kottke.org posts about video games

Another Tetris World Record Completely Demolished! What Is Going On?!

Tetris was created by Alexey Pajitnov 40 years ago. The NES version has been out since 1989. You’d think that people would have “solved” the game long ago. But humans, properly motivated, are relentlessly inventive, and the past few months have seen a flurry of record-setting activity that is remarkable for a 35-year-old game.

It’s only been a little more than a month since a 13-year-old player named Blue Scuti reached the kill screen for the first time in history, a feat only performed previously by an AI. Now it’s been done twice more and the world record for points changed hands three times in three days.

And then just three weeks later, in mid-January, a player named PixelAndy absolutely destroyed the highest score world record. Here’s the engaging story about how he did it, including a surprising family rivalry and a clever strategic innovation:

I’ve written before about how great these video game analysis videos are at communicating how innovation works:

This is a great illustration of innovation in action. There’s a clearly new invention, based on prior effort (standing on the shoulders of giants), that allows for greater capabilities and, though it’s still too early to tell in this case, seems likely to shift power to people who utilize it. And it all takes place inside a small and contained world where we can easily observe the effects.

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Doom Runs on E. Coli Bacteria Now

Yeah, you heard me: the 1993 video game Doom, which has been ported to every platform imaginable (an Apple Pippin, a jailbroken John Deere tractor, a Peloton), can now run on a display made of phosphorescent E. coli bacteria.

Ramlan’s paper doesn’t go to the enormous trouble of actually encoding all of Doom to run in bacterial DNA, which the author describes as “a behemoth feat that I cannot even imagine approaching.” Instead, the game runs on a standard computer, with isolated E. coli cells in a standard 32x48 microwell grid serving as a crude low-res display.

After shrinking each game frame down to a 32x48 black-and-white bitmap, Ramlan describes a system whereby a display controller uses a well-known chemical repressor-operator pair to induce each individual cell in the grid to either express a fluorescent protein or not. The resulting grid of glowing bacteria (which is only simulated in Ramlan’s project) can technically be considered a display of Doom gameplay, though the lack of even grayscale shading makes the resulting image pretty indecipherable, to be honest.

Technicalities aside, that’s still pretty cool.

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13-Year-Old Becomes First to Beat NES Tetris

13-year-old Blue Scuti is now the best Tetris player in the world after becoming the first human player to beat the NES version of the game by playing until reaching the kill screen. The feat took him 38 minutes (as well as who knows how many thousands of hours of practice) and also resulted in a new high score, new level & lines records, and something called a “19 Score world record”. Skip to the 38:00 mark to watch his last few lines and what happens when he wins.

See also: an AI beating Tetris just over 2 years ago and an explanation of the “rolling” technique that Blue Scuti used to beat the game. (via waxy)

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World of Goo 2!

{Hyperventilating slightly} They’re making a World of Goo 2 15 years after the original one was released?! Holy smokes! I loved World of Goo back in the day and I can’t wait to play this sequel. (via waxy)

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Searching for Humanity in Fortnite’s Battle Royale

Nearly everything about Fortnite’s popular Battle Royale mode is geared towards creating conflict between its players. In this episode of Pop Culture Detective, Jonathan McIntosh explores whether you can be a pacifist in a virtual world filled with war and, beyond that, whether you can make friends with your fiercest enemy. As a Fortnite player who has qualms about even the cartoony violence in the game, I loved this video. It reminded me of Robin Sloan’s piece in the Atlantic from 2018: I Played Fortnite and Figured Out the Universe.

When they’re successful, these negotiations are honestly more nervy and exciting than the game’s most intense shoot-outs. I’m not the only one who thinks so. In forums dedicated to Fortnite Battle Royale, some players share clips of chance alliances, and others reply glumly: “Super rare to find someone [who] won’t shoot you when you emote.” I dream of a Political Fortnite in which victory goes not to the twitchiest sniper but the most charismatic organizer, with factions forming and dissolving… I imagine the fear and thrill of seeing not one but a dozen tiny silhouettes on the far ridge-a war band sweeping fast down the hillside. I’m outnumbered; can I convince them to let me join them?

(thx, andy)

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New Super-Human Super Mario Bros Speedrun Record Set

I love reading about speedrunning, specifically Super Mario Bros speedrunning, so this piece in Ars Technica about a new world record by Niftski is right up my alley. Here’s the run if you want to watch it:

Four particular things caught my eye about this run:

  1. Niftski’s new record is 4m 54.631s, which is now faster than what was believed to be the theoretical limit for a human-played game.
  2. It’s also extremely close to the fastest SMB game ever played done using tool-assisted speedrunning (where you basically play in super slow motion, so you can make all the very precise movements easily, a la The Flash). “In the battle of man versus machine, Niftski is now just 0.35 seconds away from standing up, John Henry-style, against the standard of machine-made automation.”
  3. I always marvel at the level of dedication and ingenuity of the players working together (though competition) to lower the possible times through the tiniest of adjustments.
  4. His heart rate tops out at 188bpm by the end of the game. I know he’s sitting at a desk, but that’s got to be of some cardiovascular advantage, right?

👏👏👏


Play Laya’s Horizon, a 3D Open-World Game With Alto’s Odyssey Vibes

The makers of Alto’s Adventure and Alto’s Odyssey, two of my all-time favorite video games, are back with a game called Laya’s Horizon, which brings the familiar Alto vibe to a 3D open-world situation. In the game, you fly & glide around, navigating different terrain to achieve various goals and objectives. I’ve been playing it for the last few days and it’s a really fun, chill game. Basically, if you loved either Alto game, you’ll enjoy this.

Laya’s Horizon is available on iOS and Android and is free to play if you have a Netflix account. Did you know Netflix had a gaming service? (thx, patrick)


Why Pac-Man Became a Big Hit

I’ve gotta say that I was a little skeptical when Phil Edwards started out this video saying that he wasn’t going to talk about Pac-Man’s gameplay as a vital component of why it was such a huge success when in came out in 1980. He allows that, of course, the gameplay was very compelling but other factors truly pushed the game beyond the competition and into its own category, including the decline of pinball (profit per square foot), its family friendliness, and some legal & financial maneuverings.

Oh, and here’s the playable keychain-sized Pac-Man that you can see in the video. Didn’t even know that was a thing!


Your Favorite Addictive Flash Games, Back From the Dead

Long-time readers will recall that I used to link to Flash games pretty regularly. They were typically easy to play and hard to put down — I collected them under the addictive Flash games tag. The collective time and energy spent by kottke.org readers playing these games over the years is, well, I don’t even want to take a guess. So, it is with regret for the rest of your workday that I pass along this site that contains playable versions of tens of thousands of Flash games, including many of the ones I’ve collected. Here are several that you might remember:

Good luck with all that…I only escaped after an hour of poking around. 😬 (via waxy)


The Greatest Classic Tetris Game of All Time

In the finals of the Classic Tetris Mega Masters Championship held at the end of last month, two of the top Tetris players in the world played what is probably the greatest 1-vs-1 Classic Tetris game of all time. And then they did it again…

Even if you only have a passing interest in Tetris or video games, this is worth a watch and just as exciting as watching a hard-fought soccer or tennis match.

Fun fact: one of the finalists, Alex T, managed to score zero points in a match at a previous tournament. (via @peterme)


SineRider: A Game About Love & Graphing

Remember Line Rider? It’s a simple video game / physics toy where you draw slopes and curves for a person on a sled to navigate, pulled along by gravity. SineRider, a project started by Chris Walker and finished by a group of teen hackers at Hack Club, is a version of Line Rider where you use math equations to draw curves to maneuver the sledder through a series of points, sometimes in a certain order. Here’s a trailer with some gameplay examples:

Let me tell you, I haven’t had this much fun mucking around with an online game/toy since I don’t know when. My math is super rusty, but SineRider eases you into the action with some simple slopes (no cosines or tangents necessary) and before you know it, it’s 20 minutes later and you’re googling equations for parabolas.

Right now, there are two ways to play. You can start on the front page and go through a progression of puzzles that get more challenging as more concepts are introduced (such as the curve changing over time). Or you can do the challenges, which are posted daily to Twitter or Reddit. My son and I spent 10-15 minutes solving these two challenges and we were laughing and cheering when we finally got them. (The educational opportunity here is obvious…)

SineRider is currently in beta so some of the UI stuff is a little rough around the edges, but I was really charmed by the music, the animations…everything really. The project is open source — the code is available on GitHub and the Hack Club folks are looking for contributors and collaborators:

There’s a reason it’s open-source and written in 100% vanilla JavaScript. We need volunteer artists, writers, programmers, and puzzle designers. And, if you’re a smart teenager who wants to change education for the better, you should come join Hack Club!


The Accidental Tetris World Champion

Last month I posted a link to a story about a woman who discovered she was one of the world’s top Candy Crush players.

Since progress was tied to game score rather than PvP results, Rhoden kept getting pop-ups for milestones such as passing the quarterfinals, and then entering the semifinals as she was just casually taking part in her regular Candy Crush routine.

She was overwhelmed, so she texted the other esports athlete in the family: Her son. Xane was the best Meta Knight player in the midwest during the height of his Super Smash Bros. career. She asked him what a $250,000 prize pool was. After he explained that first place got half of the total pool, he asked why. “I’m in the semifinals accidentally,” she wrote.

In that vein, a reader sent me a link to this 2007 Boston Globe piece about a woman who discovers that she’s actually the world’s best Tetris player.

“It’s funny,” I told Flewin. “We have an old Nintendo Game Boy floating around the house, and Tetris is the only game we own. My wife will sometimes dig it out to play on airplanes and long car rides. She’s weirdly good at it. She can get 500 or 600 lines, no problem.”

What Flewin said next I will never forget.

“Oh, my!”

After I hung up the phone, I went to the bedroom and woke my wife, Lori.

“Honey,” I said. “You’re not going to believe this, but I just got off the phone with a guy who’s in charge of video game world records, and he said the world record for Game Boy Tetris is 327 lines, and he wants us to go to New Hampshire this spring so you can try to break the world record live in front of the judges at the world’s largest classic video game tournament.

Spoiler alert: she broke the record. Baker is still 5th on the all-time scoring list but her score was bested just three months later by Harry Hong, the original record holder, who achieved a score six times higher than Baker’s. (thx, euse42)


The Fictional Brands Archive

the Bluth Company's stair car from Arrested Development

a box from a Looney Tunes cartoon containing ACME trick balls

screenshot from Succession showing an ATN News anchor reading the news

a rundown Buy N Large staore from Wall-E

The Fictional Brands Archive is a collection of fictional brands found in movies, TV shows, and video games — think Acme in Looney Tunes, Pixar's Monsters, Inc., and Nakatomi Corporation from Die Hard. Very cool. But gotta say though, the dimming mouseover effect makes this more difficult to use than it needs to be... (via sidebar)


The Joy of Fortnite

This was me a couple of years ago when I first started playing Fortnite, as satirized by Adam Driver and the SNL gang:

I found this sketch via a piece that Tom Vanderbilt wrote about playing Fortnite with his daughter (and her friends).

It’s not as though Sylvie and I discussed the problem of free will as we dodged RPG rounds. For the most part, our interactions weren’t nearly so high-minded. We stole each other’s kills and squabbled over loot. She badgered me for V-Bucks so she could buy her character new baubles in the Item Shop. But sometimes, after playing, we’d go for a walk and analyze how we were able to notch a dub — Fortnite-speak for a win — or how we might have done better. We’d assess the quality of newly introduced weapons. (The best were OP, for “overpowering,” but often the makers of Fortnite would later “nerf” them for being too OP.) She’d chide me for trying to improve by battling more, rather than by practicing in Creative mode — which suddenly made her open to hearing about the late Swedish psychologist K. Anders Ericsson’s theories of “deliberate practice.” (Like many kids, she had a built-in filter against my teachable moments.) We actually were, per Adam Driver’s character, bonding.

And in our Fortnite games I saw her cultivate prowess. I’m not talking merely about the widely discussed perceptual and cognitive benefits of video games, which include an improved ability to track objects in space and tune out cognitive “distractors.” I’m talking about that suite of abilities sometimes referred to as “21st-century skills”: imaginatively solving open-ended problems, working collaboratively in teams, synthesizing complex information streams. “Unfortunately, in most formal education settings, we’re not emphasizing those very much,” argues Eric Klopfer, who directs the Education Arcade at MIT. “Just playing Fortnite doesn’t necessarily give you those skills — but playing Fortnite in the right way, with the right people, is certainly a good step in that direction.”

This is the plain and perhaps embarrassing truth: During my sabbatical, I didn’t pursue any activity (with the possible exception of mountain biking) as diligently as I did playing Fortnite. My kids have been playing it for awhile, both together and separately, and it was fun to watch them working together to complete quests and sometimes even win. I tried playing with them a few times the previous year, but the last shooter game I played was Quake III in the late 90s and so I was comically bad, running around firing my weapon into the sky or the ground and generally just embarrassing my kids, who left my reboot card where it landed after I’d died more often than not.

Early last year, even before I left on my sabbatical, I decided I wanted to learn how to play properly, so that I could do something with my kids on their turf. I played mostly by myself at first — and poorly. Slowly I figured out the rules of the game and how to move and shoot. I played online with my friend David, who was forgiving of my deficiencies, and we caught up while he explained how the game worked and we explored the island together. I finally got a kill and a win, in the same match — I’d found a good hiding place in a bush and then emerged when it was down to me and some other hapless fool (who was probably 8 years old or a bot) and I somehow got them. A friend who had arrived for dinner mid-game was very surprised when I started yelling my head off and running around the house.

Over the summer after I started the sabbatical, I played most days for at least 30 minutes. I got better and was having more fun. I won some matches and bought the Battle Pass so I could get some different skins and emotes. Even though I got a late start in the season, I grinded on quests to get the Darth Vader skin, which is amusing to wear while you’re trying out different emotes. (You haven’t lived until you’ve watched Vader do the death drop or dance to My Money Don’t Jiggle Jiggle, It Folds.1) When the kids got back from camp, I was good enough to at least not slow them down too much and get a couple of kills in the meantime. I learned the lingo and how to work as a team, with my kids leading the way.1 I’m still not great, but it’s become one of our favorite things to do together and I’m enjoying it while it lasts.

  1. I am surprised but delighted that a huge media conglomerate like Disney allows their character/intellectual property (e.g. Vader) to perform the signature move of another character (Trinity’s slow-motion spin kick from The Matrix) owned by a competing media conglomerate (Warner Bros. Discovery), and vice versa.

  1. I know some parents have a hard time with this, but after having been surpassed by my kids several years ago in skiing prowess and now basically being a lowly private in their Fortnite squad, I am a firm believer that every parent should experience, as early as they can, the sensation of your kids doing something much better, like an order of magnitude better, than you can and then letting them lead the way with it. It will change your relationship with them for the better, remind you that you are not “in charge” (and never really were), and reveal that kids are often much more capable than we give them credit for.


The Wooden Toy Train Video Game

I randomly came across this YouTube video from an engineer (civil, not railroad) who was building virtual railroads using wooden toy tracks, you know from when you were a kid. Anyway, it turns out that he was playing an open-world game called Tracks, which is available on Steam, Nintendo Switch, and Xbox. Looks fun — if I ever get any free time again, I might give this one a shot.


8-Bit Martial Arts Choreography

Watch as Polish dance troupe Fair Play Crew brings the twitchy movements from old school martial arts video games into the real world with a funny and perfectly choreographed routine (it starts at the 3:50 mark in the video above. It seems like they’re riffing on a few different games here — Karate on the Atari 2600, Black Belt, Karate Champ, Karateka, International Karate, and even a little Mortal Kombat — instead of just a single game.


They’re Making a Tetris Movie. And It’s a Thriller?

Well, I was not expecting the next video game to be turned into an edgy drama (an 80s Cold War techno-thriller, no less) to be Tetris, but here we are.

Taron Egerton stars in a new Apple Original Film inspired by the true story of how one man risked his life to outsmart the KGB and turn Tetris into a worldwide sensation.

If you’d have told me that this trailer was a Saturday Night Live sketch from 6 years ago, I would have believed you — and as it is, the release date of March 31 gives me pause.1 But I’ll give it a shot.

  1. I don’t actually think this is an April Fools joke — Apple doesn’t usually go in for such nonsense.


How Do You Design the Next Wordle?

David Shariatmadari, an editor at The Guardian, was asked by a colleague to “have a go” at inventing a new game, a new viral sensation like Wordle. The game he came up with is called Wordiply (it’s fun!) and he wrote up the whole process of how he went about designing it. The idea behind the game is a simple one and the way in which Shariatmadari arrives at it is a familiar trope in discovery stories:

That’s where my older brother, Daniel, comes in. While I’m racking my brains about how to come up with a better version of Boggle, he’s with his partner Nic in a hospital waiting for their baby to be born. On the morning she is due for an induction, they arrive bright and early at 8am. I call at about 11am to see how things are going. “What about if you had a word,” Daniel says, “of three letters — and the point of the game is to find the longest word that still has those three letters.”

“You mean like an anagram, but you make it longer?” I ask, confused.

“No, you’ve got to keep them in order. So if you had ‘bid’, then maybe, er, ‘forbidden’ would be the longest word.”

“Or ‘ambidextrous’.”

“Right.”

This is typical. I’ve been thinking about this for weeks. Daniel is supposed to be having a baby today and instead he’s come up with something that just might be the next Wordle.

“I think that’s pretty good,” I tell him.

“Yeah, OK — gotta go.”

“What about the bab — “

It’s worth reading the whole thing — stories of invention and discovery are always interesting and the familiarity that most people have with word puzzles makes this one easy to follow and even to place yourself in the creator’s shoes. A key part of the design process is to look for the spark:

Next, I pitch the longest word game: “So if you have a word like ‘pit’, you could have ‘spit’, ‘spittoon’, ‘hospitable’.” “Amphitheatre!” Will exclaims, triumphantly. There’s a beat before we realise it doesn’t work. But I can hear an excitement in his voice — pride at having swung even if he missed. Maybe there is something to this. We do a paper prototype, and decide to play it against the clock — 15 seconds. I call out the word “cub” and everyone scribbles furiously. Time’s up before we know it, and all I managed is “scuba”. Someone gets “incubation”. Will has “cubism”. “You know what?” he says. “It’s a good game!” Entrancement? Unlocked. Well, possibly.

I found this via Clive Thompson, who riffs on Shariatmadari’s piece here.

Alas, there is no magic formula to finding the right mix of rules. You just have to tweak and tweak, and test and test.

Often the hardest part of finessing a design can be some incredibly weird thing you’d never predict.

For Shariatmadari, the hardest part was creating the list of allowable words. Since the goal of his game was - given a target word like “pop” (for example) - to find the longest possible word that contains the target, there are a ton of super-long medical and chemical words one could use, like “pseudopseudohypoparathyroidism”. But allowing words like that could break the feeling of fairness, giving an advantage to people who rote-memorize really long medical words. (As an aside, this is why I find competitive Scrabble rather dreary: Success hinges upon memorizing endless marginal two-letter words that normal people rarely ever use in daily speech; this does not feel, to me, like a particularly interesting skill.)

I have a weird relationship with word puzzles. I don’t like crossword puzzles but have been doing them recently with a friend over FaceTime, which has been enjoyable. Boggle is my jam and has been since childhood, but I dislike Scrabble with an intensity that is almost absurd. I’ve never played Wordle (I know!) but I do Spelling Bee every day. I’m not sure why I love some of these games and dislike others — all word games require pattern matching to some extent, which is something I enjoy and am good at, but for some reason Scrabble and Wordle don’t interest me at all while I cannot get enough Spelling Bee.


The Original Legend of Zelda as a VR First-Person Shooter

This is such a trip to see the familiar original version of Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda being played as a VR first-person shooter. You only get one screen at a time with the top-down 2D view, but in this version, you get as much of the map as you can see - it looks like it stretches off into the distance for miles.

I just went to Wikipedia to look at the release date for Zelda and it came out February 21, 1986. I remember getting Zelda for my birthday that year, which means I somehow waited seven whole months to play that game and, boy was it worth it. I have a Switch now and still fire up the original Zelda sometimes, just to make sure the ol’ reflexes still work. (via digg)


Running with Speed

I love me a good speedrunning video, so I’m interested in seeing Running with Speed, a new feature-length documentary about people who strive to finish video games as fast as they can. You can find the movie on Amazon, Apple TV, and other such places. (thx, rex)


A Beautiful Typographic Mini Golf Game

As a former mini-golf champion, I am completely charmed by Alphaputt, an mini golf iOS game where the courses are shaped like letters of the alphabet.

mini golf courses shaped like a variety of letters

mini golf course shaped like the letter J

mini golf courses shaped like the letter K

mini golf courses shaped like a variety of letters

You can play through the alphabet or play a customized course by typing out a word (come on, that’s pretty cool). (via colossal)


Cars vs Giant Bulge and Other Outlandish Vehicular Simulations

It is Friday and this is the perfect Friday sort of post. BeamNG is a video game of sorts that’s “a dynamic soft-body physics vehicle simulator capable of doing just about anything”. In the simulator, you can quickly devise all sorts of situations with a variety of cars and then press play to see what happens, with (mostly) realistic physics and collisions. For instance, here’s Cars vs Big Bulge:

Chained Cars vs Bollards:

Cars vs 100 Fallen Trees:

Trains vs Giant Pit:

And many many more. My god if this simulator had been around when I was 12 years old, I might not have done anything else. Hell, if I downloaded and installed this right now, I might not ever get anything done ever again. (via @tvaziri)


A Taxonomy of Video Game Difficulty

When someone tells you that a particular video game (like Elden Ring) is hard, it can be tough to figure out what they might mean by that because games are hard in different ways. As Tolstoy might have said had he been a gamer: “All easy games are alike; each difficult game is difficult in its own way.”

Two recent articles have attempted to categorize the different ways in which players are challenged while playing games. Back in September 2021, Rhys Frampton outlined three main types of difficulty: comprehensive, executive, and strategic. Comprehensive difficulty relates to understanding the rules of the game while executive difficulty is about physicality (e.g. fast reflexes, coordination). Strategic difficulty relates to how to use your understanding of the rules and your reflexes to best master the game, your opponent, or yourself.

Once you understand a task’s goals, as well as the physical abilities required to perform the task’s actions, your final hurdle will be optimizing those actions to most effectively achieve those goals. This is strategic difficulty, the third and final category, and it is often the trickiest both to overcome and define. To demonstrate this, examine the difference between an intermediate Go player and a master. Both of them fully understand the game’s rules, while also being capable of reliably moving their pieces to any desired spot on the board — thus, they both have an equal mastery of Go’s comprehensive and executive difficulty. However, the Go master will always win against the intermediate player, because they have a superior understanding of Go’s strategic difficulty (i.e., the various tactics and divergent outcomes that will best lead them to victory). Go is a particularly important case subject for those interested in strategic difficulty, because despite being very simple to pick up and play, its strategic depths have still not been fully mastered even after thousands of years. Within the framework of “what,” “how,” and “why,” strategic difficulty represents “why,” and Go is one of the only examples of an activity whose difficulty is almost solely strategic.

I found Frampton’s piece via Clive Thompson, who riffs briefly on it here.

Earlier this month, Ars Technica’s Kyle Orland listed “five noncomprehensive subcategories” of gaming difficulty. Mechanical difficulty is about reflexes, punishing difficulty relates to how much of penalty you pay for mistakes (e.g. does the game make you start from the beginning when you die), arcane difficulty is about how much the game helps you learn to play, grindable difficulty is about the game giving you an option to power up via spending a lot of time performing tedious actions, and difficulty walls is about the presence of “impassable walls that fully impeded a player’s progress”. About grindable difficulty, Orland says:

Even the hardest mountain can be ground down by a gentle stream if given enough time. Similarly, some games that seem tough at first can eventually be completed if you’re willing to put in the time to grind out improvements to your character’s power level.

In a game like Super Meat Boy, there’s no item you can find to make a difficult series of jumps any easier. In Elden Ring, on the other hand, the game can become significantly easier as you put in more time collecting the runes and items needed to power up your character level, weapons, and spells.

It’s unclear whether Orland read Frampton’s piece or not (there’s no reference to it in the article), but there’s both overlap and not between the two systems. I am sure there is prior art here, both related to video games and in describing the various types of athletic or intellectual challenges — let me know if you know of anything I should read about. But anyway, it’s interesting to think about this stuff in the context of games I like to play and ones that I really really do not…and also in hobbies I like to do and don’t.


Graphs Built With Townscaper Buildings

”Townscaper

This is neat: Clive Thompson built a little app that converts tabular data into a bar chart using houses from the video game Townscaper. Says Thompson:

A few days ago I was placing houses in a long row, with varying heights. And when I looked at the jagged result I thought:

Hey, that looks like a bar chart!

That made me wonder, hmmm, could I use Townscaper as a dataviz tool? Could I write code that takes data and turns it into a row of buildings?

See also Dan Malec’s algorithmic Townscaper towns.


Watch an AI Break Tetris

With nearly instant reaction times, superhuman button tapping frequency, and an inability to fatigue, an AI called StackRabbit can play Tetris better than any human player. But how much better? Well, it can play all the way to the end of the game, which…did you know Tetris ended? I didn’t. But before that happens, it plays flawlessly through hundreds of levels while the game itself is throwing up weirdo color schemes and scores from random places in its memory — the game’s creators didn’t imagine anyone or anything would get anywhere close to these levels. Also, I got surprisingly anxious watching this — it was just so fast with so much constant peril! (via waxy)


Combining 5000+ Super Mario Bros Speedrun Attempts Into One Video

YouTube user FlibidyDibidy took 193 hours of footage of his Super Mario Bros speedrun attempts (that’s 5162 separate attempts) and merged them all into one five-minute video.

This was not easy to do. For instance; when you have 41 million frames — even if something takes only one second — you’re looking at well over a year of computer time alone. Most frames were processed in much less than a second, but some had to be done by hand to train the system and oh man I could go on forever on how it was made.

Here’s a making-of video where you get to see the custom software he built to make the merged speedruns. The best comment on YouTube:

There’s a real “Hundreds of Sea Turtle hatchlings trying to survive their walk to the ocean” vibe to this video

I love these sorts of videos…I did a whole post on “time merge media” back in 2008. (via waxy)


Nuclear Powered Game Boy

Using a small quantity of tritium (a radioactive isotope of hydrogen) and a pair of solar panels, Ian Charnas built a nuclear powered portable game system (a knock-off Game Boy) that is capable of playing Tetris. The tritium puts out an incredibly small amount of energy, so the system uses tiny but incredibly efficient batteries that were able to power the game for an hour after charging for two months.

If you’re interested, Charnas is raffling the nuclear game system to benefit Chernobyl Children International. (via @pomeranian99)


Just How Badly Do You Want That Replacement Atari Console Part?

”Best

Vice has a sometimes less-than-flattering profile of Best Electronics’ Bradley Koda, a persnickety entrepreneur who has an unrivaled catalog of old-school Atari console parts and a reputation for shutting out buyers who get impatient with doing things his way:

Among Atari fans, Best is almost as famous for ignoring and blacklisting badly behaved customers as it is for selling Atari parts. A first attempt to buy from Best Electronics is a sink-or-swim proposition: learn the rules, or accept your fate…

Koda is a monopolist, of a sort, but he’s no Jeff Bezos. Best Electronics has no virtual shopping cart, or any other Amazon-esque conveniences. The store’s website looks the same as it has since the early 2000s: it’s a lengthy, multicoloured text scroll, as if Jack Kerouac quit the novel-writing business (but not the benzedrine) and started typing about Atari…

Anyone who can’t figure out this system risks being deemed a time-waster. In emails to customers, Koda often laments his busy schedule, and he seems to take distractions personally. He would rather lose a sale than suffer someone who hasn’t learned the rules.

Best has been in business more than 25 years. Its equipment is mostly unused Atari originals, not salvaged parts. The company’s catalog was printed more than 20 years ago (and is available only in print); corrections (including changes in price) are only available online. His customers both love him and fear him.

In short, it’s a throwback to old-school nerd retail, the kind lampooned by The Simpsons’ Comic Book Guy. What, did you think finding first-rate replacement parts for your forty-year old video game machine would be like buying AA batteries?


A Revolutionary NES Tetris Technique Gaining Steam

The NES version of Tetris has been out in the world for more than 30 years now. Somehow, using the same controllers and human hands that have been in use all this time, a new technique has been invented that’s resulting in scores and maneuvers that no one using The Old Ways could have dreamed of. One YouTube commenter sums it up:

The fact that we are still out here revolutionizing the mere concept of pressing a button on a controller that is almost 40 years old. I love this community.

This is a great illustration of innovation in action. There’s a clearly new invention, based on prior effort (standing on the shoulders of giants), that allows for greater capabilities and, though it’s still too early to tell in this case, seems likely to shift power to people who utilize it. And it all takes place inside a small and contained world where we can easily observe the effects.

See also Jacob Sweet’s piece from the New Yorker a couple of months ago, The Revolution in Classic Tetris, which contains this unbelievable tidbit:

Dana Wilcox, one of the highest-scoring players on the Twin Galaxies leaderboard, discovered that she’d played for twenty years without knowing that the blocks could be spun in either direction.

(via robin sloan)


Delightful Acapella Versions of Familiar Jingles

This is a fun discovery, via Laura Olin’s newsletter: a Korean acapella group called Maytree that does impressions of famous cultural jingles and sound effects. In this video, they perform a number of movie intro tunes (20th Century Fox, Paramount, etc.):

Watch until the end…the Netflix one is *kisses fingers*. Here they do the music from Super Mario Bros, including the overworld, underworld, and underwater themes:

Tetris (which gets unexpectedly dramatic):

And finally, a bunch of sounds and jingles from Microsoft Windows:


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