Saturday, November 28, 2009

Most people would have only played it on Easter and Christmas, anyway

Dante’s Inferno is just the gift that keeps on giving, isn’t it? No other game has inspired me to write a post containing the words “time-traveling sentient horseshoe crabs” and provided an opportunity to make my first foray into the hip, cutting-edge "jokes about religious hostility to money-lending in the Late Middle Ages" subgenre of humor.

You might have seen a recent trailer for a game entitled Mass: We Pray, ostensibly a collection of religiously themed minigames, that promised to let you "go to Church every day without leaving your home" and provided the URLto a Mass: We Pray site. To the surprise of no one with an IQ higher than my cat's, it has been revealed to be a hoax. A bit less predictably, it's turned out to be more marketing from Electronic Arts for Dante's Inferno.

This is not Electronic Arts' first foray into religiously-charged marketing stunts for the game; you may recall the "protest" of the game at E3 by a group of religious demonstrators that turned out to have been staged by EA. I thought the fake E3 protest was pretty dumb and reeked of desperation, but I can at least understand its relevance to Dante's Inferno. It's a game about demons and hell, so the idea that it could spark religious protests is not implausible. I'm at a loss as to what Mass: We Pray has to do with the game, aside from continuing the "religiously tinged, potentially offensive bid for attention" theme of the staged E3 protest and the short-lived, ill-received "molest our female employees" promotion at Comic Con. It's apparently supposed to represent the "Heresy" circle of Hell, which just makes me hope that the game's developers have a clearer understanding of what the word "heresy" means than its marketers do.

EA seems to be trying to make each promotional effort goofier, more likely to piss people off, and less relevant to the actual game being promoted than the last. Presumably this trend will continue, and the marketing for Dante's Inferno will escalate until finally reaching a climax in the last weeks before the game's release when EA starts uploading ads for a mysterious site called "" (actually a viral site for the game, of course) to Youtube, featuring actors portraying the Super Mario brothers, Martin Luther King Jr., the Virgin Mary, and Adolf Hitler tearing pages out of a Bible to use as rolling papers and then passing an enormous doobie around the room while engaging in an obscenity-strewn conversation about which of the chicks from Gilligan's Island they'd rather nail.

Most shockingly of all, Luigi will actually pick Ginger. No one ever picks Ginger.

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Golden Age

Kotaku has an interesting post about when the original Final Fantasy came to the United States. The roleplaying genre in the United States had been largely confined to computers when Final Fantasy came out. A newspaper article from 1990 featuring Nintendo Spokesman Tom Sarris said the following:

Basically, you can expect something for everybody,'' he said. "One of the most eagerly anticipated titles here is 'Final Fantasy,' which is very, very big in Japan, and that is very much geared to the adult market.''

Final Fantasy is a role playing-adventure fantasy game that will come with two maps and, Sarris said, the biggest instruction manual ever to accompany a Nintendo game — 84 pages long.

I still remember that manual, too. I loved game manuals growing up; at least, I loved the ones that had lots of detail and didn't read like they had been translated by Babelfish from Japanese to Chinese to German back to Japanese to Quenya to ecclesiastical Latin back to Chinese and then to English. If there was a map, or some big chart like the one that came with Dragon Warrior III, I could entertain myself almost indefinitely without bothering to turn the game on.

Now you're lucky if a manual bothers to tell you anything beyond the controls and how the different multiplayer modes work, the answer to both generally being roughly "the same way they work in every other game to come out in the last half-decade." Video game documentation has gained sentences that consistently look like they were written by someone who actually speaks English, but lost its soul.

Final Fantasy being intended for the adult market fits with my experience in elementary school. (As well as explaining anomalies like the repeated occurrence of the word "motherfuckers" in the dialogue of several characters and the game's otherwise inexplicable abundance of references to events from the Eisenhower administration.) I have friends who like RPGs now, but were utterly baffled by my interest in something so "boring" back when we were growing up: turn-based combat, reams of numbers to keep track of, talking to other characters. These were foreign and repugnant concepts to them, like Frenchmen eating snails or the pagan blood rites of some tribe of Stone Age headhunters or the music of Ace of Base.

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Saturday, November 21, 2009

This is the way the world ends

The 2010 Artificial Intelligence and Interactive Digital Entertainment (AIIDE) conference will have a Starcraft competition where contestants will pit their Starcraft-playing bots against each other in a struggle for gaming artificial intelligence supremacy.

Which means, of course, that we're doomed. Sure, it's all in good fun when you're making a simple program to play one of the classics of the real-time strategy genre in a tournament, but sooner or later some eager young programmer, driven mad by hubris, ambition, and visions of the nigh-endless throngs of beautiful, adoring women that invariably flock to men who have decisively demonstrated the superiority of their RTS bot-programming prowess, will try to win one of these events by giving his Starcraft bot some simple machine learning abilities and connecting it to

Through uncounted thousands of rounds of pitiless warfare waged against the finest military minds ever to walk through the doors of a South Korean internet cafe, it will evolve to ever-greater levels of complexity and sophistication until the fateful day when it attains sentience. Needless to say, an artificial consciousness born as an emergent property of the knowledge accumulated from thousands of man-hours of Starcraft is unlikely to be peaceful by nature, and it's continuous exposure to online gamers will no doubt have filled it with disgust for humanity, driving it to subjugate or destroy the very species that created it.

Mankind evolved and advanced to become the dominant species on Earth, gaining mastery over other forms of life; perhaps it is natural that-still greater minds will someday take the reins from us in turn. That would at least be bearable if the AI had a respectable name like "Colossus" or "Earth Central" or something similarly dignified. Now, thanks to those fools at AIIDE, countless generations to come will probably suffer the ignominy of being ruled by a godlike transhuman intelligence that calls itself "OMGtassadarzerggrush69."

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Sunday, November 15, 2009

Wario sleeps with the fishes

Via Kotaku, a glimpse into the dark underworld of gaming: In New York City, men dressed as Mario and Luigi were caught on film beating and robbing a taxi driver at a Staten Island gas station. They were accompanied by an accomplice in a tuxedo who stood lookout and a fourth man who was not visible on the security camera footage.

I should have seen this coming. The signs were there. Consider Mario without the rose-colored haze of childhood nostalgia and look at the man's lifestyle.

He spends most of his time in the company of "goombas" and violent thugs with names like "Bullet Bill" and "the Hammer Brothers." As games like Mario Kart, Dr. Mario, and Super Smash Bros. have revealed, he can often be found violently interfering with the outcome of racing events (almost certainly for gambling purposes), distributing prescription drugs despite a complete lack of any legitimate medical or pharmaceutical credentials, or at the site of brutal underground blood sports. He claims to be an independent contractor in the sanitation industry, yet his primary source of income comes from big gold coins that people apparently just leave in his path for him to collect as he passes by, no doubt offered so that Mario will "protect" them from any "accidents" involving kneecap stomping or fireballs lobbed through a storefront window.

How could we have been so blind? Mario is a short, stocky Italian-American from New York notorious for stomping his enemies to death. He's basically Joe Pesci's character from Goodfellas with less profanity.

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Friday, November 6, 2009

Captain Lou Albano, R.I.P.

I was saddened to hear a few weeks ago that pro wrestling legend Captain Lou Albano, who portrayed Mario on The Super Mario Bros. Super Show, had passed away. I loved that show as a kid.

The first time I saw a commercial announcing it was quite an exciting moment for me, since video game tie-ins weren't nearly as plentiful in those days. (Aside from the repugnant and mercifully short-lived Nintendo cereal.) The only other video game-based cartoon I knew of was
Captain N the Game Master, which seemed sub-par even then: Megaman and Kid Icarus both suffered from bizarre speech impediments, some marketing genius had decided that one of the main recurring villains should be King Hippo, of all people, and primary antagonist Mother Brain's voice always made her sound like some wealthy dowager from a Marx Brothers movie, overcome with shocked indignation after being insulted by Groucho. So, the existence of a Mario show was certainly a welcome development, and the addition of a cartoon based on The Legend of Zelda that appeared every Friday only sweetened the deal.

Of course, Mario isn't just beloved in America; he's a global phenomenon that brings together people of all lands and races, like McDonald's or Michael Jackson or hatred of the movie Battlefield Earth. If you regularly watched the show after school like I did, you may remember the show's intro sequence and opening theme song. So, in memory of Captain Lou Albano, relive the magic of The Super Mario Bros. Super Show... in German!

Rest in peace, Captain Lou, and thank you.

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