Archive for November, 2007

Mario and the New Golden Age of Gaming

Man is the opening of Super Mario Galaxy awful. I’d heard the front-end cutscene was obnoxious, but the playable bits ain’t much better. Well, I suppose that’s one way to set expectations. In this case, though, it’s pretty unnecessary because what follows is jaw droppingly great.

I mean I’ll be damned if that isn’t the wickedest virtual playground I’ve seen, complete with gravity effects that largely inhibit my well documented falling allergy. In Galaxy, all the vertigo-inducing fun of Descent comes rushing back; this time alongside the whimsy of The Little Prince’s tiny planets, each one different. A friend put it this way:

One of the best things is that nothing lasts too long. They have ideas in the game that could be their own full fledged title. Then they just throw it away. Creatively, it’s an embarrassment of riches.

While I’m still not the biggest fan of lives as a game mechanic, it’s hard to worry much about it when you’re rushing headlong through clever idea after clever idea. It’s startling.

Speaking of embarrassment of riches, the industry as a whole has found itself in something of a new golden age, too. How’s that? Here’s a proof point: before this year, Edge magazine (known for its notoriously tough reviews) had only given a top score to 4 games in its 14 year history: Mario 64, Gran Turismo, Halo, and Half-Life 2. This year, though, we’ve already had two more (Halo 3, The Orange Box). Assuming Mario Galaxy also gets a 10 (seems likely), that’s 3 in just one year.

And what I find fascinating is that each of the new 10s leads in its own way. Halo 3’s Forge pushes the envelope in game-based collaborative end user content creation, The Orange Box overwhelms us with volume and variety (single and multi-player, old and new, episodic and self contained). And Mario, well, Mario goes old school by comparison — relying on bite sized chunks of breathtaking single-player gameplay (plus nostalgia) to find its future. Diversity is the future of gaming. Greatness don’t hurt either.

While some (myself included) often long for the good old days of the 80’s arcade scene and others lambaste the new school as utter garbage, it’s pretty clear we’ve found ourselves alive at a pretty special time. And I’ll be damned if a certain well traveled plumber isn’t leading the way again. Evergreen indeed.

For more on the design of Mario’s new world, see Gamasutra’s Garden To Galaxy.

Update: It’s official — the Christmas Edge gave Mario Galaxy a 10.

Race and Rockettes


Since the first black Rockette in 1987, it seems little has changed — a special commentary by guest contributor Judy Scales-Trent:

As a professor of employment discrimination law, when I see a picture of a group of workers I automatically start thinking about statistics and probability. So when I saw the photo of nineteen Radio City Music Hall Rockettes, I noticed that there were no brown or black faces. And I wondered how likely it was that, in New York City, the selection of only dancers with white skin was random.

Perhaps noting this strange phenomenon, the author of the article stated that “…Uniform anonymity is a laudatory achievement on the Rockette line.”

Well, perhaps artistic “uniformity” is the reason that the employer selected only dancers with white skin. But here’s an idea. Next year, since the employer obviously isn’t concerned about violating state and federal employment discrimination law, why not meet the goal of artistic “uniformity” by creating a Rockette line of only dancers with brown and black skin.

I’m a Whale!

Whales rock and lately I’ve run into so many clever illustrations of them, I figure it must be a sign. Just in time for winter migration, too. The above is from the perpetually wicked Alberto Cerriteño. More clickable favorites follow. Key observation: whales always face left.

Whale with zero identity issues (anyone know the artist?):

Lovely lines as Frohawk Two Feathers revisits Jonah:

Roland Tamayo gives us the rocket powered Sperm Whale:

Bonus: Since we’re at sea, don’t miss this clever shipwreck of a concert poster. And find more whales at Wikipedia.

Asia Rich, Poor, Ever-changing

Running to keep up with the ever explosive change in Asia is dizzying. Here’s a snapshot of what’s particularly surprised, shocked, and dismayed us over the past week out east.

Down the Block Badass – gorgeously redesigned Tokyo hair salon stunningly sticks out (via myninjaplease)

Living in Refuse – the flip side of Tokyo’s super opulent hair salons is found in Cambodia’s garbage dumps, where families live day-to-day on what the rich throw out

New Gambling Capital – skid row meeds front row in Macau, the Chinese territory that’s just surpassed Las Vegas as the most profitable gambling spot on Earth

Yao-Yi Trumps Super Bowl – NBA matchup featuring two Chinese players drew more than twice as many viewers as the Super Bowl, most of them in China

Sub Surprise – undetected Chinese sub surfaces amid a US Navy exercise in the Pacific, tweaking the nose of the “vastly superior” American sea force

China Dumps Dollar – Chinese state TV implores citizens to abandon US currency before it tanks

Coen Bros. Country

How do you know you’re in NYC? You go to see the new Coen brothers movie, it’s on the biggest screen in the house (imax), and it’s sold out bigtime (standing room) — even with Hollywood behemoths like Bee Movie and American Gangster under the same roof. The Coens own this town like few others, and that’s dedication considering they haven’t made a satisfying film in over 10 years.

“It’s a right big mess, ain’t it sheriff?” “If it ain’t, it’ll do ’till the mess gets here.” That early dialog between Tommy Lee Jones and his deputy sums up No Country for Old Men. But mess is what the Coens do best and, though it isn’t quite the triumphant return to early-90’s form I’d hoped for, it certainly is their best movie in a really long time. (I’m a Miller’s Crossing/Barton Fink man myself though I still do have a soft spot for Crimewave — ahh Coens and Raimi together with Brion James.) That’s because, like my favorite non-fiction mystery Capturing the Friedmans, No Country leaves you with as many questions as answers. Fabulously so. The dialog crackles like old times, Javier Bardem is just terrifically evil, and did I mention that nearly every shot is flat gorgeous?

Emerging from the press hubub surrounding the film are some tasty bits about Coens’ secretive process and some lovely images. In a discussion on NPR, Josh Brolin (who would have thought he’d survive that wooden turn in Hollow Man?) explains why working with the Coens is like visiting Mars:

The perception of the Coens is that they’re so quirky, you look at their movies, they’re iconoclasts and they do what they want to do — which is all true — but the reality is that there’s not a lot of talk that goes on on the set. I think all their anxiety goes into who they’re gonna cast, so once they cast you they kind of let it go after we’ve had our initial talks to do what you want to do. But I can’t imagine two directors working together without a fight or an argument or at least “can you please let me finish” but it never happened once. They finish each other’s sentences. If one has an idea, the other will go “okay that’s great let’s try that.” That’s the rarity. That’s the Mars part. (atc)

Considering it’s been so long since the boys from Minnesota made a film up to their old standards, it’s pretty apropos that the Times chose now to do an homage — a great photo set of recreated scenes from their films featuring the original actors. Fun, moody, gorgeously shot stuff that brings back memories of classic movie moments. (article here)

The Coens have always been an enigma, wrapped in a riddle, shrouded in mystery. But now they’ve made us care again. Just like old times, boys. Arizona rides once more.

Visit No Country for Old Men and find more Coens at Wikipedia

The Seeing See Little

Back in April, I lost my sight for a week and it put my mind into an altered state. I began hearing and “seeing” things differently; I couldn’t quite explain it. As painful as it was, though, it also felt like a kind of gift. A quote recently republished in The Atlantic sheds some light:

I have often thought it would be a blessing if each human being were stricken blind and deaf for a few days at some point during his early adult life. Darkness would make him more appreciative of sight; silence would teach him the joys of sound.

Now and then I have tested my seeing friends to discover what they see. Recently I was visited by a very good friend who had just returned from a long walk in the woods, and I asked her what she had observed. “Nothing in particular,” she replied. I might have been incredulous had I not been accustomed to such responses, for long ago I became convinced that the seeing see little.   – Helen Keller, The Atlantic, January 1933

I wondered aloud if fewer senses means more creativity and it sounds like Helen might just agree — or at least wish that more of us would explore the many other ways of seeing we so often ignore.

Riverside Fall

Riverside Fall

Manhattan’s Riverside Park is fabulous pretty much year round but Fall is particularly special. And with the cold weather kicking in late (okay, that might be a little ominous but we’re trying to see the bright side), we’ve been able to enjoy it longer than usual.

I bought an SLR (bit the bullet) and this photo test came out well enough that I figured I’d share. There’s a larger version if you like.

Shock and Awe

For some reason, I find this juxtaposition of real NBA stars feigning shock with stickers of rockers feigning anger hysterical. Happy Halloween and I sincerely apologize.

images grabbed from espn and hydro74

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