's birthday party. Soon, beach goers are wearing Stormtrooper helmets and Vader's eating cupcakes. None of the "finished" products survive more than a few minutes without being augmented or taken apart to make something different. Ships take on wheels from previous kits and become delivery trucks (with cool laser cannons). Parts from every station, house, vehicle, and landscape get remixed into whatever's necessary for their dramatic play. It's like jazz with injection molded plastic.
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.
Lego and Disney are teaming up for a Star Wars: The Force Awakens video game, out this summer. The trailer for it is possibly more fun than the movie was and is well worth watching if you enjoyed The Lego Movie.
One of my video game triumphs as a kid was playing all the way through The Legend of Zelda using only the wooden sword.1 It was difficult. The person in the video above beat Zelda with only three hearts and without using a sword (until right at the end...you need a sword to kill Gannon). Hardcore. Makes me want to fire up the Wii and see what I can do.
Perhaps attempting to capitalize on the popularity of Minecraft with young boys, Random Penguin1 has released the Puffin Pixels Series of books. The covers of The Swiss Family Robinson, Treasure Island, and four more titles are done in the style of 8-bit video games. The cover illustrations were done by Michael Myers. (via @gavinpurcell)
With its straightforward plot and action sequences, Mad Max: Fury Road would make a pretty good 8-bit video game. (via devour)
Super Mario Brothers was released for Famicom in Japan on September 13, 1985.
When was the game released in the United States? Nobody knows.
Here's Nintendo's official anniversary video.
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.)
Kyle Orland at Ars Technica has thirty little-known facts about the game:
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.)
And of course, Super Mario Maker, the game that lets players make their own Super Mario Bros. levels, was released for Wii U. Users' levels are already being repurposed for social commentary, from the existential dread of "Waluigi's Unbearable Existence" to the more lighthearted "Call Your Mother, You've Got Time."
There seem to be two dominant business models for game arcades in 2015:
- run it as a museum;
- sell beer.
And even then, it's tricky.
"Don't do quarters," Wilson says. "Local and state licensing and taxes are geared from the 1980s which makes it impossible to make a buck that way." The laws aren't up to date, and owners still have to pay the same amount to register arcade machines, even if revenue is much smaller than it was in the '80s. Wilson adds that customers often think a quarter should hold the same 25-cent value in 2015 that it did in 1983.
[A]fter all the work that goes into finding these machines, they are then introduced to a world very different from the arcade homes they once knew. It's akin to taking fragile dinosaur fossils from a museum collection and throwing them into the middle of a party.
"We have 20-30-plus-year-old video games in a very high-traffic, kind of high-energy environment," Horne says. "The games tend to get pretty beat up."
It's surprising how much of a premium is placed on using vintage machines, given the problems with keeping them in repair.
A motherboard fried on KFS's Off Road cabinet, and Horne has never been able to find a replacement. Some of the early Nintendo titles, such as Super Mario Bros., have systems that won't work with newer monitors.
A museum is one thing, but you can imagine a working arcade using modular, replicated equipment. Modern computer guts running emulated software in rebuilt or reused cabinets. Call it physical emulation.
Maybe the market's just not big enough to make it worthwhile. Or it would lack authenticity. It just doesn't seem like it would be that hard to do (and could make new kinds of games and business models a lot more feasible).
(Related: see Laura June's 2013 history of arcades.)
From the developer of Crossy Road (aka Infinite Frogger) comes Pac-Man 256, a Pac-Man game with an infinite board that gets eaten from below by the kill screen glitch from the 256th level of the original game. I love riffs on old school video games like this, and the infinite board is a particularly clever one.1 Here's what the gameplay looks like:
I'm sure everyone is used to this by now (which is sad) but be warned that Pac-Man 256 is one of those games that encourages you to watch ads to level up more quickly or to continue when you're out of credits...and then to buy more credits as an IAP when you're out of ads to watch. There's an option to buy unlimited credits for $7.99, but still. I understand the economics of the situation and why they do it this way, but it just feels so hostile to the player. I want to wholeheartedly recommend this game because the gameplay is so fun, but it feels like you're constantly wading through a little bit of raw sewage to play it. Which, apparently I don't mind doing, wading through sewage. :(
Update: Echoing several similar comments on Twitter, John Gruber writes:
Unlike Kottke, I think the option to buy unlimited "credits" with a one-time $7.99 in-app purchase is a fair deal. Think of it as an $8 game that you can optionally play for free if you're willing to watch ads. That's a good price for a great game.
$8 is a more than fair price. But the option to buy unlimited credits is difficult to find in the game (you need to run out of credits first and then click the "Play" button anyway) and it doesn't tell you exactly what you're getting for your $8. What I want is never to see an ad ever in the game, but I don't actually think that's what it is. Paying full price for a game shouldn't involve hide n' seek.
But the bigger issue for me is how the game, and many many others in the App Store, feels: icky. Like used car salesman icky. Drug dealer icky. Depressing casino icky. The way the game presents itself, the developers seemingly want one thing: your money. Do they want me to have a good time playing the game? Eh, maybe? I don't know, it just seems really cynical to me, like a game built by a bank instead of people that love gaming or Pac-Man.
I really *really* wish the App Store had a trial period option available for apps. 20 minutes into Pac-Man 256 and I would have ponied up $8-10, no problem. I suspect App Store users would love this feature but game developers would hate it because using ads and casino tactics to upsell in your app makes a lot more money than straight sales.
These folks created a real-life first person shooter game and invited strangers on Chatroulette to control the action.
Here's a behind-the-scenes look at how they did it. (thx, oren)
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.
SethBling wrote a program made of neural networks and genetic algorithms called MarI/O that taught itself how to play Super Mario World. This six-minute video is a pretty easy-to-understand explanation of the concepts involved.
But here's the thing: as impressive as it is, MarI/O actually has very little idea how to play Super Mario World at all. Each time the program is presented with a new level, it has to learn how to play all over again. Which is what it's doing right now on Twitch. (via waxy)
Chris Ware's cover for this week's issue of the New Yorker featuring a Minecraft playdate is spot on.
Clara has spent hours, days, weeks of the past two years building and making navigable block worlds fuelled from the spun-off fizz of her accreting consciousness: giant ice-cream-layered auditoriums linked to narrow fifty-foot-high hallways over glass-covered lava streams, stairs that descend to underground classrooms, frozen floating wingless airplanes, and my favorite, the tasteful redwood-and-glass "writer's retreat." (It has a small pool.) She made a meadow of beds for my wife-a high-school teacher who craves unconsciousness-and a roller coaster to take her there. Though Clara mostly "plays" Minecraft by herself, the game allows her friends to drop into these worlds, too, and I've even spent some strange virtual afternoons as a floating block-self, guided by my angelic block-hammer-wielding block-daughter, zipping around a dreamscape that feels, really, less like life and maybe more like death, but in a sweet sort of way. If architecture somehow mirrors the spaces we carve in our memories and make in our minds, then something pretty interesting is going on here.
Ollie wanted a Minecraft playdate for his birthday, basically him and three or four of his friends sitting around playing the game on various devices. We managed to talk him into some good old fashioned real-world bowling instead, but I doubt that will work next year.
Screentendo is an OS X application that converts a selection of your computer screen into a playable Super Mario Bros game. Here's a demo using the Google logo:
The source code is here if you want to try it out. (via prosthetic knowledge)
I remember this commercial for Pitfall! but I had no idea Jack Black was in it.
I learned about this from a short profile of Black by Tad Friend, in which the pair hit up Barcade in Chelsea.
He played Punch-Out, Atari Basketball, Donkey Kong, and Lunar Lander, increasingly nimble on the joystick. "It's all bringing back some foggy déjà vus," he said. Inside the Discs of Tron cabinet, the black light lit up his checked shirt. "Dude, this!" he said. He commenced making his avatar leap from platform to platform, as he sought to "de-rez" his opponent by throwing disks at him. At every level-completed chime, Black snapped his fingers and did a little dance. "He's one tough cookie -- you gotta get him with a ricochet," he said, manhandling the controls. "Taste it! Oh, God -- why? Why?" Regally, he entered "JA" atop the roll of honor.
Ok, April Fools' is still idiotic, but this is pretty cool: you can play Pac-Man in any neighborhood on Google Maps.
NYC's West Village is a fun place to play. See also Pac-Manhattan, a real-life game of Pac-Man played on the streets of Manhattan in 2004 by a group of ITP students, including Foursquare CEO Dennis Crowley.
Blake Harris, the author of Console Wars, has written a piece on how NHL '94 came to be. For those unaware, NHL '94 is one of the greatest sports video games ever created. This is the sort of attention to detail that made it so great:
For example, it could emulate the ambience of a game day NHL arena by including the proper organ music. The problem, though, was that each team's organist played different songs. 'That's not a problem, actually,' explained Dieter Ruehle, the organist for the San Jose Sharks (and previously for the Los Angeles Kings), 'I can do that.' True to his word, Ruehle provided EA with organ music for every team; and he didn't just provide all of their songs, but also noted which music was blasted during power plays, which tunes were used to celebrate goals, and all the other inside info needed to make each arena feel like home. Ruehle was so diligent about getting it right and capturing that home crowd essence, that during a recording session at EA's sound studio he asked:
'The woman who plays the organ for the Washington Capitals has arthritis; would you like me to play the songs how they are meant to be played, or the way that she plays them because of her condition?'
'Definitely the way she plays it!' Brook answered, after a laugh.
I think I might have to bust out the Genesis this week. Anyone wanna come over?
Then something happens. By the three hundredth game, the A.I. has stopped missing the ball.
The New Yorker's Nicola Twilley on the computer program that learned how to play Breakout and other Atari games. All on its own. Artificial Intelligence Goes to the Arcade.
Alto's Adventure just came out this morning and is definitely my go-to iOS game for the foreseeable future. The game is a cross between something like Monument Valley (the audio and visuals are beautiful) and Ski Safari, which is still one of my all-time favorites.
In the time it's taken George RR Martin to complete zero books in the A Song of Ice and Fire series, a group of dedicated fans has created much of the kingdom of Westeros in Minecraft. Here's a quick video tour:
The Wall is the most visually impressive element:
According to the FAQ, the in-game map is currently the size of Los Angeles, about 500 square miles. (via devour)
Unreal Engine 4 is the latest edition of Epic Games' acclaimed gaming engine for creating realistic gaming worlds. UE4 and its predecessors power all sorts of games, from Gears of War to BioShock Infinite to iOS games. But level designer Dereau Benoit recently used UE4 to model a contemporary Parisian apartment and damn if it doesn't look 100% real. Take a look at this walkthrough:
This + Oculus Rift = pretty much the future. (via hn)
The Entire Screen of One Game is like the video game version of Powers of Ten. The game isn't fun or winnable, but it will confuse your brain after only a few seconds. (via @pieratt)
The 100 Greatest Console Video Games: 1977-1987 is a recent book chronicling the best games from the first golden era in console video games, from the Intellivision1 to the Atari 2600 to the Nintendo.
The Game Map from Dorothy is a street map made up of references to more than 500 video games.
The imaginary map is loosely based on an area of Tokyo, a city that was home to some of the all time classic arcade games of the late 1970's and early 1980's that paved the way for the modern day gaming industry. The map features districts dedicated to survival horror (Silent Hill, Resident Evil, Sweet Home), beat 'em ups (Street fighter, Streets of Rage, Double Dragon) and Nintendo classics (Super Mario Kart, Donkey Kong Land, Luigi's Mansion) as well as many geeky 'in' references to entertain the most hardcore (or the oldest) of gamers.
From Stuart Brown, a five-part video series on the history of graphics in video games. Here's part one:
The entire playlist is here.
A new Kingdom Rush game is out: Kingdom Rush Origins. Played it for a bit this morning and if you liked Kingdom Rush and Kingdom Rush Frontiers, you'll like this one too. It's more of the glorious same. (via @tommertron)
From 11 bit Studios comes a game called This War of Mine which offers an unflinching view of war focusing on injury, suffering, and survival of the civilian population of a city besieged by civil war. Wired's Matt Peckham has a good review.
This War of Mine imagines an endless civil war. Civilians are trapped in a besieged Stalingrad-like city, suffering from hunger and disease and shelling. Snipers roam the city, as apt to pick off civilians as they are insurgents. The phones don't work. There isn't enough food or medication. Your group operates out of a single structure, viewed from the side like a dollhouse, with apparatuses you can fiddle or upgrade to produce helpful goods or improve existing ones. Each survivor has a hierarchy of physical and mental needs equipoised against variably treacherous means of fulfilling them.
Your goal is simple: Survive. I'm not sure for how long, or if there's even a "win" state, because the best I've managed so far is 25 days, and that felt interminable.
Last year, Greenheart Games released a game called Game Dev Tycoon in which you run a company that makes video games. As an experiment, they secretly released a cracked version of the game for pirates to download...with one small difference: players in the cracked version would always go bankrupt because of piracy issues.
The cracked version is nearly identical to the real thing except for one detail... Initially we thought about telling them their copy is an illegal copy, but instead we didn't want to pass up the unique opportunity of holding a mirror in front of them and showing them what piracy can do to game developers. [...] Slowly their in-game funds dwindle, and new games they create have a high chance to be pirated until their virtual game development company goes bankrupt.
Did the pirates learn anything or feel bad? Not really:
0h h1 Nov 17 2014
0h h1 is a super simple Sudoku-type game where you need to keep the number of blue and red tiles in each row and column the same. I don't know how people keep coming up with such simple games that are still challenging...you'd think they'd all have been invented by now. (via waxy)
Mojang's popular game Minecraft has sold over 54 million copies. But that, and the $2.5 billion that Microsoft just paid to acquire the company, dramatically understates the impact that this game has had on [Dave Pell's] third grader and his friends. They all wear Minecraft gear and watch Minecraft videos on YouTube. And several of them completed a week of Minecraft Camp over the summer. The way I see it, $2.5 billion just became the most anyone has ever spent on a babysitter.
The Verge: Why parents are raising their kids on Minecraft.
Markus Persson, the founder of Mojang (known as Notch), explains why he's selling -- and leaving -- the company: "It's not about the money. It's about my sanity."
Conflict photographer Ashley Gilbertson recently embedded himself in the video game The Last of Us Remastered and sent back a selection of war photos.
Reminds me a bit of Jim Munroe's My Trip to Liberty City, a film made from the perspective of a tourist visiting the city featured in Grand Theft Auto III:
Update: New Gamer took photos of a road trip in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. (via @johnke)
Red Bull is sponsoring a six-part series on the history of Japanese video game music. The first installment covers the music of Space Invaders through the Game Boy. Highlight: composer Junko Ozawa showing off her hand-drawn waveform library she used in composing scores for Namco. Bonus: Space Invader-only arcades in Japan were called "Invader houses" while arcades in New Zealand were known as "spacies parlours".
Update: Beep is a feature-length documentary film that will attempt to cover the history of video game sounds from Victorian mechanical arcades on up to the present day games. They are currently raising funds on Kickstarter.
I went to the newish Barcade in Chelsea last night to get some dinner and play Star Wars (and Ms. Pac-Man and Tetris and Donkey Kong) and discovered their tater tots are shaped like Tetris pieces:
ИOM ИOM ИOM. You can get these tots from a company called US Foods; they call them Puzzle Potatoes. Their sell sheet for the product is a wonder of corporate wishful thinking masquerading as marketing.
Here's a menu item that will encourage kids to play with their food.
Yes! This is exactly what all parents want. Huge parental issue in America right now is that kids don't play with their food enough.
When baked, these innovative Puzzle Potatoes are a fun and healthier alternative to regular fries...
Tater tots are not a health food. That's the whole point. Also, aren't regular fries also healthier when baked?
Puzzle potatoes are new innovative and interactive potatoes for kids.
Imagine the meeting. "Bob, what can we do about these smartphone? Kids just aren't spending enough time with their potatoes anymore. Instead they're Facebooking and Flappy Birding. Wait, I know... interactive potatoes!" [Cut to Bob being paraded around the office on his coworkers' shoulders]
Our proprietary puzzle-piece shapes...
Well, someone else's proprietary puzzle piece shapes, but why quibble with details?
Features & Benefits... 2D or 3D
I don't. I can't. What does that even mean? The sell sheet for these should be super simple: a photo of the tots and this caption in all-caps 120-point type: THEY'RE TATER TOTS SHAPED LIKE TETRIS PIECES! BUY THEM, YOU FOOL! (thx, kathryn)
Idleplex starts you off playing sheep pong and when you earn enough money from that, you can buy other mini-games which you can level up enough to play themselves, and then you become a manager of sorts of the games. The game's creator, John Cooney, attempts to explain:
I approached this game wanting to return to simple game mechanics. In fact, I considered how simple game mechanics could go, with simple shapes and single-button mechanics controlling everything. After defining these simple mechanics, I wanted to let the games play themselves, and let the players focus on cultivating a mosaic of these moving pieces.
I love these types of games. (via waxy)
I don't quite know how it happened, but I'm presently addicted to DaisyPop on my iPhone. The gameplay is pretty simple: various flowers and bugs float around the screen and you tap on things to pop them. Popping many things at once increases your score. Taps are limited but you get more the better you play. Unlike many other iOS games where frenetic tapping is rewarded, DaisyPop is a game of patience...waiting for several items to float close enough for the big scores can sometimes take a minute or two.
If you've played Monument Valley, a game so purty it won an Apple Design Award, you know the music is one of the best features of the game. Well, the original soundtrack for the game is now available for streaming on Spotify.
The soundtrack is also available to own on Amazon or iTunes.
(Oh, and while we're at it, let's take a moment to witness how nutty app pricing is. Monument Valley costs $3.99. The soundtrack, which is a just a part of the overall game, costs $8.99 at Amazon. And that makes sense how?)
Update: The Forgotten Shores add-on to the game also has its own soundtrack.
From the gaming laboratory at CERN (??!), Particle Clicker is like Cookie Clicker but about particle physics. As in, you actually learn about particle physics while you're playing.
I am addicted to these damn things. Send help. (via waxy)
Meg Jayanth was asked to adapt Around the World in Eighty Days into a steampunk-y iOS adventure game. The only problem? She hated the book's character Aouda, the English-imperialist-fantasy of an Indian princess who falls in love with Phineas Fogg. But what if "the damsel-in-distress is actually a sabre-wielding revolutionary leader, where she is not only not in need of rescuing, but in fact, sees herself as rescuer?"
This begs a larger question: is it possible to write a game in which your protagonist isn't the hero? Or maybe, less provocatively: can you write a game in which your protagonist isn't the only hero? ...
["80 Days" is] a world where the protagonist's story of racing around the world isn't necessarily the most important, or the most interesting one available to the player.
(via @robinsloan and @aaronissocial)
Occasionally I'll go to my page of addictive Flash games to revisit some old favorites. I mostly play games on my phone now, but some of these are still pretty good. One of my absolute faves is a game called Cyclomaniacs, which I've played all the way through several times over the years. Last night I discovered there's a Cyclomaniacs 2. So good.
Update: There is also Cyclomaniacs Epic and a one-off called Gregmaniacs. (via @ISeeFrants)
If you took all the fight scenes from Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill movies and turned them into a Double Dragon-esque video game, this is what it would look like:
You only get a single move in One-Tap Quest, so you had better make it a good one. This game has no right to be fun, but somehow it is. My top score so far is 15,800...the best score I've seen is 21,400. (via @mrgan)
In racing video games, a ghost is a car representing your best score that races with you around the track. This story of a son discovering and racing against his deceased father's ghost car in an Xbox racing game will hit you right in the feels.
Update: This story was originally shared in the comments of a YouTube video about gaming as a spiritual experience. (via dpstyles & @ryankjohnson)
Update: See also this story about rediscovering a loved one's presence (and presents) in Animal Crossing. (via @shauninman)
From Grantland, an excerpt from Console Wars, a new book by Blake J. Harris about the video game console battles of the 1990s between Nintendo and Sega. The excerpt is about the rise of Nintendo.
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!
Update: Medium has another excerpt from the book.
Maybe this Sonic could sell in Japan, but in America he belonged inside a nightmare.
Kalinske got off the phone with Nakayama and took the fax to Madeline Schroeder's office. "I have good news and I have scary news." He handed her the artwork. "What do you think?"
She looked it over. "I think we'll be the first videogame company whose core demographic is goths."
"Nakayama loves it."
"Of course he does," she said. "It's so weirdly Japanese. I'm surprised the girlfriend's boobs aren't hanging out of a schoolgirl outfit."
Despite his sour mood, Kalinske laughed. "Her name is Madonna."
Schroeder put the drawing on the desk. After a long silent inspection they both spoke at the same time, saying the exact same thing: "Can you fix it?"
Video game producers utilize music to keep you engaged, increase your achievement, and give you the energy to make it to the next level. So maybe you just found your ideal work soundtrack.
Karltorp has found that music from games he used to play as a kid, such as StarCraft, Street Fighter, and Final Fantasy, work best. Because the music is designed to foster achievement and help players get to the next level, it activates a similar "in it to win it" mentality while working, argues Karltorp. At the same time, it's not too disruptive to your concentration. "It's there in the background," said Karltorp. "It doesn't get too intrusive, it keeps you going, and usually stays on a positive tone, too, which I found is important."
There are many versions of the game 2048 (which is itself a rip-off of Threes). There's the original, a version that plays itself, a multiplayer version, a collaborative version, a doge version, a clever Flappy Bird version, the Numberwang version, one that uses only colors, a version that uses Dropbox to save progress and high scores, a hard version that actively works against you, a version where you add tiles to thwart an evil AI, and probably thousands of other versions.
But the best one is the one where each square is an animated GIF of Beyonce.
Super Planet Crash is half game, half planetary simulator in which you try to cram as much orbital mass into your solar system without making any of your planets zing off beyond the Kuiper belt. You get bonus points for crowding planets together and locating planets in the star's habitability zone. Warning: I got lost in this for at least an hour the other day.
2008 article by Clive Thompson on how Weight Watchers is like a RPG (role playing game).
Think about it. As with an RPG, you roll a virtual character, manage your inventory and resources, and try to achieve a goal. Weight Watchers' points function precisely like hit points; each bite of food does damage until you've used up your daily amount, so you sleep and start all over again. Play well and you level up -- by losing weight! And the more you play it, the more you discover interesting combinations of the rules that aren't apparent at first. Hey, if I eat a fruit-granola breakfast and an egg-and-romaine lunch, I'll have enough points to survive a greasy hamburger dinner for a treat!
Even the Weight Watchers web tool is amazingly gamelike. It has the poke-around-and-see-what-happens elegance you see in really good RPG game screens. Accidentally snack on a candy bar and ruin your meal plan for the day? No worries: Just go into the database and see what spells -- whoops, I mean foods -- you can still use with your remaining points.
And those 35 extra points you get every week? They're like a special buff or potion -- a last-ditch save when you're on the ropes.
It's funny how quaint this seems now...the quantified self and gamification of diet & health is everywhere now. (via @arainert)
Whoa, Ben Purdy made a 16x16 pixel remake of The Legend of Zelda in 48 hours. Here's how he did it.
Over the two days of work, I built the game from the map forward. What I mean is that my first goal was to get individual map pages rendering on screen. From there I moved on to the game manager component, building out the startup logic and render loop. This lead to the entity system, which in turn lead to the player entity. Once I had the player moving around I built code to check for collisions with obstacles in the map and changing the view when the player hits the edges of the screen. At this point you could explore the whole world map! It was pretty boring though.
Next I started making monsters and items for the player to interact with. Since I had common code to check for collisions, get lists of entities occupying particular squares, etc, the monsters weren't terribly difficult to implement. The most time consuming part was getting the combat mechanics to a good place where it was challenging but not frustrating.
Mini Metro is an upcoming game in the style of Sim City, except you're only building subway lines.
Mini Metro is an upcoming minimalistic subway layout game. Your small city starts with only three unconnected stations. Your task is to draw routes between the stations to connect them with subway lines. Everything but the line layout is handled automatically; trains run along the lines as quickly as they can, and the commuters decide which trains to board and where to make transfers.
However the city is constantly growing, along with the transport needs of its population. How long can you keep the subway system running before it grinds to a halt?
Oh man, this is great fun for transportation nerds. Site says it'll be out in "early 2014" for PC, Mac, Linux, iPad, and Android. You can play an early version on the site or d/l an alpha version for OS X, Windows, or Linux.
Update: A public transit planning consultant evaluates Mini Metro, which because of its simplicity, simulates the experience of transit network design quite well in some cases.
We have discovered the most realistic thing about Mini Metro: If you want to win, think of these "trains" as buses.
In real rail transit systems, you cannot simply abandon a rail line and build a new one -- certainly not just to handle an overcrowding problem. But to do well in Mini Metro you must revise the network repeatedly, and the last phase of the game you'll deploy lots of one-time-only temporary lines In fact, for best results, make sure you also have a spare tunnel, so that if you have to get a train quickly to a station on an island, you can build a temporary line to a destination across the water, deleting it after use.
To a rail engineer, all this is ridiculous, but to a transit network designer, it's the game's most realistic feature.
Build a subway line to run one train once, then tear it out? No, this is not how rail transit works, but it's very much how buses work, and it's good thing, too. That's why buses provide a much better sandbox for network design thinking. When you build powerful networks with buses, mistakes cost thousands rather than billions, so they're more likely to be repaired. Real-life transit networks do need to evolve, usually from radial beginnings to more gridlike structures.
The sheng is a free-reed wind instrument dating back to 1100 BCE in China. Using a modern sheng, Li-Jin Lee makes the ancient instrument sound remarkably like Super Mario Bros., including coin and power-up sounds.
And I know the Olympics are over and good riddance and all that, but this Mario Kart speedskating bit is great. Baby Park was one of my favorite tracks on Double Dash.
If you play carefully by not stomping enemies, not collecting coins, not eating mushrooms or flowers, and hopping on the flagpole at the very last second, you can rescue the princess in Super Mario Bros with only 500 points.
One bit is surprisingly tricky:
How tough is that jump in 8-1? Well, the timing of the liftoff, the duration of holding the jump button, and the timing of the wall jump are all frame perfect. NES games run at 60 frames per second, which means all the necessary inputs need to be timed within 1/60 of a second. In addition, the starting position before running I used not only has to be on the right pixel, but also the x sub-pixel has to fall within a certain range (technical stuff blah blah blah). In short, it's a pretty annoying jump.
When I was a kid, I left my NES on for three straight days to flip the score in SMB, using the 1UP trick and another spot in the game to get many lives and points. Scoring lower would have been a lot quicker.
Your addiction to various things digital might be wasting a lot of your time. But it's paying off in a big way for companies like King Digital Entertainment, the folks behind the wildly popular Candy Crush Saga. King just announced plans for an IPO. Can a company with one very big hit really go public? On one hand, consider this: "Of the 5000 companies in NASDAQ, only 6 have as much revenue ($1.88b) and fat profit margins (30%) as King." On the other hand, it's tough to stay on top in the hit-driven game industry. Want to invest in this IPO? First, you need to consider how long King will wear the crown.
Candy Crush Saga really has created some incredible numbers.
Flappy Bird Space Program is my favorite Flappy Bird riff yet. Instead of maneuvering through pipes, the object is to get as many birds as you can orbiting a tiny planet.
Love how the demise of this game has prompted such a burst of creative exploration of simple game mechanics. Flowers growing in Flappy Bird compost.
This is way more fun that regular Flappy Bird.
Would love to see a realtime graph of the distribution of scores for the last 1000 players or so. (My current high:
3 4! [Also, the second I put this post up, the server went down. :( ] I'm the guy repeatedly dying at the first pipe.)
100 years ago, Charlie Chaplin put on some floppy shoes, oversized trousers, a bowler, a mustache and became The Tramp. Within a year or two, he was internationally famous and in two years, he was making $670,000/year, an unprecedented figure in those days.
"It was amazingly fast," says David Robinson, a film critic who has written a definitive biography of Chaplin (His Life and Art) and is giving an already sold-out talk titled "100 Years of the Tramp" at the festival. "By mid-1914 he was already popular. By 1915 he was international. The speed with which it happened, without the modern media, is astonishing."
50 years ago, The Beatles were virtually unknown in the US and then, less than a year later, the largest TV audience in history watched them perform on the Ed Sullivan Show.
Consider the following: At the end of 1963, virtually no one in America had heard of the Beatles. Yet on Feb. 9, 1964, they drew the largest TV audience in history -- 73 million viewers -- when they appeared on "The Ed Sullivan Show." How could such a conquest have occurred so quickly? I once asked my friend Lenny Kaye that question, and he answered: "Everybody was ready for the '60s to begin." There's some truth to that, but of course there's much more to the story. The explosion of the Beatles in America was the result of combined forces -- artistic, social and technological -- as well as persistence, showbiz rivalries and more than a bit of luck. So how did it happen that the Beatles came out of nowhere to become the biggest cultural sensation ever, in six weeks?
This year, an iOS & Android game called Flappy Bird, that was originally released in 2013, suddenly rocketed to the top of the App Store bestseller list. (Seriously, look at how quickly it got popular.) The developer, Dong Nguyen, revealed in an interview with The Verge that the game was making $50,000 a day on ads. He's since made the game unavailable for download.
On February 1st, reviews exploded to 800 in a single hour. 6,500 iTunes App Store reviews in a single day. February 1st is the day Dong Nguyen woke up, stretched, checked email, checked Twitter, checked iTunes, and witnessed millions of downloads happening.
You can only imagine what that must have felt like.
This is the same app no one cared about for more than half a year. Just one month prior, it was a great day if Flappy Bird got 20 total reviews on the App Store. Up until January 9th, there had never been an hour in which Flappy Bird received even 10 reviews (most of the time it was under 5).
Think you can distinguish between 80 of the world's most spoken languages? Play the Great Language Game and find out. (Oof, I am bad at this.)
Oliver Emberton wrote a strategy guide for real life as if it were a video game.
You might not realise, but real life is a game of strategy. There are some fun mini-games -- like dancing, driving, running, and sex -- but the key to winning is simply managing your resources.
Most importantly, successful players put their time into the right things. Later in the game money comes into play, but your top priority should always be mastering where your time goes.
Jon Bois attempted to create the most lopsided game ever in Madden NFL on his Xbox. He beefed up the players on one team (7'0", 440 lbs, good at everything) and put a bunch of scrubs on the other team (5'0", 160 lbs, bad at everything). He started playing and was on pace to score more than 1500 points when...
With just under two minutes left in the first quarter, I was winning 366 to zero. I realized that I was on pace to score 1,500 points in a single game. I had never conceived of such a high score. I'd never even heard anyone talk idly about such a thing. There was absolutely nothing the Broncos could do to slow down my pace. I could score just as surely as someone can point and click. It was great. I wanted to ruin Madden in a way I never had before, and I was doing it.
And then it happened. Before I tell you what happened next, I want to lay out a couple of things: first, I made no actual hacks to this game. I didn't have some special jailbroken Xbox, nor a special copy of Madden, nor anything like that. I bought my Xbox at Target and bought my copy of Madden off Amazon, and that's that. Second, I stake whatever journalistic integrity I have upon the statement that I didn't Photoshop any of this, and that it happened just as I say it did.
This is LOL funny in several places...particularly the GIFs. (via @delfuego)
Coinbox Hero and Cookie Clicker both break the idea of the video game down into the bare essentials: perform an action to get points, use points to power up, repeat. They're games that show you how games work. (See also Cow Clicker.)
In Cookie Clicker, you click to make cookies until you have enough cookies to hire a cursor to click for you and eventually you get enough points to buy cookie mines, time machines, and antimatter condensers capable of generating millions of cookies a second. There doesn't seem to be a goal per se...presumably you can keep upgrading until you're generating trillions of cookies a minute. It's like Bitcoin except with cookies.
In Coinbox Hero, you start similarly, jumping into a Super Mario-esque coinbox to get coins to buy workers to collect more coins for you. Unlike Cookie Clicker, there's a clear objective: earn 1,000,000 points to buy a device that will destroy the coinbox.
I found both of these games very satisfying to play, which suggests that a significant amount of my enjoyment of games derives not from the gameplay but from the amassing wealth and power, which, man, I guess I have something to talk to my therapist about this week. (via waxy)
The Hyperkin RetroN 5 is a retro gaming system that plays all your favorite games from NES, SNES, Super Famicom, Genesis, Mega Drive, Famicom, Game Boy, Game Boy Color, and GBA cartridges. I haven't heard anything about this (is it any good?), but I've got a lot of old games I'd like to play on it, starting with NHL '94. Pre-order at Amazon for $99. (via @cabel)
Watch as people review video games after eating hot peppers. Here's Erin Schmalfeld reviewing a Nintendo 3DS game after chewing and swallowing an entire habanero:
PicaPic is a digitized collection of vintage handheld games made by Hipopotam studio. They're all free and playable in your browser. It's a really slick implementation. It even has the plasticy clacking sound of the buttons. (via @kump)
Ecstasy of Order is a documentary about Tetris and the quest to find the game's grandmasters.
Tetris. We've all played it, rotating the pieces ("tetrominoes") and dropping them in the perfect place, or despairing as we discover a piece won't fit. You may have even joked about "mastering" the game during a stint of unemployment, or as a child, before you could afford any other Game Boy cartridges. But what about the people who've truly mastered Tetris? Where are the Kasparovs and Fischers, the great champions who've dedicated their minds to solving its deepest puzzles?
One man made it his mission to find them. In an effort to legitimize Tetris as a pro sport, Tetris super-fan Robin Mihara summoned the greatest Tetris players from around the country to compete in Los Angeles at the 2010 Classic Tetris World Championship. Among them are the only players known to have reached the unthinkable perfect 'max-out' score on classic Nintendo Tetris: Jonas Neubauer and Harry Hong. Add in the top players for most lines, Ben Mullen and Jesse Kelkar, as well as newcomer Dana Wilcox and modern-day Tetris Grandmaster Alex Kerr, and a storm of Tetris greatness is brewing.
The film is also on Hulu (US-only) if you don't mind commercials.
When Grant Hill and Jason Kidd retired from the NBA this week, they were the last players who appeared in the NBA Jam video game from 1994. There are still three active NHL players who appeared in the classic NHL '94: Teemu Selanne, Roman Hamrlik, and Jaromir Jagr. Kotaku's Owen Good takes a look at which athletes were the last men standing from 8-bit and 16-bit sports video games.
Landeta, whose last game was in 2005, is the last man on the Tecmo Bowl roster to appear in an NFL game, beating out the Raiders' Tim Brown, the 49ers' Jerry Rice and Minnesota's Rich Gannon, all of whom retired in 2004.
The makers of Kingdom Rush, probably my all-time favorite iOS game, are out with a brand-new game: Kingdom Rush Frontiers.
I will see you all in a few days. Tell my wife and kids I love them. ("thx", @mykeatkinson)
Two controls, one bouncing stick, uneven terrain that eventually falls out from under you, get the stick as far to the right as you can. Harder than it sounds. I got 107.04 on, like, my 2,341st try. (Cheat code: you can get pretty far just by holding 'A' down.) Also fun: seeing how far to the left you can get...I couldn't get much past -48.
If you're of a certain internet age, from the time when idealistic nerds and not bizdev bros ruled the roost, you probably remember SiSSYFiGHT 2000. (If not, this Salon review of the game from 2000 may lift the fog.) The original creators of the game are bringing it back, open sourced, HTML5, and the whole thing. Funds are being raised on Kickstarter as we speak.
In the mystical years of the late 90s, a little game called SiSSYFiGHT 2000 was born on the web. Hundreds of thousands of players fought as bratty little girls, teasing and tattling and licking their lollipops on the playground. An amazing community sprang up around the game, in which players became fan artists and storytellers, reporters and celebrities, criminals and vigilantes.
There was something special about SiSSYFiGHT. It was one of the first multiplayer games with real-time chat in a browser. It was a social game with actual social gameplay, long before "social games" on Facebook existed. Its stylishly primitive visual look preceded the rise of big-pixel indie games by almost a decade.
Fantastic. (via @jomc)
The first features TAKASKE, a Dance Dance Revolution player with ballerina-quick feet. Here he plays all eight footpads at ludicrous speed.
Then there's Cara Black, a higly-ranked women's doubles tennis player with a killer net game. Here she's practicing volleys off the wall at close range.
She reels off 115 volleys in 43 seconds, beating the performance of her 16-year-old self.
Quora is full of questions college students ask each other while high, except that sometimes they get answered seriously. Case in point: What is the political situation in the Mario universe? The top answer starts out:
Without going into too much detail, Mario generally lives and works in the Mushroom Kingdom, one of the largest geo-political structures on Mushroom World, in the Grand Finale Galaxy in, yes, the Mushroom Universe.
For the purposes of this answer I will deliberately restrict the terms to discussing Mushroom World, as a comprehensive answer on the entire Mushroom Universe would require covering 20-22 (depending on how you count) Galaxies and frankly, I doubt it would be any more fun to read than it would be to write.
Also, Bowser is probably a fascist.
The new iOS gaming hotness is Ridiculous Fishing. In it, you try to get your hook as deep as you can, then catch as many fish as you can on the way up, and finally shoot as many of the fish as you can with a gun. There are also chainsaws and an in-game Twitter clone called Byrdr. This game is ten times more charming than that Arnold on Green Acres and fun as hell. Highly recommended. If you need an extra nudge, here's the trailer:
Poignant video profile of Ralph Baer, the inventor of the Magnavox Odyssey, the first home console gaming system. He's still inventing at age 90.
For Polygon, Simon Parkin writes about how Barcade came about and where it's going.
Younger gamers are, in a sense, both the secret to Barcade's success and its great ongoing threat. More than players like Chien and the older pros, Barcade attracts young local patrons typical of the Brooklyn bar scene. For many of these visitors the classic arcade hits of the 1980s were released long before they were born, familiar to them primarily as cultural icons rather than living memories.
"When we opened in 2004, some of these games weren't even 20 years old," says Kermizian. "But now, eight years on, we find the ideal period of nostalgia keeps shifting on us as our customers are a little bit younger. So we've started to go with some early '90s games. You know, we've put Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in two of the three arcade locations and that's our number one most popular game now. People just go crazy playing that."
On a good night a single Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles machine will see its coin tray filled. "At the end of the night we just dump a bucket of quarters out of the machine, around 50 bucks worth."
All these years on, with prices unadjusted for inflation, the aging arcade still offers a viable business. But time continues to be the greatest menace to the arcade, even in the midst of this repackaged revival. For many, this parade of curios whose bleeps and flashes provide an atmospheric link to the past long gone is little more than a hands-on exhibit, where Space Invaders' and Pac-Man's iconography is not forgotten but made fashionable. But fashions are transient. How long can the business model sustain?
Chris Higgins travels to the Tetris World Championship and profiles a couple of the game's top competitors. The issue at heart is: how do approach playing and mastering a game that you can't actually win?
When Steil achieved his current high score of 889,131 points (and 222 lines) in October of 2012, it felt like a loss. Despite being Steil's best game to date, it represented a failure to reach the perfection of a max out. When he posted the score on Facebook for his Tetris friends to see, he wrote, "Another new high score, but what a choke job at 222 [lines]. Each new high score is a minor success as well as a monumental failure."
This attitude pervades competitive Tetris, and it highlights the perverse aspect that the best game is still a loss. Faced with this harsh reality, NES Tetris players have devised ways to compete (the Championship), milestones to achieve (max outs and high numbers of lines per game), and ways to measure performance (max outs achieved starting at higher levels are more difficult due to the game's speed). Fundamentally, however, players compete against themselves and lose every time.
Here's what getting a max score on Tetris looks like:
The Gameological Society's Joe Keiser went shopping for video games in Nairobi and found a ton of PlayStation 2 knockoffs. Like Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas: Kirk Douglas:
Full disclosure: this article exists so I can tell you all about Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas: Kirk Douglas. Just look at it! It's exquisite. The game itself is as grand as the cover. It is San Andreas, with the load screens replaced by EXTREME closeups of Kirk Douglas-and occasionally his son Michael Douglas, because hey, close enough, right? In the game, the main character appears to be a rough approximation of Kirk Douglas. Oh, and all the missions have been removed, so there's nothing to do.
I do not doubt RoboCop's commitment to Sparkle Motion.
Help Lord Grantham find his cigars, puff up pillows for Anna, and spy on other staff for Lady Mary in this "tastefully exciting" SNES version of Downton Abbey.
Writing for The Verge, Laura June has a long piece on the history of arcades in the US, from pinball to Barcade. I had no idea that pinball was banned in NYC until 1976:
The first full-fledged and highly publicized legal attack on pinball came on January 21st, 1942, when New York City Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia banned pinball in the city, ordering the seizure of thousands of machines. The ban -- which would remain in effect until 1976 -- was the culmination of legal efforts which had started much earlier, and which could be found in municipal pockets all over the country. LaGuardia, however, was the first to get the job done on a large scale. A native New Yorker of half-Italian, half-Jewish ancestry, LaGuardia despised corruption in all forms, and the image of the stereotypical Italian gangster was one he resented. During his long, popular tenure as mayor of New York City, he shut down brothels, rounded up slot machines, arrested gangsters on any charge he could find, and he banned pinball. For the somewhat puritanical LaGuardia, pinball machine pushers were "slimy crews of tinhorns, well dressed and living in luxury on penny thievery" and the game was part of a broader "craze" for gambling. He ordered the city's police to make Prohibition-style pinball raids and seizures its "top priority," and was photographed with a sledgehammer, triumphantly smashing the seized machines. On the first day of the ban, the city police confiscated more than 2,000 pinball machines and issued nearly 1,500 summons. A New York Times article of January 23, 1942 informed readers that the "shiny trimmings of 2,000 machines" had been stripped and sent off to the country's munitions factories to contribute to the war effort.
Your addictive iOS game for the week: Hundreds. The concept and gameplay is super-simple...tap to expand circles until you reach a score of 100 without letting an expanding circle touch anything. And then it gets surprisingly difficult. Check out how the gameplay works:
It turns out that Eminem is a pretty good Donkey Kong player.
272,300 is a great score, but 465,800 is no less than world class-close to the top 20 on the Twin Galaxies leaderboard.
Read past the screenshots for some top-notch Donkey Kong Kremlinology about Eminem's playing style. (via @bydanielvictor)
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.
See also, You Don't Know Bo, the just aired ESPN 30 for 30 documentary. (via @sportsguy33)
Let's see, my favorite game was probably the original Legend of Zelda, so:
You have carried a piece of string cheese behind your ear for a whole day.
Not the whole day, but certainly longer than was socially or hygienically acceptable. (via @tcarmody)
On the 40th anniversary of the seminal game's invention, Chris Stokel-Walker looks back at the history of Pong and why it was such a big deal for the gaming industry.
On Nov. 29, 1972, a crude table-tennis arcade game in a garish orange cabinet was delivered to bars and pizza parlors around California, and a multi-billion-dollar industry was born. Here's how that happened, direct from the freaks and geeks who invented a culture and paved the way for today's tech moguls.
MoMA has acquired 14 video games for their permanent collection. Presumably they paid more than MSRP?
We are very proud to announce that MoMA has acquired a selection of 14 video games, the seedbed for an initial wish list of about 40 to be acquired in the near future, as well as for a new category of artworks in MoMA's collection that we hope will grow in the future. This initial group, which we will install for your delight in the Museum's Philip Johnson Galleries in March 2013, features...
The games include Tetris, Passage, The Sims, and Katamari Damacy. No Nintendo games on that list, probably due to ongoing negotiations with Nintendo.
Polygon visited Harmonix to learn about the process for Gangnam Style to become a part of their Kinect game Dance Central 3. The result is partially a look at the challenges in that process, but also ends up being a good profile of Harmonix. The "cat cow" move was particularly hard to put into the game.
The "cat cow" requires the dancer to get on hands and knees, thrust their hips and swing their head from side to side. It is but one of a handful of ridiculous moves in a dance inspired by playing cowboy and humping things, but throughout the day we will hear from almost everyone we talk to that in spite of how ridiculous it is, it has been hellish to recreate it in the game. A lot of magic has been thrown at solving the problem of the cat cow.
With Typing Karaoke, instead of singing the songs, you type along to the lyrics and get points for lack of errors and how well you keep up. Too fun!
I only downloaded Letterpress about 10 minutes ago but I am already hopelessly hooked. The game is a combination of Boggle and Go and was made by Loren Brichter, who made Tweetie back in the day. This is the sort of app that makes me weep because it's so simple and polished yet endless. Brichter is some sort of iOS wizard and we should have him burned at the stake for his wonderfully addictive magic.
The halftime show of the OSU vs Nebraska football game featured the OSU Marching Band's tribute to classic video games. This is a 9 minute video, and I surprised myself by watching the whole thing. Tetris at 1:25 is fantastic, and the running horse at 6:00 EXTRA fantastic.
Ok, I'm gonna point you to the article discussing the whole thing but based on my years of extensive experience as a kid, I can tell you that blowing into the cartridge absolutely did work. Zelda in particular always needed a good blow before playing. (via @djacobs)
Even after reading this rave review of 10000000, I was skeptical about trying it.
The best part of my job is randomly stumbling across a game no one knows about, by a developer no one has heard of, and have it absolutely blow my mind. It doesn't happen often, but when it does, it results in drained batteries and dropping everything to get something on the site about it while I wait for my iPhone to charge only to return to the fray.
It just didn't look that fun. But I did try it. Once, twice, three times. And it didn't grab me. Then I picked it up last night and ended up playing for two hours straight. It's taking all my self-control right now not to play it all day. In conclusion, you should totally not download this game because it will completely disrupt your entire life.
The new version of Kingdom Rush for the iPad includes two new levels. Love this game and still play it way too much.
This seems like a Soviet version of Mario:
Get the game here. (via bb)
Illustrator Jed Henry takes video game characters and draws them in the style of Ukiyo-e woodblock prints. Here, for example, is Mario Kart:
If that tickles your fancy, Henry is collaborating with woodblock printmaker David Bull to make actual woodblock prints that are available via Kickstarter.
Free idea for iOS game devs: for just about any iOS game I've played for the more than 60 minutes, I would pay dearly (like $10-15) for a God-mode option that let you play the game infinitely long without dying. The type of God mode would depend on the game. For Tiny Wings, it would be as simple as removing the sunset. For Ski Safari, ditch the avalanche. For Kingdom Rush, God mode might be something like starting any level with unlimited gold and unlimited enemies. (For KR, I would probably pay $30 for an unlimited mode.) And perhaps God mode purchase option only unlocks after a certain amount of gameplay. It wouldn't work for any game...e.g. I can't think of what God mode for Angry Birds would be like. But for a certain type of game, God mode would be a great way for experts to explore more of the games they love.
Update: Several people of Twitter mentioned The Mighty Eagle as Angry Birds' God mode, which is close. A couple of others also suggested unlimited birds of your choosing on every level...good idea!
Uh oh, this is bad news for my productivity after this Thursday...Andreas Illiger is set to release the sequel to the mega-fun Tiny Wings on July 12th. In the meantime, watch the adorable handmade trailer:
In the amount of time I have spent playing Kingdom Rush on the iPad, I could have completed a second or even third college degree. So it is with some relutance that I have been made aware of the iPhone version of Kingdom Rush, out today. It's the same game, optimized for the smaller screen on the iPhone and only 99 cents. Maybe the reason the whole "can't use the iPad/iPhone for creation" thing persists is that everyone is using the damn things to play tower defense games instead.
After reading Noah Davis' piece in The Verge about Tetris, Aaron Cohen collected a bunch of other long articles about Tetris.
Also worth watching is this hour-long BBC documentary on Tetris.
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.
And there's always the kottke.org tag for Tetris.
Ski Safari is an iOS game that's kind of a cross between Tiny Wings and CycloManiacs...which is to say that I love love love it. Here's my high score, about which I'm very ashamed and proud at the same time:
A Super Mario Summary is a abbreviated version of the original Super Mario Bros game in which each of the levels has been squeezed into one screen. For instance, here's World 1-1:
From what I can tell, the Museum of Soviet arcade machines is an actual physical museum in Moscow but you can also play one of the games (called Morskoi Boi) online. The museum has around 40 machines, about half of which are playable, including Repka, Safary, Vozdushniy Boi, Duplet, and Snezhnaya Koroleva.
Judging from the sheer number of you who sent in this link, it might be the kottke.orgest link in the history of the internet. In it, Sam Anderson goes long for the NY Times Magazine on casual games (like Angry Birds, Tetris, Bejeweled, etc.).
In 2009, 25 years after the invention of Tetris, a nearly bankrupt Finnish company called Rovio hit upon a similarly perfect fusion of game and device: Angry Birds. The game involves launching peevish birds at green pigs hiding inside flimsy structures. Its basic mechanism - using your index finger to pull back a slingshot, over and over and over and over and over and over and over - was the perfect use of the new technology of the touch screen: simple enough to lure a suddenly immense new market of casual gamers, satisfying enough to hook them.
Within months, Angry Birds became the most popular game on the iPhone, then spread across every other available platform. Today it has been downloaded, in its various forms, more than 700 million times. It has also inspired a disturbingly robust merchandising empire: films, T-shirts, novelty slippers, even plans for Angry Birds "activity parks" featuring play equipment for kids. For months, a sign outside my local auto-repair shop promised, "Free Angry Birds pen with service." The game's latest iteration, Angry Birds Space, appeared a couple weeks ago with a promotional push from Wal-Mart, T-Mobile, National Geographic Books, MTV and NASA. (There was an announcement on the International Space Station.) Angry Birds, it seems, is our Tetris: the string of digital prayer beads that our entire culture can twiddle in moments of rapture or anxiety - economic, political or existential.
Don't know why exactly, but I am loving the hell out of Happy Wheels. The game is pretty simple -- it's a cross between CycloManiacs, Line Rider, and Jackass -- you ride on a bike or Segway or mobility scooter through a course avoiding obstacles and trying to reach the end. Which is fun enough except that when you hit something hard, you body flies apart and blood sprays all over the place. Hilariously. Like this Skate 3 video, which is also inexplicably gut-busting. (via mlkshk)
Been a few months since we've had one of these. Constellations is a simple game where you shoot jellyfish at stars and shoo fish out of the way. What, I was just playing that for 30 minutes? Oof.
Kinect Star Wars has a Galactic Dance Off mode where you can "dance to modern songs remixed with Star Wars lyrics". After watching 30 seconds of this, you may not be able to get "I'm Han Solo" out of your head. It features dance moves like "The Speeder", "Chewie Hug", and "Trash Compactor".
Kind of amazing, but not surprising, that the Star Wars universe has come to this. As one YouTube commenter noted:
I just felt the death of Star Wars. It was as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror, and were suddenly silenced.
Here are some of the lyrics:
I'm feeling like a star,
you can't stop my shine
I'm loving Cloud City,
my head's in the sky
I'm solo, I'm Han Solo,
I'm Han Solo.
I'm Han Solo. Solo.
Yeah, I'm feeling good tonight,
Finally feeling free and it feels so right, oh.
Time to do the things I like,
Gonna see a Princess, everything's all right, oh.
No Jabba to answer to,
Ain't a fixture in the palace zoo, no.
And since that carbonite's off me
I'm livin' life now that I'm free, yeah.
Told me to get myself together
Now I got myself together, yeah.
Now I made it through the weather,
Better days are gonna get better.
I'm so happy the carbonite is gone.
I'm movin' on.
I'm so happy that it's over now.
The pain is gone.
I'm putting on my shades
to cover up my eyes
I'm jumpin' in my ride,
I'm heading out tonight
I'm solo, I'm Han Solo,
I'm Han Solo.
I'm Han Solo. Solo.
I'm picking up my blaster,
put it on my side.
I'm jumpin' in my Falcon
Wookie at my side.
I'm solo, I'm Han Solo,
I'm Han Solo.
I'm Han Solo. Solo.
It's at this point that Lando comes on and gets jiggy. Amazing. (via ★ironicsans)
Eating a flower gives you the power to spit fireballs. Bullets have faces. Stars make you invincible. In addtion to being video game, maybe Super Mario Bros is a surrealist masterpiece.