PannenKoek’s Epic 3 3/4-Hour Explanation Of Mysterious Mario 64 Invisible Walls

You may remember PannenKoek as that person who has been trying to figure out how to complete Super Mario 64 in as few A button presses as possible, an odd, but no less noble, quest. They’ve been at it for quite a long time now, 13 years, but they’re still going. They have two loaded Youtube channels containing the pixelated fruits of their labors, PannenKoek2012 and UncommentatedPannen. Whenever you see a random Youtube video that uses the File Select music from Super Mario 64 as background music, they’re paying homage to PannenKoek, god of the game explainers.

While explaining aspects of Mario 64, that foundational, primordial 3D platformer, sometimes they ably explain complex and niche topics in computer science along the way. We’ve covered their videos before, more than once probably, and marveled at how by explaining some unexpected behavior in Nintendo’s N64 launch title, they have managed to make something important about how computers do things comprehensible. In three videos, they explained how Mario 64 handles terrain well enough that one feels (somewhat misguidedly) that they could implement their own 3D platformer. They made a bizarrely interesting video about how characters blink their eyes that shows various ways that games implement timers and randomness. They have a whole video on pseudorandom number generation, and another on floats, that computer number representation system that has deeply weird implications.

Their most recent video is a three hour, 45 minute epic that explains why sometimes, when Mario jumps, he seems to strike something invisible in his way. It’s a consequence of several unusual decisions Nintendo made in constructing the physics of Mario’s world, which includes the fact that level edge walls in Mario 64 aren’t implemented as geometry, but as a consequence of the lack of geometry: if there is no floor over a space, then the game rules it as Out Of Bounds. It won’t let Mario enter this completely invisible unspace under normal conditions, and will instantly kill him if he somehow enters into it. It is like antimatter. And that’s not even getting into how ceilings operate.

Here, then, it is. It is a lot, and I wouldn’t blame you if you can’t get through it all, but for a certain intersection of game obsession and brain chemistry, it is engrossing, and that’s before they even get to the periodic table of invisible walls:

Food Fight Frenzy

I am frankly amazed that this is happening, that the company now calling itself Atari seems to be on a streak of good, or at least interesting, decisions, but in addition to releasing Atari 50 and buying Digital Eclipse, they’re making updated versions of classic Atari (and Stern) arcade games, and an upcoming release of theirs is a personal favorite of mine: Food Fight!

It isn’t even their only recent sequel to it they’ve made; another would be the also-upcoming FPS Food Fight: Culinary Combat for the (current) VCS. But that seems to be an inspired-by game with cartoony 3D graphics; this looks much closer to the arcade original, and made by people with a deep love for it.

I don’t know what’s inspired their warming up this particular old property, but Food Fight was a fine game that was sabotaged mostly by the classic US arcade crash. Charley Chuck is a kid out to eat a giant ice cream cone before it melts, but out to stop him are four chefs. Scattered through each level though are piles of food that can be thrown, by either Charley or the chefs.

Like the cone that’s Charley’s goal, the original Food Fight drips with character. There are so many clever touches, especially for a game from 1983. Charley’s large eyes look in the direction he moves; the analog joystick registers many more directions than the standard digital 8-way joysticks in common use at the time. The named chefs have different personalities, along similar lines as Pac-Man’s ghosts. Each kind of food has different properties when thrown. Charley smiles when things are going well, and bears a more neutral expression when they aren’t. Charley can bring along one piece of food from a previous level. If a particularly clever move is pulled off, the game will call for an instant replay. The level select screen lists a flavor for each ice cream cone, with higher levels having dual flavors.

This is how Food Fight played in arcades (7 minutes):

The new game supports up to four players around a cocktail table form factor, in a last-kid-standing scenario. Instead of just flinging food at the chefs, the other players are also viable targets.

The original Food Fight was one of the last arcade projects of early independent game developer GCC, who designed games for other companies to publish. They also made Ms. Pac-Man and Quantum, and they also designed the Atari 7800 console and many of the arcade ports that were made for it.

Here’s is Arcade Heroes’ post on Food Fight Frenzy. Arcade Heroes also did a nine minute video talking about the game’s creation, and the changing climate at Atari that resulted in its creation being greenlit, and that shows off the gameplay, which looks very faithful to the original!

People who want to hear quite a bit more about this upcoming release can watch/listen to episode 140 of the Youtube/podcast series Indie Arcade Wave (36 minutes).

1 Credit Clear of Tower of Druaga, With Explanations

This one I find rather fascinating. There may be no arcade game ever made as purposely frustrating to play as Namco’s Japanese-only game The Tower of Druaga.

Hero Gilgamesh (often shortened to “Gil”) must pass through 60 maze levels, collecting a key from each then passing through the door to the next, while defeating enemies that get in his way, in order to rescue his love Ki from the villainous Druaga.

BUT almost all the levels have a secret trick to perform. If this trick is accomplished, then a chest will appear that, if collected, will grant Gil a special ability. Some of these abilities are helpful. Some, in fact, are necessary, and if they aren’t collected then on some future level Gil will be unable to advance! The tricks are explained nowhere in the game: it just expects you to know them, if not discovered personally then learned through word of mouth. (This was like a decade before most people had access to the internet.)

What is more, nothing in the game explains what the treasures are or what they do, or what you’ll find on each level if you do know the trick. And a few of the treasures are actually harmful! It means that, to win, you have to rely on a host of hidden information, obtained by both your own observation and from what you’ve heard from others. Which requires a ton of quarters to get, which suited manufacturer Namco just fine. Unfortunately (or, maybe, fortunately?), the game crash prevented Namco from trying its luck with this game in Western territories.

As a result, The Tower of Druaga is a game that’s probably experienced watching someone else play, rather than playing yourself. That’s what this video is, Youtube user sylvie playing through the whole game, not just advancing through, but explaining how it’s done along the way. It’s an hour and three minutes long:

Gamescom/ Dreamhack Beyond 2023 Demo Showcase

This is a showcase of my favorite demos from the dreamhack beyond and gamescom online showcases.

0:00 Intro
00:21 Mechinus
1:25 Stellar watch
2:55 Prison City
5:07 The Fall of Aether Station
7:00 Odinfall
8:27 Aestik
9:54 Towerful Defense
11:16 Core Devourer
12:34 Destroy the Monoliths
14:30 Astrobit
15:48 I Need Space
17:53 Somnipathy
20:35 Complex Sky
23:09 Gift
24:31 Constance
26:33 Footgun Underground
27:53 Need for Cheese
29:25 Light of Atlantis
30:30 Turbo Shell
32:02 Soulslinger Envoy of Death
34:21 Bobls
35:47 Savant Ascent Remix
37:47 Selini
39:11 Spellcats Autocard Tactics
40:49 Terror at Oakheart
42:09 Kind Nature
44:38 Parry Nightmare
46:00 Afterdream
47:31 The Edge of Allegoria
48:50 Drova Forsaken Sin

Sundry Sunday: Doctor Who 16-Bit RPG

Sundry Sunday is our weekly feature of fun gaming culture finds and videos, from across the years and even decades.

Among other accomplishments (most of them recently have been musical), years ago DoctorOctoroc made a number of 16-bit Square-styled videos based on a number of media properties. We linked to their humorous take on Breaking Bad a while ago. This is another, from around the time of 11th Doctor Doctor Who. You might say that DoctorOctoroc doctored 11th Doctor Doctor Who. Gimmie the news, I got a bad case of loving you!

Here is that take, which will take four minutes of your time, and is suitable to watch during your stay in some kind of medical waiting room.

NYT’s Connections Puzzles

The New York Times, long a hold-out against comic strips, nevertheless makes a concession to play and whimsy in the form of their Games page. A lot has been made about their purchase of Wordle (and their recent crackdown on imitators, boo), and it should not be construed that we appreciate that.

But we find that one of the more positive aspects of their gaming products lately has been their Connections puzzle, which right now is not even a year old. (I don’t know if you’ll need a subscription to get through to that link. Paywalls suck, but are a necessary suckage.)

Today’s puzzle. It’s here today, it’ll be here tomorrow.

Each puzzle is a 4×4 grid of words. Rarely it may contain phrases; on April 1st, it had emoji, but it’s usually pretty good about staying in its lingual lane. The positions of the words in the puzzle are not relevant to solving it, but they’re sometimes placed with an eye to theme, or in such a way to suggest connections that don’t actually exist, in order to obfuscate the solution a bit. Usually, they hardly need to bother; the puzzle is usually fairly difficult.

Each puzzle contains exactly four categories of four terms, no more and no less. The categories and words in the puzzle are always chosen to punish imprecise and vague associations.

A solver (I won’t presume that that solver will necessarily be you at this stage) will want to find four words that have the same relationship with their category. One will never have a subordinate relationship with another word in its category, exclamation point! I emphasize this because you’ll often find a puzzle has a word that seems to have a superior-inferior relationship with another word, but this is a trap! Categories are egalitarian! Down with hierarchy!

Words are also chosen so that sometimes you’ll only find three words in a prospective category, which is a sign that you’re on the wrong track. Sometimes you’ll find five, which could mean you’re on the wrong track, or that one of the words is slightly outside the category. Sometimes your only real clue is because another category relies on one of those words to complete it, instead: categories never overlap, so if a word is in one category it isn’t in another.

Because the categories are exclusive like this, if you find one category, all the other categories become a bit easier to figure out. There are always four, and they’re ranked, by the puzzle setter, in color by trickiness, from least to most crafty: yellow, green, blue and purple. If it helps you remember (let’s drop the pretense that you are not involved in this), those are in spectrum-order. Even so, often you’ll find you’ve gotten the blue or even purple category early.

You only get four failures, and the nature of the puzzle is that sometimes you’ll make a mistake or two. There is no penalty for running out of mistakes other than getting told the answers, which by that point is occasion to curse the perfidy of the puzzle maker. (“Brit-pop bands? How was I supposed to get that?”)

By way of aid, I can tell you that categories tend to follow certain themes. Sometimes they’re literal; sometimes ridiculously so. My (least) favorite example of this was CONDO – LOO – HAW – HERO. Go ahead. Guess what the hell those have to do with each other. You’ll hate it. (Answer at end of post.) But because, once you’ve gotten three categories, all that remains must be the fourth, you have some leeway, which is good for when you have a category like that one.

Another very common category is the phrase that’s completed by all the words in the category, or titles that are all completed by those words. If you’re stuck (yeah I’ve given in to just using second-person by this point), it’s often because there’s a category of this type.

Being well read is always useful for this kind of puzzle, but rarely is it necessary. Like the Crossword, a basic facility with language will be of inestimable aid. None of the connections will be too obscure; nor, likely, will you have to deal with absurd words like inestimable.

Unlike the Crossword, the New York Times doesn’t maintain a public archive of Connections puzzles for you to try, but multiple other sites do, at least until the NYT gets as litigiously jealous of them as they became of Wordle clones. Here is one. There is an official Companion blog that offers hints. Other sites, including Rock Paper Shotgun (really?), offer their own daily hints.

Here are some example categories, all taken from recent puzzles. What do these words have in common? I’ve hidden the answer with an abbr tag, on desktop devices you can hover the mouse over the words to reveal the category.

Star – Feather – Flower – Mushroom

Brain – Courage – Heart – Home

Jack – Love – Squat – Zip

Getting harder now:

Cradle – Eye – Meow – Pajamas

Dogs – Brown – Unchained – Fiction

Clown – King – Colonel – Mermaid

Bowl – Buzz – Crew – Pixie

Cigarette – Pencil – Ticket – Toe

And finally, that example I gave earlier:

Condo – Loo – Haw – Hero

Daylight Basement Studio Developer Interview

For this Perceptive Podcast, I’m talking with Christopher Bischke from Daylight Basement Studio to discuss their game Rightfully, Beary Arms that just released on early access. We spoke about making their first rogue-lite and the challenges of balancing the elements there.

Could You Realistically Survive in Super Mario 64?

It’s a fun idea, to determine if you, as a physical human being person, with all your physical human being person needs, could survive in the world of Super Mario 64, were you somehow to be transported there permanently.

The video embedded and linked below, from a Youtuber named Pretzel, is the projected beginning of a series about whether you could survive in different game worlds. Games are abstractions, and play life in them often leaves out details like drinking, eating, or (let’s face it) pooping. By ignoring that and trying to look at them as if they were actual places you are, by definition, engaging in pedantry, ignoring the essential nature of these places. But it’s fun to think about somewhat. At least we know this world has cake!

Could You SURVIVE in Super Mario 64? (Youtube, 14 minutes)

U Can Beat Video Games Covers Final Fantasy IV

I’ve posted about the great Youtube walkthrough channel U Can Beat Video Games several times in the past, so I try not to report on every video they do. And lately, as they’ve been tackling bigger projects that take a lot more time to finish, there haven’t been as many to post about.

But now they’ve completed their four-part series, each at three-plus hours, on one of the most iconic JRPGs from the era, Final Fantasy IV, which of course got released in Western markets as Final Fantasy II. It goes over everything in the game, every secret, every step of the story, a lot of cool tricks and strategies, and more.

I understand some people use this as background for doing other things, or as their adult replacement for Saturday morning cartoons (look them up). In any case, it makes for a lot of viewing, so block off a fair amount of time for this.

Here are the direct links and embeds:

Part 1: Beginning to Cecil’s promotion to Paladin (3h44m)

Part 2: To Dr. Lugae in the Tower of Bab-Il (4h8m)

Part 3: The Underworld and up to the Bahamut optional fight on the Moon (4h17m)

And finally:

Part 4: The remainder of the game, and the ending (3h38m)

If you think this is huge, it’s only going to get huge-r when they reach Final Fantasy VI (er, III)!

Indie Showcase For 4/9/24

The indie showcases highlight the many indie games we play here on stream, all games shown are either press key submissions or demos. Please reach out if you would like me to look at your game.

0:00 Intro
00:14 Overrogue
2:02 Crowns and Pawns: Kingdom of Deceit
3:37 Wizordum
5:11 Only Lead Can Stop Them
6:41 VergeWorld
8:20 Biocrisis: Return 2 the Lab

Paper Mario: Thousand Year Door Obscurities

It’s been some time since we had one of these obsessive quirk videos. I’d been feeling a bit self-conscious about using them a lot I suppose, plus none of them struck my brain the right way. Well, here’s one that’s pretty good, from Youtuber Bringles (21 minutes):

I won’t like this will be mostly interesting to people who are familiar with the game, but I should explain a few things in case you aren’t but still want to watch.

A “superguard” is a special mechanic in TYD. After the concept was pioneered with Super Mario RPG, the first Paper Mario also included a timed reaction move, often a button press, you can do in response to enemy attacks to reduce damage. But singe the first two Paper Mario games purposely keep their battle numbers pretty low, with most attacks doing single digit damage, sometimes even just one or two points, any reduction to that ends up being significant.

Those moves are called guards. Thousand Year Door goes a step further, with superguards. If your reactive button press happens within a three frame window of the attack’s impact, your character will often take no damage. That’s really strong, which is why both the frame window is so slight and way some enemies play cagey timing games with their attacks to try to trick you into guarding early or late.

One of the things the video reveals is that, in Western releases of the game, nearly every non-item attack in the game can be superguarded. The Japanese version, which was released first, has a lot more attacks that can’t be superguarded, making this a mechanic that was un-nerfed.

Another interesting mechanic revealed by the game is how a lottery in the game works. Players draw a ticket and try to match a four-digit number. You might expect that to work randomly, but it’s much less random than you’d think. Instead it decides how many real-world game days (using the Gamecube’s real-time clock) it’ll be before each of the four tiers of prices will be won. The number of days is random, but only by a bit: it’ll still be a while before the wins happen, but within a limited range. The highest prize won’t be won until at least 335 days since the game was started. There is no chance of winning it before then! That might sound unfair, but since it’d be a 1-in-10,000 chance of winning it fairly, it’s more bending the odds in the player’s favor. Although honestly, who would even be playing the same game of PM:TYD nearly a year after beginning it?

One more thing you should know is that TYD has this stageplay aesthetic in its battle sequences, which take place on a wooden stage in front of an audience of Mario characters. Some enemies play around with the stage (like hanging from the ceiling), but the audience also can play a role in the fights. The video reveals that two particular kinds of audience members don’t trigger randomly as one might expect, but react to certain failures of the player’s behalf during combat. X-Nauts throw rocks if an attack hits but does zero damage (like if the target is invulnerable or guarding), and Hammer Bros. throw hammers at you if Mario misses with a Hammer attack, in something like a display of hammerer pride.

It’s an interesting video all in all, concerning a game that’s much deeper than it may seem at first.

Obscure Mechanics in Thousand Year Door (Youtube, 21 minutes)