November 22, 2015

Push > Start

The Art of Video Games.

Push > Start is a large art book showcasing a wide time span of video games. There are a total of 215 games showcased, starting way back with OXO (1952) and finishing with Halo 5 (2015). Since it covers over sixty years, there are a few games that aren't covered (*gasp*).

However, the focus isn't on the games themselves, but rather the art and style presented within each one. Each game is showcased by only one or two screenshots. That's it. The only information provided on each game is the platforms it was released for, year, developer, and composer. The only block text present is a short introduction at the beginning of each chapter and some philosophical explication at the end. The chapters are separated as follows:

  • Early Games
  • Arcades
  • 8-Bit
  • 16-Bit
  • 3D
  • HD
  • Video Game Platforms
  • The Art of Video Games

All in all, it's a nice simple snapshot of each era. Clearly, it's difficult to make a statement like, "I'm going to narrow down the entire 8-Bit era to fifty games." But for the most part, the games chosen were pretty safe.

As the book nears the more recent time periods, though, it becomes much more subjective. Games can be a cash cow, and publishers know that. It is not (and has not been) a niche market for a large number of years. It makes it way harder to determine which games have blood, sweat and tears put into them to make them "artistic" and which ones have enough money/manpower/marketing to give it the illusion of being so. Or maybe some of them are anyway. Who can say? Nobody, because it's not a fact, it's an opinion, so quit your whining. Everyone likes their own thing, and there's way too much to be able to see everything.

The philosophy stuff is a little tiring, and thankfully there's not too much. People trying to quantify things that can't (and shouldn't) be quantified into "fact." Here's a taste:

"A game is art because it adds a new element to the "vocabulary" of design. One day, the artists who created this pure, controlled image space may well be mentioned in the same breath as Michelangelo or Leonardo."

The difference is, Miyamoto wasn't some hipster sitting at home trying to avant-garde the crap out of the industry/society. He went to school, got a job, and was tasked by his superiors to make a product that would sell, and so he based it off of existing popular things. Yes, he was innovative. Yes, he was smart. Yes, he had skill. But he wasn't sitting down saying to himself, "God, I'm going to make such an artistic statement out of this thing." But he put in real, full effort, and it turned out great. So we appreciate it. End of story.

The book itself is gorgeous and high quality, not to mention huge! It measures approximately 11" x 11", and weighs over six pounds. The cover is embossed with a checked pattern and includes an obi strip. The organization is great, as the index is up front for easy navigation.

There is also a vinyl record included in the back with generic "big game" music remixes on it (think Super Mario Bros., Castlevania, Street Fighter, Mega Man 2, Tetris, etc.). Not a huge deal, and the remixes are fairly lackluster. I would guess that they did remixes since putting the source music on there would cost way too much money. But with a remix they can argue artistic license or whatever.

It's definitely an "artsy" art book rather than a diagnosis of the art of video games. Worth it? Well, it looks really nice. Not any huge surprises, but aesthetically they nailed it. So if that's what you're going for, spend away.

November 1, 2015

Super Mario Bros. 30th Anniversary Encyclopedia

Super indeed.

This book follows in the footsteps of Hyrule Historia and the Kirby 20th Anniversary Book in that it celebrates the main points of Mario's game history. It covers the following:

  • 1985 - Super Mario Bros.
  • 1986 - Super Mario Bros. 2
  • 1988 - Super Mario Bros. 3
  • 1989 - Super Mario Land
  • 1990 - Super Mario World
  • 1992 - Super Mario USA
  • 1992 - Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins
  • 1996 - Super Mario 64
  • 2002 - Super Mario Sunshine
  • 2006 - New Super Mario Bros.
  • 2007 - Super Mario Galaxy
  • 2009 - New Super Mario Bros. Wii
  • 2010 - Super Mario Galaxy 2
  • 2011 - Super Mario 3D Land
  • 2012 - New Super Mario Bros. 2
  • 2012 - New Super Mario Bros. U
  • 2013 - Super Mario 3D World
  • 2015 - Super Mario Maker

It clocks in at 255 pages, and is quite a good read. Granted, it cannot go super in-depth for all of the above titles, because that would take a much larger volume than this. But it is a great book nonetheless.

There are a ton of visuals, which is a huge part of what makes this book stand out. Each game has official artwork from the manual/guide book/etc., as well as many screenshots. Personally, it's great having so much of Shigefumi Hino's high-quality artwork in one place. Super Mario World still has my favorite design out of any Mario game, and I love that the current official 2D art style has gravitated back to that era.

The book design is very well thought-out and the whole thing has a nice flow. Each game is split into four sections:
  1. Introduction
  2. Characters
  3. World
  4. And More
The "Introduction" gives a brief synopsis of the story, what's going on, why Mario is there, etc. Pretty self-explanatory. The "Characters" section presents all the good guys and bad guys, along with a short explanation of each. The "World" section shows all of the areas Mario will travel through, as well as environmental hazards and objects he may encounter. Finally, the "And More" section has some trivia facts, secrets, and even some ways to glitch each game. Neat-o.

It's pretty crazy to look at an entirety of a Mario game over a few pages. It makes you realize how much content there really is inside of each one. I tend to spend the most time in the retro games section, because that was the period in which I grew up, and it's where I have the most interest. I imagine younger readers are more likely to stick to the newer games.

Even though this book cannot cover every Mario game in detail, there is a section in the back that lists almost every game he has appeared in. It even includes cameo appearances in games like Majora's Mask.

The only ones missing are the really obscure games of which we do not speak.

There are also small sections scattered throughout of interesting facts, merchandise info, and interviews. Just makes the book that much more worth it. I will note that Tezuka seems much more open to interviews than Miyamoto as of late. Which is totally fine, they are both right up there in the creative process. It's just interesting to note.

One of my favorite parts of this book has to be the front inside of the dust cover. It is the same illustration of the Super Mario Collection official guide book printed way back in 1993! I prefer it over the dust cover. I'm sure it helps that Shogakukan has been publishing official Nintendo guide books since the Famicom era. Too cool.

I am hoping this book will be localized, and I would think that if Hyrule Historia can have it done, so can this. Nintendo seems to want to celebrate Mario's 30th Anniversary equally around the world, so there is still hope.

Returning from Super Mario Maker

So awkward.

So I have been enjoying the hell out of Super Mario Maker. Even though it has its shortcomings here and there, it is one of the most enjoyable Wii U games I have played this year. I continue to dabble pretty much every day I can find some time, and have managed to download a decent list of stages that are not crap. There are some real gems out there among the garbage. Great learning opportunities for designing my own stages.


I remember back before the game was launched, Tezuka was stating how core movement/gameplay mechanics would be "modernized." This sent up a red flag for me. I hate it when games get a re-release of sorts, but have things altered simply because it's a re-release, without any rhyme or reason. See the Silent Hill HD Collection for a prime example of this.

Yet upon playing Super Mario Maker, I found no real control issues that I had anticipated. Nintendo does care about its IPs, and seeing as how Mario is the flagship one, I would expect them to take care of it, especially with the 30th Anniversary and all.


I decided to go back to playing SMB/SMB3/SMW just to get an idea of what makes a good stage. Nothing wrong with going back to the source to make my stages better. And thanks to the Virtual Console, I can still do it all right from the Wii U. So I booted it up and jumped right in.

Holy crap, it is ridiculously disorienting. It's like somebody turned all the adjustment knobs every which way, and sensitivity has been cranked up to freaking 11. I could not get over how awkward it felt.

Games I have been playing regularly for twenty years are suddenly very foreign to my brain and hands. I am making mistakes and dying like it's my job. Stages I have played a million times are making me look like I've never picked up a controller before. It was so embarrassing. So many core gameplay adjustments have been made from the source material, I couldn't place them all if I tried. It's just so weird! I eventually got it under control, but it took way too long.

That Nintendo could so radically transform its crown jewels and not create an uproar is a feat in itself. They did it so effectively that really no one has noticed or been bothered enough to say anything. They have done exactly what they said they would do. They have "modernized" three of the most iconic platformers in the history of the industry. But they did it so well, with such good intention, planning, and follow-through, that it could not have felt more natural.


(Seriously, go back and try one of those games after exploring Super Mario Maker. Mind = Blown.)