Archive for the ‘Vidyagames’ Category

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Super Mario World

August 3, 2011

   I admit, I might be biased in my selection of this game as one of my favorites: as a young’n, I was initially given the choice between a Batman car playset and the brand-new Super Nintendo. Not knowing what an SNES was–and my video game experience solely consisting of TMNT on my cousin’s old NES—I insisted upon the car set. My father didn’t like my answer and pretty much bought me the game system anyway. As a computer programmer always in the thick of cutting edge technology, his opinion of this new-fangled device was quite positive. This would indubitably change once he realized that he had birthed a monster: namely, me. This fateful decision to override my childish whim for a tiny Batmobile raceway would spawn a sickening obsession with videogames for over a decade. And, of course, this game was packaged with the system.

Generally, Mario games are widely accepted as benchmarks in videogame history. With SMW, the advent of platforming was upon us, and the Genesis was left in the dust due to the awesome 16-bit power of Nintendo’s new workhorse. There’s little I can say that hasn’t been said about Mario World, but I do feel I can elaborate on a few key points that made it timeless and legendary for me.

Probably the most memorable thing about the game–the very quality that lengthened the SMW’s lifespan–was the sheer mind-boggling amount of secret levels, exits, and alternate paths one could discover. Even after I somehow finished the game with my still developing platformer skills in their infancy, there was an incredible wealth of alternative routes towards the endgame and beyond. I still remember visiting my cousin and booting up his copy of the game, and seeing the Star Road for the very first time, thinking “How did he get here!?” From that moment, I knew I had to somehow discover every single nuance the game had squirrelled away beneath its pixelated exterior. Even years after I thought I had unearthed every possible passage, I was still hearing about tricks and hidden treasures I never even dreamed were real. I scarcely could believe in the damn “Top Secret” area  after a decade of not knowing about it.

Of course, it helps that the level design, tight gameplay mechanics, and the introduction of the uber-cool sidekick Yoshi play integral parts in the journey to uncover Super Mario World’s many secrets. In terms of difficulty versus your own intuition, there’s never an excuse to make against losing. If you’ve played it–and let’s be frank, you probably have, if you’ve ever played a videogame in your life–you’d understand what I mean by the entirety of the fairness therein. Sure, the game was revolutionary and all platform games to come were to be judged against this marvel. And even with that as the hilt of its majesty, it also had the incredible quality as being a pack-in game, thus providing it with the reputation as the game many gamers started honing their skills with. To this day, I can’t think of any other launch title besides perhaps Mario 64 that had this kind of impact. It is, in my opinion, the golden standard that eclipses even Mario Bros. 3.

…Plus, did you know most of the Koopa Kids were named after punk rock icons? Lemmy, Iggy, Wendy-O? How many games can you name with a baddie named after the lead singer of The Plasmatics!?

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Press Start To Make Arts

December 29, 2010

You probably have never heard of Ian Bogost, artist extraordinaire, until now: he is a man who has presumably become the latest figure in the “games as art” trend with his grand idea of portraying a kind of digital poetry through the stone-age technology of an Atari 2600. Spread over 4 game cartridges in total, Bogost has created a low-fi, slow-rolling group of “poems,” which at first glance are little more than simple sprites that hardly move—a teacup on a table designed to mimic winter’s bone; a tree with steadily descending leaves entitled “A Slow Year.” In the autumn season’s little game, you are given this instructional haiku:

“Magic hour tree

Breeze grows to gust, then recoils

Pile meets falling leaf.”

According to Bogost, “There’s a lot of these abstract games that don’t give you a surface level theme but allegorize or use symbolism in order to inspire exploration of some of large possibility space. Those things look a lot structurally like poetry to me.”

Bogost has made 25 of these cartridge sets and is selling each for $500.

Allow me to give my honest opinion of this situation: Ian Bogost is delusional.

Now, allow me to backtrack a bit into the central core for making this statement, explaining why Ian Bogost has existed on another dimension for the past few years.

Abstract art has always been a popular medium for expression, though more often than not it can come across as half-baked tripe. For the most part, the ambiguity seems less of a rebellion against the steelstrong “this is my allegory/moral lesson/political message; let none interpret this as pure aesthetic” mindset, and becomes more of a “I really don’t know where I want to take this work or where I want to go with these themes — so just take this set of parts and make your own thing. I am creatively vacant and I’m just going to mess with your head.” It is in this argument that the ambiguous, the open-ended, and the playful sometimes run headlong into the brick wall questions “why, where, how should this be relevant?” Yes, I realize that usually the modern (and acceptable) answer is that the journey is more important than the destination. I will agree, except on the count that a journey may consist of a zig-zagging tribulation down a poorly paved street. Meandering aimlessly up and down the aisles of your grocery store is not a journey; in that case, the destination–you know, wherever they stashed the Code Red–is way more important and pressing to discuss. Ian Bogost, unfortunately, doesn’t even know where the soda section is.

Games have been the center of a massive argument of heart-attack proportions as of late this year of our lord, 2010. Earlier on, Roger Ebert came out of the woodwork to patronize a community of frothing gamers and developers by claiming games cannot, and will never, be art. Of course, this was just a ridiculous statement in its own right, mainly for the fact that no one could really ever pin down the goddamn definition of art. If there was a concrete one, Ebert suggested it had more to do with painting, films, music, and particularly saucy chamber dancing than it did with poppin’ caps in people’s heads with big shiny Earthworm Jim blasters. This was his first mistake. His second mistake? Roger Ebert has said he has not, and will never, play a video game.

Why should I care whether Donkey Kong Country Returns, my newest Christmas gift, is considered on equal footing with da Vinci? Why, why, why should we care? If it gives you pleasure, then what’s the big deal? In the same vein as “time enjoyed is time well spent,” no one can really tell you what’s a waste of time and what isn’t. I still cannot understand why and when this entire argument of video games as art was needed, as though Mario being officially recognized as a national treasure will help you beat Bowser easily or something.

The same people who beat their brows mercilessly with indignation about this kind of heresy are probably the same kind of breed who place significance in their favorite musical group getting 10/10 from Pitchfork Media. Just earlier today I read a piece of music journalism that carried the same air of elitism I’ve come to expect from people who make a career of floundering an album review in trite, meandering words. Within, there was an explanation of why this idiot felt a touch of joy in the new Kanye West album getting a perfect score from the site, which of course means nothing whatsoever since the site regularly hands out A’s to horrible indie music. What do you care what some guy in the world’s most pretentious music ‘zine gave your favorite music artist? If it has any effect on your being at all, perhaps you’re too much of an impressionable being and you should turn in your “human” badge to live with the wolves.

My point is this: “art” can be full of it. It’s not always  a higher state of consciousness. Some of the stupidest bouts of creativity in the world has been shoveled away under the label of “art.” So why is it so important that video games reach this plateau?

It is true that art has given us great literature, visuals, sounds, and experiences. But it has also given us unspeakably bad books and movies and albums, as well as the smugness that follows each and every “artist” who simply feels the need to cover us in a mountain of his worth.

I have played Tale of Tales’ “The Path,” and came out of it with a truly remarkable sense of how innocence may be dashed across rocks, brains splattered along the tancrid mist of nature’s bounty. I’ve played Braid, a game misconstrued by millions in the ailing department of a narrative, yet I appreciate the mind-bending physics therein and the highly visceral snap-crackle-pop of the execution. And I’ve played Shadow Of The Colossus, treading lonely across chasms to complete the ultimate irony: a series of boss battles, and nothing more–and yet, I felt the deaths of the beasts moreso than any other game I played. But, I have also played Prototype, dropkicking helicopters and cutting pedestrians in half with huge blade appendages. And I sure as hell didn’t care whether it was highbrow or not–I was merely having fun, lost in another realm of possibilities.

Forget it; I’m playing Rock Band.