If you missed it, DNews started this week! It’s a show I’m co-hosting for Discovery with Laci Green and Trace Dominguez that’s all about the science of every day life. I got to cover some great subjects last week and I thought I’d go into some of the details I didn’t get to put into the videos. Read more for the Voyager Golden Record, the pros and cons of getting a magnet put in your hand, and all the supporting references you need to prove beer is healthier than jogging.
October 14th, 2001: I return home from the bar and have my first acid flashback ever to an episode of Space Ghost Coast to Coast. The next day I bring “Flipmode” up to friends and everyone freaks out. They had the same reaction- that it was funny and strange and more than a little unsettling.
SGC2C was was the blueprint for everything that became popular on Cartoon Network for the next decade. Surreal humor, limited animation, liberal use of archival footage. Looking back on it it’s easy to see its brilliance, but at the time I used to watch late at night going “How are they getting away with this? Who is this for? How do they get to keep making this week after week?” There wasn’t tons of high speed Internet pouring out of the walls at that point. Watching something like this and Mystery Science Theater 3000 felt like being part of some weird, small, secret club. It seemed unbelievable that more than a few other people would find it funny.
Also, you guys, I totally ripped off the idea for the New Challenger set from SGC2C. It feels good to get that out in the open.
(TL;DR- check out This Is Now)
Instagram- and all social networks- show you a limited view of what’s happening on them by design. You follow your friends, you follow some suggested users, and what you get is a very streamlined experience. People who match your lifestyle, your aesthetic sensibilities, your interests. The services feel small and personal.
On a certain level that’s great, but you can forget just how vast a social network is. It can begin to feel like everyone on the network has the same opinion, the same style. You forget that you made all the choices about what you’re seeing. You’re showing yourself your own narrow view of the world.
That’s why I love This Is Now. It’s a realtime stream of every single photo being taken from any of 12 different cities around the world. It reminds you just how bafflingly large Instagram is.
Instead of that tiny, homogenous feed you’ve created for yourself, all of a sudden you’re seeing everything happening in a city. People you’d never think to look for leading lifestyles you never knew about, going to places you’d never hear of. There are tons of little unexpected things that show you the real character of a place every second- not just the pleasant, picturesque, perfectly filtered ones you’d be naturally drawn to.
I really love keeping it open in a window and just watching life in a city pass me by. It’s awesome.
(Now how about adding San Francisco, guys?)
After watching this, some people asked what I meant about all the elements “looking like they’re from different games.” One thing that’s always irked me a bit about the New Super Mario Bros. series is the art direction. Something’s always seemed… unfocused. Old and new enemies don’t seem to follow the same design rules. Characters looks very three dimensional, but environments and backgrounds have a very flat look. Certain effects look a little too realistic to work with the rest of the world. It’s not bad design, it’s not bad art- it’s just missing that 10% that unifies things and takes them from “good” to “great.”
The biggest addition the Wii U hardware brings- aside from HD visuals- is the use of the GamePad in multiplayer. The assist mode is a neat idea, but just like everything else in the franchise’s multiplayer modes, it’s a bit uneven. The idea of helpful platforms being placed when needed it great, but in actual execution it’s a bit frustrating. Timing and placement are a little too hard for the sort of player who’s going to be attracted filling that position.
The Challenge Modes are an interesting addition we didn’t touch on in the video review. Different challenges teach you to speed run, use your jumping skills, and generally just hone your abilities. I dug it, but the one mode I’ve wanted from NSMB from the start still isn’t there: the knockout battle mode of Super Mario Bros 3. Anyone who played Florian Hufsky’s brilliant homebrew classic Super Mario War will understand how much fun a single-screen, 4-player all out battle in a Mario game can be. Here’s a video for the uninitiated:
Come on. Look at that. That’s a lot of fun. I know you can be combative in the co-op mode of NSMB, but I actually dislike that. I feel like it undermines the expectation of a co-op mode entirely and it just feels weird. Give me an actual sandbox for that kind of play.
In terms of the co-op itself, I would love to see an option to turn off collision between players and the freezing that happens when anyone gets hurt or picks up a power up. It’s not a useful indicator of anything for other players and can actually throw off their rhythm quite a bit, meaning one death often causes a chain reaction.
I wanted to make sure we had that note at the end about this not being a review of the Wii U itself or what type of Mario title we expected for a launch. I just wanted to take the game on its own. But a lot of people have commented and asked about those thing, so here you are: no, I don’t really see this as a system seller. If you know you’re getting a Wii U, this is a great game to have. If you were on the fence about the Wii U, this isn’t the game that’s going to get you into the launch lines tonight to buy one. I really wish we had something that’s a continuation of 64/Sunshine/Galaxy… or even an HD version of this year’s Mario 3D Land.
I don’t see it as a great way to show off the GamePad or the hardware of the Wii U. In his first draft of the review Miguel called it a “system justifier,” which I think is more accurate. Once I was sat down in front of it, I had fun. Of course I did, it’s a Mario game. But you had to put it front of me. I didn’t go running after it. I don’t think that’s a problem for Nintendo based on those launch lines and backorder queues, but there are those of us out there that are still scratching our heads over the Wii U- and New Super Mario Bros. U won’t help that.
God, I love Nitronic Rush. Take everything you love about TRON, San Francisco Rush, and WipEout and mix it all up in to one buzzsaw-covered, lava-drenched, stunt-filled racer. The game was made by a talented group of DigiPen students. You can grab it for free. You can see me talking about my love for it in this video:
It nailed everything I want in this sort of game extremely well, which is more than a little surprising for a student project. The feeling of speed is perfect. The environments had just the right amount of TRON/Rez going on to light my fire. The stunts and changes of gravity made me a happy camper.
But it was still a student project: a single-player only driving game, with only leaderboards to encourage community. The controls were a little sloppy. The levels hinted at a vast world, but most possible side routes were just death falls. The obstacles needed a little more variation.
But it was in there: the seed of the next thing that could make me as happy as WipEout.
Some of the team behind Nitronic Rush saw it, too. So after graduation, they decided to get together and create a better version with local/LAN/Online multiplayer, track editing tools, a dynamic soundtrack, and updated visuals. The game’s called Distance and is in its final hours over at Kickstarter. You can see from the video above the amount of detail and tweaking they’ve done to everything in the game. The feeling of speed’s been enhanced. The environments seem more fully realized visually and in terms of adding alternate routes and hidden paths. It also looks like improvements have been made to physics and handling- though that could just be the fact that they’ve added 360 controller support.
My favorite games in the racing genre have always been the ones that lean more towards the fantastic- WipEout, F-Zero, etc. Nitronic Rush scratched that itch really well and I can only imagine Distance is going to do it on a whole other level.
Take some time today to download Nitronic Rush and get a feel for it. Then, once you inevitably fall in love with it, kickstart Distance before the cut-off tonight. They’ve already reached their goal, but with a small, first-time developer, every extra dollar is a little extra breathing room to worry about making a game and not paying the rent.
This was a creepy nightmare. No lie. I was spooked the entire time- you can very clearly see it on my face. Those are actual lightbulbs and we’re actually eating pieces of them. I felt like I had tiny cuts in my throat for the next two days.
I start actually eating the glass at the 10:20 mark, after the instruction portion.
The Wii U is almost here and with it comes a whole heap of launch titles, which got us thinking: what are the best launch titles ever?
Nothing shall remain trapped in a box as long as I’m around. I will set you free, Pro Controller. I will set you free.
There was a Wii U in a box. I took it right the fuck out of that box. Believe.