Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Asshole Mario

There's a legend to this one. I haven't bothered to look it up, but the story goes that there's this Super Mario World champion in Japan who's friend challenged him to complete his hacked levels. These are fiendishly hard levels that require just as much luck as skill. A more reasonable name is Kaizo Mario but I find the YouTube poster's choice to be more accurate in describing the pain:

That's just the first level. There are close to a dozen more of these. And if that's not enough there's a sequel that begins with this masterwork:

What I love about this one is how it totally subverts the Mario conventions. Hidden blocks are a punishment instead of a reward and the mechanics of stage completion are used against the player. It's all at once an example of what to do and what not to do in the area of game design.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Rock and a Hard Place

I was listening to a podcast the other day where some writers and editors for prominent game publications talked about how many gamers put too much stock in game previews. The argument was that for the most part previews have to be optimistic given that they are looks at incomplete products and nothing is written in stone.

For the most part this is a good position to take; previews can't look into the future and tell you what the final game will be like. Features my be added or dropped, bugs may crop up at the last moment or problems with framerates may be solved. A game that gets a glowing preview may end up being a total turd while one that leaves middling impression could turn out to be the second coming of Donkey Kong. It's not an exact science, anyone who has done extensive beta testing can tell you that. Developers get the benefit of the doubt because they're people too and a product isn't done until it is sitting on store shelves.

Still there is a problem. Previews come too early, but reviews come too late. By the time you find out that a game like Katamari Damacy is totally amazing you are already relegated to the retail store crap shoot. GameStop won't have a copy for you because you didn't pre-order and the big box stores probably didn't order any because it's too weird. In a business where profit margins per unit are razor thin pre-orders are going to be the law of the land. Previews need to reflect that.

For a game that is reasonably popular there's no need to put money down; they'll have enough copies even if they swear to be selling you "the last one." But for games like Okami and Zack and Wiki chances are that your store will only get enough to fill pre-orders. These are the games where previews need to function as pre-release reviews, where writers with review copies need to give estimated scores before the final review is published. People need to know about innovative and unique games before they hit the shelves so they can put their five dollars down. A preview can't always be a preview, sometimes it has to be a pre-review judgement.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Arcade Cabinet

Since moving into my own house I have had time to mull over the idea of building my own arcade cabinet for a MAME machine. It's my estimation that such a project should run me less than a Kegerator (this could be especially true considering upkeep costs). In a perfect world I would be able to find an unloved cabinet from Capcom or SNK and re-wire the buttons to a new interface. Obviously it's not a perfect world, but I hope to find an empty cabinet I can make a new control panel for. Once I get started I'll detail the project here.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

I See You Cheateyface

cheaterMicrosoft has just started taking actions against Xbox Live users who have inflated their gamerscore through cheats or sharing their account with others. Owners of such accounts will find their scores reset to zero and unable to regain the lost achievements from previous games. Affected players will however be able to unlock achievements through new games.

It might not seem like a big deal but it's a step in the right direction to reign in the wild west mentality that seems to have proliferated across some of the network. Gamerscore is meant to be an indicator of prowess and progress and inflating your score through "friends" or services is not just wrong, it's dangerous. Willingly handing over a Live account to someone is like giving them your credit card; they now have access to everything on your Live ID and can make marketplace purchases on your behalf. Unlike a stolen account, since you willingly gave out your information there is little that can be done legally.

Personally this doesn't have much of an impact on my Live experience (I don't cheat and neither do my friends) but it does show that Microsoft is watching the network. We may see outright bans of particularly offensive players in the future.

Monday, March 24, 2008

A New Era

I've realized that this blog has been woefully ignored as far as updates. From now on updates will be more timely. I'm not promising new content daily but there should be something new each week.