Sundry Sunday: Super Mario Bros. Played with Live Instruments, Again

Playing the Super Mario Bros. theme live with a variety of instruments has been an internet video staple for a couple decades now. Here it is with accordion and a harp-like instrument called a bandura:

Thanks to Kevin Rothrock for finding this, and to Maks for finding it on Youtube!

The Battle Vortex Audio Show

Ultima Online is a wonder. World of Warcraft debuted in 2004; Ultima Online started in 1997. And it’s still going!

When it was new podcasts were not yet a thing! Podcasts arose from the fusion of periodic MP3 audio content and RSS feeds, in October 2000. Yet when UO was new there was an audio show called Battle Vortex that covered it. So we can’t call it an Ultima Online podcast, because those didn’t exist then, but it was a whole lot like one.

Battle Vortex had been gone from the internet for awhile, but now the whole show, 156 episodes, has been uploaded to the Internet Archive! It is a priceless snapshot of the early days of MMORPGs, and it’s heartening to see it housed someplace that will preserve it.

Battle Vortex (Internet Archive)

Italian Pop Culture References in Vampire Survivors

Image from article, ultimately from someone named poncle

Damiano Gerli at waynow Gaming explores the plethora of Italian internet and popular culture references in Vampire Survivors, including singers, anime, food and dairy brands, and a couple of earthier references, including one that could be taken as a name for someone unafraid to break wind as much as possible.

Vampire Survivors: Exploring its Trove of Italian Cultural References

Why Speedruns And Not Score Attacks?

This editorial doesn’t necessarily reflect the views of this blog. However, blogs don’t have views anyway, so what would that even mean?

Here is a question you might not of thought of. Speedruns are, after some years, still very popular, streamers still chase records, sometimes a matter of shaving off tenths of a second off of the previous time, and AGDQ and SGDQ continue to bring in millions for charities.

But, why? Why is it speedruns that have gained the interest of so many runners and spectators? Many games have their own method of measuring player skill: points! The score record chase is even much older than speedrunning, dating back to the heyday of Twin Galaxies. It’s even encouraged on the attract-mode vanity boards of countless arcade machines. So why is it that quick-playing has attracted so much attention, and not high-scoring?

The first thing, of course, is that time attacks (playing to finish quickly) is universally applicable, while not all games track score. Score keeping has become a lot less common in recent decades. What does it even mean to score attack Metroid Prime or Resident Evil IV? And often a quick-playing game is a lot more exciting to watch than one where the player just seeks to increase some abstract value. Fast play is easy to understand, but high point awards are often not immediately accessible to a viewer who isn’t already familiar with the game’s systems.

But more than that, many games have very sloppy point discipline. If a game doesn’t have a timer, but does have a score and respawning enemies, then there is no reason, from a point maximizing standpoint, to not just regenerate the same enemy over and over, a boring way to play but still, by the strict rules of the game, valid. To some extent this can be accounted for through out-of-game rules, like how Twin Galaxies will disallow certain types of play that just seek to increase points in an empty manner.

It’s not always easy to decide what counts as actually playing the game and what’s meaningless farming, which makes the allowance of some types of play a judgement call, and any time an official’s subjective opinion becomes an important part of the legality of some behavior, you’re going to end up with people trying to push the boundary of what is allowable, and as we see from professional sports, that means no end of arguing about whether a referee or umpire’s call is valid or not.

This doesn’t even cover scoring randomness. Ms. Pac-Man is a great game in many ways, but one aspect of it that makes it less suitable for score attacks is that, in long games, the point values of fruit becomes such a huge part of the score. After the seventh board, the fruit generated in Ms. Pac-Man are random, and can be worth anywhere from 100 points for Cherries, to 5,000 points for a Banana. Up to two of these can appear on each board, and once the game progresses past the point where ghosts can be eaten for points, the value for the higher-valued fruit easily overwhelms all the other scoring in the game, up to the kill screen at around board 144. (Ms. Pac-Man doesn’t have a definite kill screen like Pac-Man does, but a variety of possible screens.)

When point awards are random like this, getting a score record in an individual game becomes a matter of luck. What that practically means is, players who attempt more runs are more likely to get a lucky game that gets a record. Essentially, record chasers must utilize the law of averages: a person who plays 100 games is much more likely to get a lot of Bananas in a single game among all of them than a person who has only played ten.

But even so? Lots of games were made explicitly with scores in mind. After decades where it was a common, sometimes even primary mode of play, I feel like playing for points is fairly neglected now. I mean, I’m not going to go on a rant about young folks trying to get their games over with without stopping to savor them. Just, you know, it’s not bad to play for points.

I fully realize that this is a topic that no one cares about, and even I am not really that concerned with it. It’s just an arbitrary value to maximize. “Yay, I’m X good! I’m Y better than I was before!” Yeah not really terribly important.

Designing The Personal Game “I am Yours” With Jon

For this Perceptive Podcast, I spoke with game designer, journalist, and photographer, Jon to talk about designing the game I Am Yours — a game meant to explore the emotions around a traumatic event.

We talked about game journalism and being an indie developer, along with the challenges of walking that line between telling an emotionally driven story and not trying to glamorize or downplay its meaning for a game.

Romhack Thursday: Mario 64 Character Swaps

On Romhack Thursdays, we bring you interesting finds from the world of game modifications.

The world of romhacks ranges far and wide, from dumb graphics hacks that put Wilford Brimley in place of Mario to full games that are unrecognizable from the software they were made from. We usually try to focus on more substantive fare, but today we present three hacks that mostly leave Mario 64 unchanged, except for giving the overall-wearing movie star a rest in favor of one of three understudies.

Super Cream 64

In the case of Super Cream 64, it feels like there’s enough to go by despite the core game, in most senses, being the same as Super Mario 64.

Saying that it’s a simple character swap is both dead accurate and wildly understating the effort that went into this. Nearly all the characters have new models, and there’s a few more in there as well. Mario has been replaced with Cream the Rabbit from (a couple of) the Sonic the Hedgehog games. Cream’s one of those characters that barely got any main game appearances before being relegated to the likes of guest roles in kart racers, so unless you’re as soaked in the deep Sonic lore, as I appear to be, you might never have heard of her, or Cheese, a Chao that follows her around (don’t ask me what a Chao is, I could tell you but the answer would probably not be useful to you) her mother Vanilla, or her friend Blaze the Cat, who are also in this hack. You may know of Amy Rose, who’s also here.

That’s Amy, right there.

There are some play differences. Somehow Cream can fly, kind of, in a gliding sort of way, which makes the game a little bit easier. A small number of areas have been changed. But mostly this is a game for people who haven’t gotten their fill of Super Mario 64 already, and who want to play it as a different character. It’s almost as light and fluffy as its protagonist, but it’s evident that a lot of care has gone into it.

Here’s a bit of gameplay to show you what it’s about:

Super Cream 64 came to my attention when a friend was putting together a console-playable copy of it for her Sonic-obsessed kid. It’s amiable and mostly harmless. I can’t say it’s my usual kind of thing (the game itself really is mostly Mario 64, and Cream is a little too cutesy for me), but maybe it’s more to the taste of some of you out there?

This post started out being just about SC64, but here’s a couple of other character replacements that may be amusing, for a few minutes at least.

Captain Falcon 64

Excepting his appearances in Super Smash Bros. games, Captain Falcon is rarely playable on foot. Captain Falcon 64 suggests a run style and moveset that’s pretty much how one would imagine he’d play in an officially-made 3D platformer.

Super Mario 64: Sonic Edition

The logical intersection between Cream 64 and Falcon 64 would, of course, be Sonic 64. He’s even faster, and harder to control, than Captain Falcon. There are some gameplay changes here, including the ability to become Super Sonic, but I couldn’t tell you how. Maybe explore it yourself and see if you can figure it out.

Super Cream 64, by Gamebun (Sonic Fan Game HQ)

Captain Falcon 64, by PastaPower and Blakeoramo (SMW Central)

Super Mario 64: Sonic Edition, by Thodds (SMW Central)

What’s Yahtzee Up To?

Yahtzee is Ben Croshaw, the guy who has been making The Escapist’s Zero Punctuation for going on 16 years now. He’s the last vestive of the version of The Escapist before they went in on Gamergate, which it seems like he managed to weather by staying in his lane. While his videos aren’t the pass-around fodder that they used to, it’s kind of comforting sometimes that he’s still around, offering his highly opinionated and profane takes on video game-related things.

Croshaw’s videos cover a very mainstream-populist, triple-A beat that does not often intersect with ours, and frankly often puts me at odds with his opinions. But once in a while he covers a topic that sort of intersects with one of our remits or Retro, Indie or Niche. That’s what we present here today: three times in recent memory that he covered something we generally care about.

Metroid Prime Remastered (generally dismissive)

Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope (unexpectedly positive)

Sonic Frontiers (says there’s a couple of good ideas that it then ruined)

Source of the Red Coin Noise in Mario 64

Supper Mario Broth is excellent! You may already know of this Mario esoterica blog and its prodigious post rate. Somehow they keep finding interesting things to publish!

Here’s a recent mindblower. The four note sound effect from picking up a Red Coin in Super Mario 64 is actually a brief segment of the Bob-Omb Battlefield theme, pitch-shifted according to how many Red Coins you’ve found so far. Their post on the phenomenon has the sound synced up to match the point in the music it’s taken from, and it’s unmistakable once you hear it!

Supper Mario Broth: Super Mario 64 Red Coin Collection Sound