Keyboard Geniuses

Mario Kart 64

From Kart To Finish

Highlights from the week’s comment threads.

By Matt Kodner • November 16, 2012

Keyboard Geniuses is our weekly glance at a few intriguing, witty, or otherwise notable posts from the Gameological discussion threads. Comments have been excerpted and edited here for grammar, length, and/or clarity. You can follow the links to see the full threads.

Faster, Ratonhnhaké:ton, Kill, Kill!
Assassin's Creed III

John Teti was joined by Kotaku’s editor-in-chief Stephen Totilo at the head of the week when The Digest returned. While snacking on/avoiding pumpkin-themed Digestibles, they talked through their differing opinions on Assassin’s Creed III. One bone Hastapura picked with the game was its reliance on “go fetch this thing for me” quests:

I feel like this series comes up with the richest settings with vast potential: The Crusades? In a fully-fledged 3D world with freedom of movement? The Renaissance? Colonial America? Just mentioning these time periods conjures millions of tantalizing possibilities.

And then they plug in fetch quests, Forrest Gump-esque historical shoehorning, meaningless trinket collection, poopy combat, janky free-running…basically everything that can get in the way of enjoying the setting. There could be a really taut, complex stealth game in the first Assassin’s Creed, playing with racial and religious tension as well as the simple pleasure of a well-placed blade. But the designers seem to have it in their heads that the overarching science-fiction narrative is just bitchin’, and that the main appeal of 12th-century Jerusalem was the long, unskippable cutscenes. I think the second game and Brotherhood were admirable evocations of Renaissance Italy, but then the silliness was ramped up in equal measure to the graphics—look, it’s Da Vinci come to outfit you with a nifty new flying machine! Press X to summon a horde of assassins! Thrill to the endless series of menus!

Maybe my desire for a contemplative, ornate thriller set in the Middle Ages just isn’t marketable? Impossible!

Flat Foxy Mr. Mario
Paper Mario: Sticker Star

Speaking of trinket collecting, Steve Heisler hoarded as many virtual stickers as he could for his review of Paper Mario: Sticker Star. The new Paper Mario game finds Mario bashing his enemies with magical stickers, and magical stickers alone, hence the hoarding. While Steve praised the game, some readers felt it ranged too far from its series’ roots. RidleyFGJ argued that Paper Mario peaked early—with its second game:

Although I’m not even remotely as taken with Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door as a lot of people are (way too much damn talking), I’ll put forth the theory that Paper Mario effectively Star Fox-ed itself with that game. Nintendo happened upon the pinnacle of the formula so early on in the history of the franchise that copying it would seem entirely moot, and yet the games that followed often made controversial deviations from the established formula that have often been met with derision, and some of it justified, at that.

Shell On Earth
LittleBigPlanet Karting

Ryan Smith reviewed the endlessly customizable LittleBigPlanet Karting. As with many karting games, Karting uses a generous power-up system to help stragglers catch up and make races skew closer than they might otherwise be. This sparked a discussion of the design in Mario Kart 64—the second Mario Kart game—where HobbesMkii made a point for its superiority (in certain settings) over race games based purely on skill:

I’ve been playing a lot of Mario Kart 64 (which I personally suck at) against a friend (who has owned it since it came out and therefore tends to own me at it), and I disagree with the idea that the weapons are unbalanced.

I think it’s sort of the perfect together game that everyone can agree upon because everyone will have fun, and enough play-throughs will guarantee that everyone was a winner at least once. My buddy clearly dominates me in most matches, but there are times when luck plays to my hand enough that I can pull into the lead in maybe one out of five races.

Mario Kart’s innate “unfair” power-up distribution, where players in first place are saddled with bananas and single red shells while players in last get the lightning bolt and the blue shell, regularly forces players to adapt in ways that plain old racers or multiplayer shooters don’t.

It really seems to me that the problem you’ve got is less that the game punishes skill than that it automatically imposes a handicap on players who would otherwise dominate the playing field (and their friends). I think that’s because Mario Kart was really designed to be played with three other people sitting in a room with you, having fun. It’s a form of skill welfare, if you will. It actually strikes me as a brilliant approach to competitive game design.

Toyz II Men
Lego Lord Of The Rings

In our weekly roundup of new releases, Steve Heisler noted the upcoming Lego The Lord Of The Rings game. Turning to the realm of physical Lego toys, Spacemonkey Mafia observed that things are so much better for kids these days, dagnabbit:

I’m still fascinated that the toys this generation’s kids are playing with are effectively a perfected version of the toys my generation played with when I was a kid.

I look at the Lord Of The Rings Lego sets and have the objective understanding that if they were available when I was a kid, I would stand mesmerized and rock still in front of the toy department shelves bearing a zealot’s vigilance. At least until such a time as my mom dragged me off to JoAnn Fabrics for an interminable half hour of trying to squeeze myself between bolts of cloth in a thin facsimile of entertainment.

Star Wars has a figure for the Death Star bathroom attendant and there are no less than 15 available versions of Optimus Prime. I guess Kung-Fu action grip is my generation’s legacy.

Also commenting on Lord Of The Rings, Fluka noticed that, especially with the Lego video games, current media are being adapted through an increasingly long chain of filters:

These somehow feel even weirder than the Star Wars and Indiana Jones ones. Those are just Movie → Lego → Game (two steps of removal from original property). These ones are Book → Movie → Lego → Game (three steps of removal from original property). We need some kind of postmodern version of an Erdos number to categorize properties by how far down the adaptation chain they’ve traveled.

Then Girard suggested:

Baudrillard’s precession of simulacra might do the trick.

Paranormal Cat-Tivity
Cat-Eaten Pumpkin Mousse

For the second episode of The Digest, John was joined by an ascot-clad Evan Narcisse, a Kotaku contributor who you may remember from his appearances in The Seeds. Before they talked about Forza Horizon, a game where you drive cars fast, John scolded the Gameological cats for devastating the pumpkin mousse Digestible before taping began. Perhaps to send a passive-aggressive “hey, there are worse cats” message, Soupy used his sacred duties as Comment Cat to select these examples of the strange things cats eat from Fluka, George Liquor, and Citric respectively:

Woohoo, an entire thread about cats eating weird things! My childhood cat had three distinct culinary obsessions: hard boiled eggs, cheddar cheese, and (of all things) cantaloupe. God only knows why. Of my current cats, the boy cat will sit at a chair next to the dinner table, quietly staring and waiting for a moment when one of us turns away, so he can steal things. The girl cat loves beer bottle caps. I assumed this was because she can bat them around like a hockey puck, until I caught her licking one. In short, this video was relevant to my interests. (Wait, what’s this about a car game?)

My cat used to growl at hot things in his food dish. That’s how big a dick he was.

My cat loves those little rings that seal orange juice containers. She then chases them under the coffee table. As a side note, I love orange juice and drink a great deal of it. So one day when I moved the coffee table to clean under it, the entire space was filled with those rings.

Lost Magic
Secret Of Mana

Steve Heisler appreciated the showmanship of Thanatos, one of Secret Of Mana’s devious and over-the-top villains, and discussed his brutal appearance in an On The Level column. Released in 1993 on the Super NES, Mana could have been much more, as RTW explained:

It holds up very well, though if you know the history behind its development, the simplistic dialogue and pacing issues will stand out more. And the latter issue is easily forgiven considering a substantial chunk of the game was either cut or condensed—some accounts estimate as much as 40 percent of the game’s content was lost in the transition from CD to cartridge. Short version: Sony and Nintendo were working on a CD add-on for the SNES, but then Nintendo went back over the contract and said, “Uhhh, fuck this shit” and shacked up with Philips. Sony figured they still had a slice of fried gold on their hands and turned what they had into a standalone console—and thus was born the PlayStation. Secret of Mana was originally going to be for the SNES-CD, but by the time the Nintendo/Sony deal went to pot, they’d gotten too far into development to just throw it all away, so they modified it to fit on a cartridge, and a shitload of stuff got left on the cutting room floor in the process.

Elsewhere in the comments, Pagan Poet linked us to some of the game’s terrifying music:

It seems like every time I read one of these features, I try to sway the conversation into talk about the soundtrack, but my favorite part of this dungeon in Secret of Mana is the creepy, awesome, Indonesian gamelan-inspired music. And the even freakier gamelan-meets-death-metal boss theme when you battle Lich.

Pagan Poet’s chosen samples:

As a counterpoint, Kingdarella chose to remember a decidedly unfrightening track:

The Digest: The Illustrated Saga Continues

Stephen Totilo returned for The Digest’s conclusion to discuss The Unfinished Swan. Effigy Power recast John and the merry Kotaku fellows as characters from a familiar autumn tale (click for full size):

It's The Big Pumpkin

Aww, cheer up John! Assassin’s Creed can’t be that bad.

And with that, thanks again for reading and commenting. To our American readers: Have a happy Thanksgiving, and we’ll see you for part of next week! And to our non-American readers: We’ll see you for part of next week!

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  • PugsMalone

    Re: Secret of Mana: I look back on a lot of games from my childhood and see that they were rushed, with parts that are obviously missing or that weren’t playtested well enough. Illusion of Gaia’s a good example, what with Seth getting turned into a sea monster that never appears onscreen, and how badly Mu was designed (I must have spent half an hour wandering around after beating all of the enemies, trying to find the vampires).

    I guess I’m just a glass half-empty kind of guy. This is why I’m glad that I never tried to get into the video game industry- even if I somehow managed to get into a leadership position for non-shovelware games, I don’t think I could ever bear to cut anything.

    • GaryX

      I really need to play the game (I’ve played the opening bit but not much more). 

      Someday.

      I’ve recently come in to some old consoles and have been thinking about doing some kind of “Popless/Better Late than Never” like thing with all the old classic/cult games I missed.

      • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

         That was pretty much my freshman year of college: High speed internet for the first time ever? An SNES ROM downloads in 30 seconds rather than over the course of an evening? Time to finally play through all the key SNES and NES games I passed over as a kid, and all the weird fan-translated Japanese obscurities beyond Seiken Densetsu 3!

      • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

        I can’t recommend this enough.  Go through Hardcore Gaming 101.  That’s what I did from 2005-2007, (in my opinion) the worst time for video games since 1983, and it broadened my taste immensely.  I had spent so much time deepening it by playing obscurities in my pet genres that I didn’t realize how mindblowing, say, Virtua Fighter and Guwange are.  I definitely more fully appreciate games as artworks and designed games, where I had previously focused on entertainment.

        This generation’s handheld and console transition is a great time to go for it.

    • PaganPoet

      I have such nostalgia glasses for Illusion of Gaia, and its pseudo-historical setting, but hearing you mention “Mu” made me realize how frustrating I used to find that dungeon. Not only were the monsters there pretty difficult and layout pretty sprawling, but trying to fidn out what to do with the head statues was a bit much for me as a child. By the way, it just dawned on me…is that dungeon supposed to be based on Easter Island? Is “Mu” some Japanification of “Moai?”

      What do you think of the game overall, though? I haven’t played it in a good decade or so, it would be cool to see if it really is as good as my memory wants me to believe it was.

      • PugsMalone

        I haven’t played it in a long time, either. The plot was pretty damn incoherent in retrospect. Another evidence of stuff getting cut- they built up that assassin who was chasing you throughout the game, and then you don’t even get to fight him.

        As for Mu:

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mu_(lost_continent)

        Illusion of Gaia even gets a mention in the “popular culture” section of the article.

        • PaganPoet

          I remember some scenes actually being pretty intense, and thereful memorable to my past-self, especially for Nintendo in the 90s. If I recall correctly, one of the villains activates a booby trap in the pyramid and is immolated alive.

        • PugsMalone

          Don’t forget the princess’ pig sacrificing itself! And yeah, that was the assassin who got killed in the pyramid.

      • BarbleBapkins

        I loved Illusion of Gaia as a kid, and actually started playing it about 2 months ago. I just realized that I stopped playing it at Mu, which is a pretty good indication that you two might be on to something with how poorly designed that dungeon is.

        As for how it holds up, the graphics and music are absolutely top-notch, among the best on the SNES in my opinion. The combat is decent, not quite as fun or varied as, say, Zelda since you don’t have as many items or weapons, but it holds up better than I expected.

        The story is a little indecipherable. Either the translation wasn’t great, or the plot just loses itself in all the different places it goes to, or both, but it has a lot of problems I was blind to as a kid. It has its moments though, like the raft section and the slave trader stuff which I think is actually really well done, and gives a nice hint of stuff that is going on without your input. Otherwise though, it does have a lot of loose threads, so many interesting things set up that the beginning that are never really resolved in any way.

      • Moonside_Malcontent

         I vividly remember the frustration of finding all the Red Jewels in that game, for one.  That game definitely clove to the old RPG model of “better reeeeallly be sure you wanna leave this area, kid, you won’t be seeing it again”.  I second the maddening frustration of the “Mu” dungeon; those eerie faces grew more mocking the longer you struggled.  On the whole I liked the game, though.  One of the first games I remember playing that had a distinctly tragic feel to its story, especially the (spoilers) ending where you soar over the Earth and see its verdant fields reduced to grey, industrialized homogeneity.

        • PaganPoet

          I also distinctly remember the Sky Garden dungeon, where altering something on the upside of the garden would have a converse effect on that same thing on the underside of the garden. Kind of a variant of the Zelda blue crystal/red crystal mechanic, but with a clever twist. I used to think it was a cool detail when the ball-worm enemies died on the upside, you would have to worry about dodging their exploding body parts, but on the underside they just fell to the Earth below. That and the fact that the whole dungeon is a little wink to the theory/conspiracy that the Peruvian Nazca Lines are ancient “runways” for alien spacecrafts.

          I actually remember that game made me want to visit Peru, between the Nazca Lines and the Incan ruin dungeon.

    • Citric

      My enduring memory of Illusion of Gaia is that tedious as hell adrift sequence, which ends with you getting scurvy. I enjoyed the game otherwise, but that sequence was just awful.

      Terranigma is the tits though, even if it’s impossible to find, uh, legally. 

  • GaryX

    Just FYI everyone:

    Nominations for THE AV CLUB COMMIES will open on Nov 19 at 12:00 am. If you would like to nominate something just head over to http://www.avclubawards.com to do so!

    It’ll be open until the 30th, and that next week will be the final round of votes. If you have any questions, either voice them there, here, or message me on Twitter @ guyneiljames.

    Thanks!

  • HobbesMkii

    Awww, my comment was edited to not include the bragging about my mad Halo 3 local multiplayer skillz. Now I’ll have to make up for it in this comment:

    I have Mad Halo 3 Local Multiplayer Skillz, everyone!

    Edit [for non-Americans]: Haha, you’re forced to suffer while we get to celebrate the last time white people and Native Americans ever got along by overeating and watching our drunk uncles make inappropriate comments at the dinner table.

    • PaganPoet

      I’m gonna hide the whisky and horde it to myself since eggnog is disgusting.

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

       ”we get to celebrate the [utterly mythical] last time white people and Native Americans ever got along”

      • Spacemonkey Mafia

        So you sold on the grey market your own ancestry and burgeoning progressivism for what?  Some Mega Man 8 money?
           They don’t make a Mega Buster powerful enough to explode your shame away.  Into one of those little yellow energy balls if your lucky.

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

           I’ll have you know that money went toward my college education! And my school promptly subtracted exactly that amount from their support package for me. So it made no freaking difference at all.

  • stakkalee

    Happy Friday everyone!  Did you know that bookies are laying odds the Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 will be the biggest seller this X-mas season?  Did you know people actually bet on video game sales numbers?

    The most-commented-on article this week is the What Are You Playing This Weekend? article, with 135 comments as of 3PM.  That’s not really surprising – there’s always plenty of great stories and plenty of recommendations in those threads.

    Now, the Top 5 Most Liked Comments (non-KG edition.)

    1) Soupy’s Very Own Human, @JohnTeti:disqus, got 17 likes on this meditation on the relative utility of using “medium” to critique works of art.  Here’s hoping we see a longer version of that in article form sometime soon!

    2) Another contributor, Mr. Mustachio himself, @AndrewToal:disqus, got 16 likes for predicting the End Times.

    3) @Raging_Bear:disqus got 13 likes for this remark on the absurdity of Assassin’s Creed 3.

    3) And for the tie, @Paraclete_Pizza:disqus also got 13 likes for this comment with a hilarious prediction that we all know is too close to the truth to be anything but terrifying.

    5) @Captain_Internet:disqus gets 11 likes for reminding Mr. Teti that Halloween was last month.  Good stuff everybody!

    Well, only one new inductee today, a long-time commenter who’s getting his due – @Hastapura:disqus!  Welcome aboard!

    And our returning members; we had quite a few today.  RTW (RoundTheWheel on Twitter) is at 2, @RidleyFGJ:disqus and @PaganPoet:disqus are both at 3, @citric:disqus is at 4, as is @Fluka:disqus with a rare double (well done!).  @George_Liquor:disqus gets to 6, @HobbesMkii:disqus and @Spacemonkey_Mafia:disqus each unlock the “Lucky 13″ achievement, @Effigy_Power:disqus gets to 15 and the powerhouse, @Paraclete_Pizza:disqus, maintains his lead with his 18th mention!  It should be noted that Hobbesy and SM are now tied with @CaspianComic:disqus for third place.  Ooh, a tense standoff!  Who will survive?

    For the link-dump today I have some neat ones: Here’s some absolutely gorgeous “realistic” Mega Man art that’s just stunning.  And here is a very dedicated Lego builder with a full overworld map of The Legend of Zelda.  Impressive stuff.  And finally, a new study shows that teenagers who play video games are better than surgeons when it comes to operating the robotic surgery arm.  Damn!  So kids, the next time mom complains you’re spending too much time playing video games, just tell her you’re studying for your MD.  Who knows, she may even buy it!  As always, enjoy your gaming, and remember to keep it scintillating!

    • stakkalee

      Ooh, hey, I just checked and at some point today Gameological Society got to it’s 25,000th comment!  I want to congratulate @JohnTeti:disqus for getting the site to this milestone – 25000 comments and only a handful of trolls and assholes!  Here’s to 25000 more!

      • Moonside_Malcontent

        Here’s to us, Gameologists.  May our elitism and exclusivity endure like the smell of privilege at a Nantucket country club.

        • Spacemonkey Mafia

          Our popularity amongst ourselves will make it that much more shocking for us when our bid to become president is unsuccessful.  

        • HobbesMkii

           @Spacemonkey_Mafia:disqus It’s my opinion that PC Gamer will bribe the electorate with lists, info graphics, and ruminations on the hottest video game character (with pictures).

      • HobbesMkii

        Is it diminished any by the fact that (as of this posting) five people account for 20.8% of those comments?

        • stakkalee

          Well, it certainly sets a high bar for those 5 commenters, especially since the new goal is to hit the next 25000 comments in half the time.  Poor @CaspianComic:disqus is going to need to drop out of school to focus exclusively on posting comments, and you’ll just need to get even less work done at your job, if that’s even possible.

        • Spacemonkey Mafia

          And three of those people are dummy accounts made by the same person.

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

          @Spacemonkey_Mafia:disqus: The jig is up. You’ve discovered that @Effigy_Power:disqus, @Girard:disqus, and I are all the same person.

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

           @Merve2:disqus And we/I look pretty much exactly like @GameologicalCommenter ‘s avater.

        • Effigy_Power

          I am obviously the face we use when we need to be liked.

        • http://gameological.com/author/johnteti/ John Teti

          In seriousness, this is how most thriving internet communities end up shaking out: There’s a core of very active people at the center of it who help set a tone for the many others who participate less frequently. Our great fortune has been that the tone-setters are so good.

        • HobbesMkii

           @JohnTeti:disqus Okay, that’s good to know. I didn’t know whether to be embarrassed by my 4% or proud.

        • Spacemonkey Mafia

          I gotta say, @Merve2:disqus , @paraclete_pizza:disqus  and @Effigy_Power:disqus  -for being a tiny Peruvian girl posting on a dilapidated Sinclair Spectrum from a shanty in a abandoned silver mine outside of Potosí, you do a fantastic job of capturing the voice of progressive, over-educated North American gamers. 

    • Fluka

      Woohoo!  Life is kind and I am important!

    • Citric

      Since my cat proved to be an inspiration, here is a picture of it.

      http://www.flickr.com/photos/29643626@N03/8190868771/

      My cat was also once featured on Dr. McNinja when it was a kitten.

      • Fluka

        The gentleman in question is, indubitably, a pretty kitty.

      • stakkalee

        Dr. McNinja?  A high honor.  Don’t let Soupy hear – I suspect he’s the sort of cat who’ll take that as a provocation.

      • Effigy_Power

        I am pretty upset that my finicky, catfood eating feline has cost me the double point this week.
        Damn cat, Y U no eat cheezeburger?

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

      …and my fragile sense of self-worth is preserved for another week!

    • hastapura

      Oh my! I owe it all to my boy Ratonhnhaké:ton.

  • Effigy_Power

    It’s good to know that I can always score by ripping off a beloved children’s cartoon. Anything to stay relevant really.
    Next time, the Katzenjammer Kids, because that’s what the kids read these days, right? Maybe some Yellow Boy? I AM HIP!

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

       LITTLE NEMO OR GTFO.

      • Moonside_Malcontent

         O! Confound these Welsh Rarebits! O! My Head!

        • Spacemonkey Mafia

          My favorite thing about that comic is the conceit of an entire city of random folks afflicted with intense hallucinatory dreams due to the inexplicably popular fad of eating spiced cheese on toast right before bed.
             It’s like the mahjong or hula hoop of it’s world.

  • Mr. Glitch

    Hi everybody, Mr. Glitch here! Come cruise the spaceways in the Aluminum Mallard, explore vast alien worlds, fight evil software developers, and enjoy greasy fast food in the Sierra Adventure classic Space Quest III! Read all about it at mathmanmustdie.blogspot.com. Excelsior!