8/04/06

An Analytical Discussion of the Industry, Culture, Progress and Nature of Video Games.

August 4th, 2006

Mario as a Cultural Icon:
13 Sites You Need to See

What is it about Mario? Why do people love him so? Is it his big nose? His adorable addiction to mushrooms? The cute sound he makes when he dies? Whatever the reason, Mario has become a cultural icon - one that has become the recipient of adoration by a world of fans.

Some of these fans are crazy.

The following list is not exhaustive, but they are all interesting in their own way. Some explore Mario through song, while others see the World of Mario as a source for artistic inspiration. And then there are the cosplayers… Oh… those misguided cosplayers

On to the list!!!

1. Mario Unleashed: Watch as high schoolers puzzle their band teacher.

2. Marios. 64.: Brilliant! I’m curious what your favorite one says about you. The naked one, I’m told, is supposed to be Ron Jeremy. Not just, “The Naked One.”

3. Mario Bros. Synthesizer: You can’t make a prank phone call with this one, but it’s still pretty awesome.

4., 5., and 6. The Mario Mystery Block Experiment, Mystery Boxes as Art, and a Video: I’d like to think that if I found one floating in a tree, I’d punch it. And I’d be massively disappointed if a mushroom or gold coin wasn’t inside.

7. Mario in Real: Finally. A talent show with some talent.

8. Super Mario Real: Similar to above, but foreign. I am particularly fond of the impotent mushroom that sprouts from the block. I'm also intrigued by the idea of eating a fire flower. I guess I always assumed mario held it... Actually, the more I think about it, I have no idea what I thought happened to the fire flower.

9. A Day in the Life of Mario: My guess: That girl’s not interested because he didn’t brush his teeth after the mushroom incident. There can be no other reason.

10. The Minibosses: As seen on the 1up Show. Their tracks are available for download! At the time of this post, the bottom track is the SMB2 suite.

11. La Caida de Edgar – Version Mario Bros.: A chubby kid falling in water is always more enjoyable when inexplicably set to Mario sounds.

12. Communist Mario?: Coupled with the group labor undertones in Pikmin, I’m starting to think that Miyamoto is a communist.

13. The Mario Collection: Be prepared to lose an entire day. Fav picks: The People’s Mario, Rise of the Mushroom Kingdom (part three is the weakest, but they’re all good), and Mario Kart Underground (watch out for the Yoshi with the afro).

Got a Mario link? Send it on over: stevandaaron@gmail.com.

Update & Disclosure: Since I am currently moving to San Diego, this article was written on the 26th of June. It sat on the server, patiently waiting for August 4th to roll around so it could go live. I was so proud of myself: I had worked ahead and the loyal reader(s?) of Pixels and Progress would get an uninterrupted flow of posts. And what happens? This clown posts the same damn article, effectively making me look like a tool.

August 4th, 2006

E3 is Dead! Long Live E3!

Hype? Hype is what gives video game media it's power. It's an idiocy field created by all mediocre games. It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the industry together.

Ahem.

So I decided to take a cue from a pair of more talented game enthusiasts for my intro. I have to establish my geek cred somehow, right? And speaking of space operas, I'm sure we all remember just how exciting it was when word of the prequels' production was revealed. We were giddy. We would get to revisit the world we loved and had spent so much of our fantasy lives populating. It was going to be wonderful. It was on the cover of Time. It was everywhere. It was going to bring the series to a whole new generation. Our geek universe waited endlessly in breathless anticipation. And what did we get? A tow headed brat and a vaguely bigottish walking lizard with floppy ears. It was an example, albeit writ large, of the all too common problem of what hype does, overwhelming the substance (or hiding the lack thereof) of an unreleased piece of entertainment like a flood. All modern media suffer from hype to one degree or another, but with video games it is painfully acute. The high cost of game development and, amusingly, the price of PR, means that games are a risky investment, and the output of the industry is relatively low. Games don't come out every week. So, in the view of the industry, every game demands the attention given to blockbusters. Least that's how they act.

What was E3 then, but the place where hype came home? E3 is where impossibly high expectations would first gain their ridiculous altitudes. It is (ahem, was) big and boisterous, forever and always. Before video games became as big as they are now, E3 was often the only time when the general public heard about what was happening in our world. Games would get actual news coverage, and analysts would actually take time to actually, you know, think about gaming. And as the industry grew, so did E3, to the point of the impossible size it reached just this past May. Nintendo held their press conference in the Kodak Theater. The sudden withering of our annual hype orgy seemed only natural, like an exhausted beast finally collapsing under it's own weight. Except that what's happening is really the exact opposite of that. Now, if you don't mind mixed metaphors, I'll explain:

E3 isn't shrinking at all, E3 is merely behaving like a supergiant star finally gone nova. It's mass of material and energy has been shed and thrown outward in all directions, while what remains has shuddered and shrunk inward into a dwarf. E3 isn't gone because E3 is everywhere. E3 was, is, and will always be about hype, and hype is as ubiquitous in the electronic gaming industry as sunshine is on a clear-skied day. Nowadays, even respectable and thoughtful sites like 1up.com have, at times, fawning previews for games that end up more than underwhelming. I mean 1up has hype meters. And I love 1up. Video games are now target marketed, advertised on national television and before the trailers in movie theaters, and releases are movie-premiere-styled events with celebrities and press. San Diego Comic Con, ostensibly about (from what I can gather) comics, warrants the attention of the video game press. The magazine section of almost any bookstore will offer a dozen or more gaming mags. E3 was meant to bring gaming to the whole wide world, and now that it's done it, it may die (or at least collapse to a size that doesn't boggle the mind) in peace.

Of course, anyone following the above stellar metaphor to it's physical conclusion would observe that the E3/Sun previously mentioned would, upon explosion, obliterate all that surrounded it with those waves of superhot plasma, and anything that wasn't disintegrated would afterward be cold and lifeless. Luckily I ended my metaphor before then, natch. But let's revisit it for just a moment; the hype that this con to end all cons gave off is, in it's own way, destructive, for it, in one way or another, brought us things like the "target video."

Two damnable words. I can credit the trailer for Killzone as the apotheosis of this ugly habit. I mean, if the actual game looks and feels like the trailer, the Play Station 3 wouldn't even need PR. Kutaragi could just stand on a stage with a large screen and a DVD player, hit play, and point. "Look at what our machine can do. And at the beginning of this console's life cycle. I'll start taking pre-orders now." But then the inevitable leaking began, and we learned that this wasn't the game, but merely what they were shooting for, which is another way of saying that the real game would not look this good. Our disappointment wasn't merely palpable, we were in mourning.

The problem with hype is that if a game (or movie or book) doesn't fulfill all of the promises it made, the distance between what we expected and what we got is that much greater and more glaring. A pretty good game, with reasonable release PR will be just that, not perfect but deserving of some attention. The same game, with hype added, becomes not all it was cracked up to be, a let down, not bad, but certainly not as good as it was supposed to be. Movies can have small releases and expand from there. Books the same. Lolita was released in a small print addition in Europe and gained it's fame slowly among literary circles as much from it's brilliance as it's notorious subject matter. Don't get me wrong, I know video games are a different medium and in some ways these comparisons are inappropriate but can you imagine any company quietly releasing a video game today? I don't know if it really happens. Maybe it could happen on X-Box Live, or the Virtual Console, where a small but solid game could gain some notoriety through word of mouth. I don't know, maybe some games do get quiet releases, but I think word of it has been lost amidst all of the, well, you know.

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