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The History of Super Mario: The NES Days

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History of Super Mario Bros

Brick by Brick: The House that Mario Built

The Nintendo Entertainment System was released in 1985 and retailed for $199 in the United States. The standard package included an 8-bit graphics console and two classic game controllers. Other bundles featured the NES Zapper along with the supported NES game Duck Hunt. If you were one of the luckier kids, your parents shelled out a few extra bucks for the Deluxe Set which featured all the above but also included the optional Robotic Operating Buddy, or R.O.B.. Nintendo released 17 launch titles, the first of 30 ‘black box games’, and they included 10-Yard Fight, Baseball, Clu Clu Land, the aforementioned Duck Hunt, Excitebike, Golf, Gyromite, Hogan’s Alley, Ice Climber, Kung Fu, Pinball, Soccer, Stack-Up, Tennis, Wild Gunman and Wrecking Crew. But of all these games, gimmicks and accessories, it was Super Mario Bros. that put Nintendo on the map, selling a record forty million units worldwide and becoming the best-selling game of all time for a single platform for approximately three decades, until Nintendo’s Wii Sports took that title. Super Mario Bros. would go down as one of the best and most influential video games ever made, and the pioneer of the Super Mario game dynasty. Decades later, and Super Mario Bros. holds up as well today as it did when released. Gamers are still discovering its secrets, and it continues to charm new generations of kids.

History of Super Mario

Mario remains the most recognizable character in video-gaming but before Super Mario Bros. came along, he played a supporting role in Shigeru Miyamoto’s Donkey Kong, the 1981 arcade hit drawing from a wide range of inspirations, including Popeye, Beauty and the Beast and King Kong. The young graphic artist who’d never designed a game in his life decided that story would come first and the gameplay would be designed around it. After losing the license to Popeye, Miyamoto decided his Sailor-Man would become Jumpman, a carpenter leaping barrels and scaling a construction site to rescue his girlfriend Lady, who is kidnaped by a giant ape. Lady was renamed Pauline, Jumpman became Mario and the ape was, of course, Donkey Kong. Miyamoto developed the scenario and designed the game alongside Nintendo’s chief engineer, Gunpei Yokoi, and the damsel in distress scenario would provide the template for countless video games to come. Donkey Kong was the first example of a complete narrative told in video game form, and like 1980’s Pac-Man, it employs cutscenes to advance its plot. Miyamoto changed the industry by using graphics as a means of characterization, and since its original release, Donkey Kong’s success has become firmly rooted in American popular culture. Miyamoto’s characters quickly appeared on cereal boxes, television cartoons, and dozens of other places and a lawsuit brought on by Universal City Studios, declaring that Donkey Kong violated their trademark of King Kong, only further helped keep the ape in the spotlight. Jumpman barely registered but Kong became so popular that in the game’s sequel Donkey Kong Junior, Mario was given the backseat and played the role of a whip-wielding protagonist who kept Kong’s son captive and repeatedly tortured the poor lad (just one of the many times Nintendo and Mario have angered the good people of PETA).

History-of-Super-Mario

In 1983, Mario was finally given his own video game, with one condition – he had to share the spotlight with his younger brother Luigi. The game was Mario Bros., a platformer in which the Italian American plumbers, set out to defeat creatures invading New York City from the sewers below the Big Apple. The inspiration came from Joust, an old-school co-op game where players worked together in order to progress through levels by defeating groups of enemy knights riding buzzards. It was the start of something big, and nobody, including the execs over at Nintendo, could foresee just how big it would become. But it was in 1985 when Mario got his big break. Mario became the official mascot of Nintendo and helped save the entire video game industry with Super Mario Bros. – a game that essentially pioneered the side-scroller as we know it while setting the template for countless games that followed. Mario and Luigi left New York City behind, and the Mushroom Kingdom became their new home.

It’s hard to imagine a video game industry today without Super Mario

It’s hard to imagine a video game industry today without Super Mario Bros.. Here’s the title that single-handedly revitalized the gaming industry and solidified Nintendo as the King of the video game market. While the vast majority of early video games were largely designed by the programmers coding them, Super Mario Bros. was instead made by Shigeru Miyamoto, an artist first and foremost, who graduated with a degree in industrial design. As with Donkey Kong, character, and story mattered most. Players would play as Mario, accompanying him on his journey through the Mushroom Kingdom and his quest to rescue Princess Peach from the vicious Bowser, King of the Koopas. Miyamoto made Mario his go-to character, a plump, awkward Italian American who could easily fit into any 8-bit graphics. Overalls made his arms more visible and his thick mustache appeared clearer than a thinly sketched mouth. He was given a hat so Miyamoto could sidestep designing hair and a big nose to accentuate Mario’s look. 

Super Mario Bros. featured something that many games of the time didn’t have. It was populated with a plethora of unique enemies including Goombas (a species of sentient mushroom/owl hybrids), Koopa Troopas (a fictional race of turtle-like creatures), Koopa Paratroopers (flying Koopatroopas), Buzzy Beetles (turtle-like creatures with fireball-resistant shells), Piranha plants (that attack from within pipes) and the Hammer Brothers, a pair of giant twin-brother turtles who attack Mario by tossing hammers and jumping between rows of bricks. In the other levels, you’ll find Bullet Bills (giant bullets), Lakitu (a mysterious turtle who rides clouds through the skies) and underwater creatures like the unpredictable flying Cheep-cheep fish and annoying Bloobers (squids). Of course, the most formidable opponent of all was Bowser– a creature inspired by the turtle-demon kappas of Japanese folklore and awaits in the final castle of the game in Level 8-4.

One of the most amazing aspects of Super Mario Bros. is the game’s extraordinary level design in which Mario or Luigi must walk, run, or jump through various roadblocks throughout the levels comprised of bricks, underground pipes, menacing oceans, and foreboding castles. Miyamoto’s motto was that a game should be easy to learn but difficult to master – one of the defining aspects of Super Mario that made it popular amongst dedicated gamers and casual players alike. Each castle grows increasingly difficult, and there are hidden warp zones that transport Mario or Luigi to higher levels – but if a player takes the incorrect routes, he will be transported back to the beginning of the level. Meanwhile, the clock ticking down at the corner of the screen becomes your biggest enemy. Chases and races are key ingredients for spicing up games and a race against time is perhaps the most exciting, suspenseful kind. Nothing creates on-screen tension like an impending deadline or clock that counts down to the final seconds. In Super Mario Bros. time will eventually run out, resulting in inevitable death.

Super Mario Bros.
is celebrated for its intricate levels, colorful characters, and intuitive controls, but Koji Kondo’s sinister soundtrack rarely invites a discussion. Sure, just about anyone who’s played the game can whistle or hum the catchy theme song, but I’m referring to the complex score that elevates the game to a whole new level. Unlike any game before it, Super Mario Bros. wasn’t scored by a computer programmer – instead, Nintendo hired a talented composer. Kondo wrote the six-song musical score using only small pianos and yet still managed to create rich musical tapestries despite the limited resources. Koji Kondo’s Super Mario Bros. score not only redefined video game music, but it still resonates thirty years later. It’s easy to take Kondo’s work for granted but had Nintendo not hired a professional composer, the Super Mario Bros. soundtrack might have comprised of nothing more than odd soundbites and background noise.

History of Super Mario

Super Mario Bros. quickly became synonymous with the Nintendo Entertainment System and helped the NES become the top-selling console of its time. The video game crash of 1983 was officially over, and the famous brick-busting duo became household names. Super Mario Bros. is one of the most iconic video games ever conceived due to the sprawling level design, clever enemy placement, hidden secrets, optional sub-routes, superb physics, legendary soundtrack, and gorgeous sprite-work. All that was needed next, was a sequel.

Super Mario Bros. 2 can stand on its own merits

Nintendo wanted a sequel to Super Mario Bros. and they wanted it fast, both for the Japanese market and for the North American market. The Japanese version eventually became known as The Lost Levels, but Nintendo decided this version‘s difficulty exceeded North American skill level and asked Miyamoto to develop an entirely new game for the players in the West. Only Miyamoto was busy focusing his attention on finishing The Legend of Zelda for the Famicom and so they needed a quick and easy solution. They found one in Yume Kojo: Doki Doki Panic (Dream Factory: Heart-Pounding Panic) – a game that followed a family of four on a quest to rescue kidnaped children in a strange fantasy land. What started out as a prototype for a vertically scrolling, two-player, cooperative action game, was re-branded. Super Mario Bros. 2 sold ten million copies and was the third highest-selling game ever released on the Nintendo Entertainment System, and Nintendo Power listed Super Mario Bros. 2 as the eighth best game on the NES. Yet, despite these sales and the critical acclaim, many gamers now look back at Super Mario Bros. 2 as a terrible attempt at a Mario game. There are no pipes to warp through, no bricks to smash, no Bowser, and no more stomping on enemies. The story is different, the graphics are different, and the game even controls differently, but I believe that Super Mario Bros. 2 still holds merit.

History-of-Super-Mario

This time around, players were given the option to play as four characters: Mario, his brother Luigi, the mushroom retainer Toad and the pink-clad princess, Peach. Each character has their own unique abilities and the pickup and throw mechanic was fresh for the time. Mario possesses his usual strength, speed and jumping skill while Luigi can leap further, carrying him past long vertical distances. Miyamoto also made him noticeably taller than Mario, and Luigi no longer looked like a clone of his older sibling. He now had his own distinct personality and character traits. Meanwhile, Super Mario Bros. 2 made Peach and Toad stars as well. Toad’s best asset is his reflexes, allowing him to pick up enemies and throw vegetables faster than the other characters. And Peach can hover in the air, making her easier to control when bouncing from platform to platform. Another novelty of Super Mario Bros. 2 is, its enemies. Even though it wasn’t originally meant to be a Mario game, many characters making their debut (such as Shy Guys and Bob-ombs) became staples of later games in the series. And the use of bombs to clear roadblocks – magical keys to open locked doors – and potions to open portals to bonus worlds – all made for a refreshing change to the usual Mario formula. Regardless of not being originally intended as a Mario game, Super Mario Bros. 2 is able to stand on its own merits and remains a true classic.

History of Super Mario

It didn’t take long before Miyamoto finished his work on the Legend of Zelda and returned to serve as the director overseeing Super Mario Bros. 3, a proper sequel in which everyone’s favorite Italian plumber embarks on a quest to save Princess Toadstool and the rulers of seven different kingdoms from the antagonist Bowser and his children, the Koopalings. Super Mario Bros. 3 had a ludicrous marketing campaign which included that famous commercial in which the camera zooms out from space to reveal the population of North America huddled together in color-coordinated outfits to create a mien of Mario, all while chanting his name. But the commercial was just a big tease. It didn’t reveal any game-play and Americans wouldn’t get their first look at the newest Mario title until the climactic final battle in the Hollywood film, The Wizard, about a trio of kids who make their way to a national Nintendo video game championship for a grand prize of $50,000. Its inclusion in The Wizard served as a sneak preview and generated a high level of anticipation in the United States prior to its release. Many called the movie a 90-minute commercial for the game – but if that was the case, it was the most expensive piece of advertisement ever made. And it worked.

Super Mario Bros. 3 is a timeless masterpiece, full of innovation, surprises and will forever stand the test of time.

By 1993, the game had sold 4 and 7 million units in Japan and the United States respectively and in the United States alone, the game generated over $500 million in revenue for Nintendo. In 2008, Guinness World Records listed it as the best-selling video game to be sold separately from a system and reported worldwide sales of over 18 million copies, including the ports. Super Mario Bros. 3 remains the highest-grossing non-bundled home video game to date, having grossed $1.7 billion, adjusted for inflation. But money aside, Nintendo promised and delivered the best 2D platformer of all time.

Super Mario Bros. 3 was critically acclaimed and with reason; there is not a fault to be found anywhere in the game. For its time, the game was beyond anything you could ever dream. Super Mario Bros. 3 is a masterpiece – a perfect video game with eight worlds and 70-plus ingenious levels of side-scrolling awesomeness. One world is packed with giant renditions of every character, others feature underwater adventures and some take you through spooky castles and dungeons. As you move ahead, you’ll discover that each level contains optional paths that lead to shortcuts and extra lives hidden away. The best thing about the game is the power-ups and various suits you can use inside the levels. These include the super leaf which turns Mario into Raccoon Mario, letting him fly, glide, and tail whip – and the fan-favorite, the Tanooki suit, which gives Mario the same abilities as the super leaf, but also lets him briefly turn into a statue protecting him from danger. Meanwhile, the frog suit allows you to swim very quickly under water and jump higher while on land, and the hammer suit turns Mario into Hammer Mario, letting him throw powerful hammers and block fireballs by crouching. In Super Mario Bros. 3 Mario could now slide down hills knocking down enemies who get in his way and the powerups from the original game also make an appearance. Also new to the series was mini-games and an overhead map screen to track progress and collectible warp whistles (much like the one Link used in Zelda II) that teleport you to later worlds in the game. In addition, is the music box which puts enemies on the map to sleep and the anchor used to stop the Koopaling’s airship from flying off around the map so that you don’t have to chase it. Jugern’s Cloud allows you to skip a level and Kuribo’s shoe, easily one of the most beloved power-ups in Mario history can be found in only one level! The familiar Mario sound effects are present and accounted for, along with a batch of new musical compositions concocted by Koji Kondo and dozens of new enemies like Boom Booms, Boos and Chain Chomps make their very first appearance in the Nintendo universe.

History-of-Super-Mario

Super Mario Bros 3 is often considered to be the best video game of the 8-bit generation. In my opinion, it is, and it is also the best game in the Super Mario series. It’s a timeless masterpiece, full of innovation, surprises and will forever stand the test of time. It also became the NES swan song. Super Mario Bros. 4 would emerge under a new name and on the Super Nintendo System instead – but that’s something I’ve saved for a second article.

The History of Super Mario: The NES Days
The History of Super Mario: The SNES Days
The History of Super Mario: The N64 Days
The History of Super Mario: The GameCube Days

Some people take my heart, others take my shoes, and some take me home. I write, I blog, I podcast, I edit, and I design websites. Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Goomba Stomp and the NXpress Nintendo Podcast. Former Editor-In-Chief of Sound On Sight, and host of several podcasts including the Game of Thrones and Walking Dead podcasts, as well as the Sound On Sight and Sordid Cinema shows. There is nothing I like more than basketball, travelling, and animals. You can find me online writing about anime, TV, movies, games and so much more.

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Game Reviews

‘Disco Elysium’: A Thought-Provoking Mystery

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Disco Elysium Review

For the most part, the majority of games are easy to classify, but from time to time a game is released that defies conventional rules and resists simple categorization. Disco Elysium is just such a game. On the surface of it, it’s a topdown, isometric RPG of the oldest of old schools. It draws upon long-established systems, structures, and mechanics that make it comfortably familiar. However, beneath that patina of tradition lies something completely unexpected and utterly unique.

Developed by the small, independent studio ZA/UM, with a story penned by Estonian novelist, Robert Kurvitz, and a painstakingly detailed world crafted by artist Aleksander Rostov, Disco Elysium stands apart from most RPGs in that it is startlingly realistic whilst simultaneously being grimly fantastical. Set on an isolated archipelago in the wake of a failed communist revolution, the game casts players as a detective sent to solve the murder of a man found hanging in the backyard of a rundown boarding house/cafe. It’s a simple setup made all the more complex by the fact that the player character is suffering from a severe bout of alcohol and drug-induced amnesia. The mystery that needs to be solved concerns piecing together exactly who the player character is, as much as it involves reconstructing the chain of events that resulted in a brutal death.

Arriving at conclusions to both conundrums requires navigating complex webs of social and political intrigue. Along the way, players will encounter union bosses, disgruntled workers, war veterans, and all manner of extraordinary and mundane citizens just trying to go about their daily lives in a place that seems designed to thwart their ambitions at every turn. More than that though, players will be required to engage in continuous internal dialogues that involve the protagonist gradually putting themselves back together. The result is character customization in a quite literal sense of the word. Rather than the standard array of physical options that most games of this type present players with, the options are entirely psychological. Player actions and choices determine the overall structure of the internal workings of their character. Whether they decide to be a high-minded idealist trying to better themselves and the world around them in whatever way they can or opt to descend into anarchic, hedonistic self-obliteration such choices determine exactly who and what their version of the character is.

The foundation of stats and skills that are usually inert background components that all RPGs are based on is firmly in place. However, rather than being a numerical bedrock upon which all gameplay is based, Disco Elysium takes those sets of modifiers and statistics and makes them an active part of character progression and world development. As you progress through the game, skills points can be used for a variety of purposes. They can be used to upgrade core character stats, of which there a total of twenty-four covering a whole range of mental, physical, and social attributes, that govern player’s ability to immediately interact with the game world. However, they can also be used to learn or forget particular thoughts These thoughts develop depending on how players decide to approach situations and solve problems and can unlock semi-permanent bonuses and even penalties.

Disco Elysium Review

Much as in reality, the things the character is capable of are largely dependent on their frame of mind. If players opt to make a character that is brash and uncouth then they will find it difficult to subtly manipulate interactions to their benefit or arrive at unobtrusive solutions to various situations. On the other hand, if they elect to play a character that is more thoughtful and introspective, or cunning rather than crass, then they will find it difficult to emerge unscathed from more physical challenges. It’s an interpretation of character development and player progress that feels much more organic than in any other game of this sort. This is probably where Disco Elysium does the most to stand out from other such titles. Such a flexible approach to progress is hopefully something that other companies will emulate going forward, as it allows the character to develop a true personality that goes a step beyond the mathematically-oriented, incremental statistical increases that are usually the norm.

Disco Elysium Review

The ways in which player action, character interaction, and game reaction combine together is probably the closest it is possible to get to a truly curated dungeon master-guided play experience in an RPG. There is such a wide and unpredictable variety of moment-to-moment options that players can never be certain what exactly is going to happen next. This sense of improvisational unpredictability is a quintessential element of any RPG, but it is often lost in translation from tabletop rules to computer game mechanics. This pitfall is avoided thanks to the fact that the world of Disco Elysium was conceptualized as a tabletop game but doesn’t actually exist as one yet. As such the developers were able to implement systems without the expectation of adhering to pre-existing mechanics. This expectation has often been the downfall of many such games in the past, such as the much-maligned Sword Coast Legends which was lambasted for its apparent butchery of the 5th edition Dungeons and Dragons ruleset. It will be interesting to see if Larian Studios can avoid similar problems with Baldur’s Gate 3.

Disco Elysium Review

As intriguing and unconventional as Disco Elysium is, and no matter how deserving it is of the accolades it won at 2019’s Game Awards, it’s hard to recommend it as something to play if you’re looking for fun. It’s relentlessly grim even when it’s trying to be funny, and its stream of consciousness style makes even the most basic of interactions a minefield of potential disturbing possibilities. With its biting combination of continental existentialist ennui, pseudo-Lovecraftian undercurrents, and socio-political critique it isn’t a game that you play for the sheer joy of it, but rather for the esoteric and unusual experience that it offers. That being said, in a market that’s full to bursting point with crowd-pleasing blockbusters and oftentimes strictly by-the-book sequels or carbon copy titles, it can be incredibly rewarding to delve into a game as intricate and nuanced as Disco Elysium.

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Interview with John Staats, First-Level Designer for ‘World of Warcraft’

We recently had the opportunity to sit down with John Staats, first-level designer for the launch version of World of Warcraft.

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The first iteration of World of Warcraft, often called “Vanilla WoW,” has a strong pull of nostalgia for many fans. From inspiring countless other MMOs, to imbuing an entire generation of players with memories that they will never forget, to inspiring Blizzard to re-release it earlier this year, Vanilla’s footprint is undeniable.

Recently, I had the chance to talk to John Staats, a first-level designer on World of Warcraft‘s initial launch, to discuss his recent book, The Wow Diary: A Journal of Computer Game Development, which chronicles his own personal experience with developing WoW‘s initial release.

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In a lot of ways, The WoW Diary reminds me of Blood, Sweat, and Pixels by Kotaku’s Jason Schreier. Both books address the challenges of game development, including the incredible amount of hours that game developers work and the dreaded “crunch” when a project has to be delivered on time. Your section on how your colleagues described their work on StarCraft was particularly interesting. What do you think is the public’s biggest misconception about how developers work?

The biggest misconception is how expensive developers are! Most publishers and studio heads are always portrayed as the bad guys, but the truth is there’s so much risk in game development, it’s just insane. If a company is upfront about long hours, then I see no problem with longer hours to some point. Unfortunately, the law isn’t so flexible. After WoW shipped, we dropped to capped 40-hour weeks (mandatory) and it sucked. Everything was so schedule-conscious that we stopped experimenting.

Studios are all different. Some people asked if unions were the answer, and they might help in some cases, but they would make other situations worse. There would certainly be fewer games out there without crunches. I dunno. I’m from Akron, Ohio. I’m just happy to have worked in the entertainment industry!

As a developer, even at somewhere like Blizzard, fan feedback seems like it’s able to affect team morale. In the book, you mention a few cases of this. What was it like to work under the pressure of fan expectations?

World of Warcraft feedback wasn’t nearly as bad as Warcraft III, because the company was too quick to promote their first 3D title. Making a 3D game has such a sharp, painful learning curve that engine re-writes caused long delays. The fans were unfamiliar with the long waits associated in making 3D games, so they were especially angry.

The class designers definitely had it bad on World of Warcraft. People never post when they’re happy, the forums are usually very negative. And there’s strange “voodoo” where people report glitches or errors that aren’t really there. There’s a LOT of voodoo reports that designers need to verify, and that eats up their schedule.

Kevin Jordan once joked that he was going to claim to be a character artist at the launch party signing table, just to avoid being drawn into discussions about rogues versus shaman duels. For the most part, WoW was so much better looking, better playing, better running than the competition, we had it easy. Still, we put pressure on ourselves: for the most part, the fans were pretty cool.

World of Warcraft

You state in the book that you got your start in modding computer games on the PC. Did you have any prior experience with other game systems, or was your only experience with the PC?

PC only. I was actually a Macintosh user exclusively because I was in advertising in NYC. I bought my first PC in the mid-1990s. As a Mac person, there weren’t many games available (thank you, Steve Jobs), so I only played a few titles on my roommate’s machines. They always had to kick me off whenever they came home.  When I got my own, I relentlessly played FPS and strategy games.

One of the more interesting comments that you make in the book, and one that I was curious about while reading, was the following: “Writing stories is so easy it seems nearly half the people in the industry want to do it[…] it’s unreasonable to expect players to follow a storyline, detailed or subtle.” Do you think games are ever capable of delivering complex and subtle stories, or is it beyond the medium’s scope?

I honestly doubt stories will become more subtle for most genres. Most games pull the player’s attention to non-story elements like socialization, user interface, goals, and combat tactics. Looking for things is rarely fun. It’s just too hard to expect the average player to follow nuanced stories… and you never want to risk players becoming confused with your plot.

You use the phrase “computer games” throughout the book instead of the more commonly used “games.” Was there a semantic reason for this?

Ranchers and farmers are in the agricultural industry, they have a completely different set of concerns.

There’s a huge difference in developing computer games versus console games. It’s so much easier to make games for a console. They’re far more predictable, and optimized for specific types of games. Developers are influenced by all kinds of games; pen-and-paper RPGs, tabletop board games, card games, handheld devices… and all of them are very different to produce. I didn’t want to lump everything into the “games industry.”

You mention early on that you’ve suffered “a neurological problem in [your] hands that hinders [you] from using a computer for significant lengths of time.” Given the increasingly interconnected nature of modern society and how much time you spent on computers during your career in the games industry, how hard was it to adjust?

I played FPS games before I became a level designer. I played up to 14-16 hours a day when I had the time. That’s without stopping, BTW. I would eat leftovers between matches. I was nuts.

John Staats World of Warcraft

Blizzard and Nintendo have always seemed like analogous companies to the outside public. Both spend large amounts of time and money crafting games that have long-standing appeal and excellent quality. Both don’t worry about winning the public relations war and, instead, depend on the endemic quality of their games to do the talking for them. Did anyone ever make that comparison inside of Blizzard?

It was a very conscious effort to avoid distractions. There’s so much temptation for some people to jump into every conversation, there was a company-wide mandate to keep your mouth shut. We had Bill Roper for our spokesperson, and if the public thought he personally made all our games, that was fine with the developers (he wasn’t even a dev!). This lets every member of the company, as a whole, take credit for the collective products. Other industry developers will weigh in on every conversation, and journalists will seek out the same developers for opinions. On top of the risk of crossing wires with the company’s official opinion, so much exposure could create jealousy.

At one point in the book, you mention that an acquaintance of yours, Scott Hartin, had worked making console games in Japan and hated it. Was this a common complaint among those who had worked in Japan?

He’s the only person I know who’s worked there, and it was something he said in passing. I thought it such an interested idea, that different cultures tend to work in different ways. Who knows? Perhaps it might have just been the studio he was in, that made them work that way.  

Ragnaros and the Molten Core raid have emerged as a large part of the lore surrounding the vanilla release of World of Warcraft. It’s also something that you mention receiving compliments from fans about. What part of Molten Core are you the most proud of?

I’m proud that we ninja’d it into the shipping game without the producers having it on our to-do list! It was a passion project Jeff Kaplan rallied people around. I’m glad he did. We were working on so many bugs after we shipped, there’s no telling how long it would have taken to update the live servers with a content update like MC.

As a historian, having an oral history of one of gaming’s largest and most influential games is an incredible resource. In the beginning of the book, you say that you struggled with compiling your development diary because, to a large degree, you were afraid of underrepresenting some of your hardest co-workers. In the end, why do you think more oral histories, such as your book, aren’t published?

I can absolutely tell you it’s because the author needs to take notes. I can’t do a sequel to The WoW Diary because I stopped taking notes after we shipped. There’s just no way, I’d get everything wrong, or release a bland, broad-strokes version of how things went down. That’s where my book stands out, the details make the story vivid.

 

World of Warcraft

Blizzard released WoW Classic back in August. What are your thoughts on it?

I’m surprised they did. No one has ever done something like this before. Redoing someone else’s work doesn’t sound like a fun project for developers, who are in nature, creative people. It just isn’t fun to walk in someone else’s footsteps. I’m also keenly interested to see how it plays out. Do they relaunch expansions? Does it affect the retail version? I honestly don’t know, but my popcorn is ready!

Blizzard has been criticized recently for their communication with players. How different does it feel when you are on the corporate side of that relationship?

No one is criticized when your games stink. LOL! Seriously though, complaints never stop, so it’s never a big deal. Whether it’s about lawsuits or controversy, Blizzard usually takes the high road, and disengages from distractions; it lets them focus on what they want to be known for… making good games. I’m glad to see they’re still doing this.

Final question. As something of a hardware nerd, I’ve got to ask, how did developers handle the rapidly progressing technology of the late 90s and early 2000s, when Moore’s Law was in full effect? 

Blizzard games sell well because they target low-end systems. Most studios weren’t, and aren’t, smart enough to realize this. Most studios want to be the first kid on the block to have a shiny new feature. While the industry chased after expensive features that narrowed their audience to customers who had top-end computers, the savvy companies focused on the low-end machines. To answer your question, Blizzard avoided the Moore’s Law trap.

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A big thank you to John Laats for agreeing to be interviewed and providing us with a review copy of his book. If you’re interesting in learning more about John Laats, his work, you can find him at his website.

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Indie Games Spotlight – Looking Ahead to 2020

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Indie Game Spotlight

The year is coming to an end. The holidays are just around the corner. We’ve already published our list of the best indie games of 2019 and now it is time to start looking forward to 2020. In what is sure to be our last Indie Games Spotlight of 2019, we take a look at some of the indies set for release next year. This issue includes a student project that led to the creation of an indie studio; a story-rich and fully narrated puzzle game; and a comedic occult adventure game that takes place during World War II. All this and more!

Lightmatter

Imagine, “if Limbo and Portal had a weird baby.”

Aspyr and Tunnel Vision Games announced that their long-awaited, award-winning puzzle game, Lightmatter, arrives on Steam on January 15, 2020.

Lightmatter is an atmospheric, first-person puzzle game set inside a mysterious experimental facility where the shadows will kill you. The game tells a sci-fi story about a maniac inventor who has created the ultimate power source called Lightmatter. Players must explore the facility in an attempt to discover the hidden plot while facing challenging puzzles that require mastering different light sources to survive.

Not only does the game look great but what’s even more impressive is that Lightmatter originally started out as a university project where a group of Medialogy students wanted to explore lights and shadows as the primary gameplay mechanic in a puzzle game. After creating a 15-minute prototype, the team offered it as a free download on Reddit. To their surprise, the game became an overnight success with thousands of downloads and multiple accolades from game conferences around the world. It didn’t take long before they created Tunnel Vision Games with the mission to take the light/shadow concept further and turn it into a fully-fledged game. The rest, as they say, is history.


Nine Witches: Family Disruption

Nine Witches: Family Disruption

Investigate the Occult

Nine Witches: Family Disruption is the comedic occult adventure game you’ve been waiting for. From Blowfish Studios and Indiesruption, the game takes place in a rustic Norwegian village on the fringe of World War II, where a supernatural scholar investigates the Nazi’s plan to conjure a dark ancient power and strike a devastating blow to the Allied powers. Players must investigate their plots by communing with a variety of eccentric characters from the realms of both the living and the dead. It’s your job to unravel a mystical mystery and put a stop to the Okkulte-SS’s evil schemes before it’s too late.

Nine Witches: Family Disruption was born from my desire to blend world history with magic and my personal sense of humor,” said Diego Cánepa, designer, Indiesruption. “I’m grateful Blowfish Studios are using their powers to help me bring the game to consoles and PC so this story can be enjoyed by players across the world.” If you like indie games with beautiful, retro-inspired pixel art and a comical story dripping with gleefully absurd, dark humor, you’ll want to check this out. Nine Witches: Family Disruption summons supernatural hi-jinks to Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Steam for Windows PC in Q2 2020.


Filament

Explore a mysterious ship.

Ahead of next year’s anticipated release of Filament, Kasedo Games & Beard Envy have revealed an exclusive look into the making of the upcoming puzzle game with the first in a series of short dev featurettes. Developed by three friends in the front room of their shared house, Filament is a story-rich and fully narrated puzzle game centered around solving sets of cable-based puzzles whilst exploring a seemingly abandoned spaceship. According to the press release, Filament lets you freely explore the mysterious ship, solving over 300 challenging and varied puzzles in (almost) any order you like.

If you’d like to learn more, we recommend checking out the short episode series which explains the complexity and variety of puzzles and offers an insight into how the game was made. Filament will release for PC and consoles next year.


West of the Dead

The Wild West has never been this dark.

Announced at X019 in London, West of Dead is a fast-paced twin-stick shooter developed by UK-based studio Upstream Arcade. The game stars Ron Perlman (Hellboy, Sons of Anarchy) as the voice of the main protagonist William Mason, a dead man awakened with only the memory of a figure in black. His existence sets into motion a chain of events that have truly mythic consequences.

Thrown into the unknown procedurally generated hunting grounds of Purgatory, your skills will be put to the test as you shoot and dodge your way through the grime and grit of the underworld. No one said dying would be easy and West of the Dead will surely test your skills. The battle for your soul will take place on Xbox One, Xbox Game Pass, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, and PC in 2020.


The Red Lantern

Survive the Alaskan wilderness in this dog sledding, story-driven, rogue-lite game

We first took notice of The Red Lantern during a Nintendo Direct earlier this year and ever since we’ve been impatiently awaiting its release. The Red Lantern is a resource management game where you and your team of five sled dogs must survive the wilderness and find your way home. Set in Nome, Alaska, you play as The Musher, voiced by Ashly Burch (Horizon: Zero Dawn, Life is Strange), as she sets out to train for the grueling Iditarod race.

The game combines rogue-lite elements into this story-driven adventure game, where hundreds of different events can occur—like fending off bears, resisting frostbite, attending your dogs, or receiving a signature moose-licking. This might be the first and last dog-sledding survival game we will ever play but that’s fine by us because judging by the screenshots and trailer, the game looks terrific. The Red Lantern is Timberline Studio’s debut game and is funded by Kowloon Nights. The game will be releasing on Xbox One and Nintendo Switch in 2020.

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