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kottke.org posts about video games

The Wooden Toy Train Video Game

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 03, 2023

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

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 17, 2023

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?

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 17, 2023

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?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 23, 2023

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

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 12, 2023

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

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 10, 2023

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

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 05, 2023

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

posted by Jason Kottke   May 06, 2022

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

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 15, 2022

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

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 14, 2022

Townscaper Dataviz

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

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 23, 2021

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

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 29, 2021

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

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 20, 2021

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?

posted by Tim Carmody   Jul 09, 2021

Best Electronics store copy describing its catalog and rare parts for sale, written in an old, text-heavy HTML style

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

posted by Jason Kottke   May 03, 2021

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

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 04, 2021

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:

Kids Talk About Gaming During the Pandemic

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 01, 2021

Concerned that recent articles like this one about screen time panic were not adequately capturing the perspective of the kids themselves, Anne Helen Petersen asked a group of parents and caregivers to conduct interviews with kids about gaming and screen time.

So I wanted to hear them talk about their own relationship to the games they play: what they like about it, when they like to play, how games make them feel, who they like to play with, and how they respond to anxiety about their gaming/screen time.

I pulled out a few quotes from the kids but the whole thing is worth a read.

When people say that screentime is bad, I want to say, hey, I want to be more social at the moment and it’s hard to do that right now and I can only do it with technology.

I feel annoyed and angry with the “too much time playing video games argument,” because people don’t really understand. They don’t play these games. They don’t have any experience themselves, and they’re judging what we do based on what they’ve heard or read. Gaming is so new that there’s no conclusive evidence yet to prove if it’s actually harmful. It feels like they’re just trying to control us and tell us what to do.

When adults say that kids play too many video games it makes me kinda angry and confused. We’re already stuck at home and it feels like they’re trying to cut us off from our friends even more. So it’s kinda annoying.

Honestly I don’t really worry about spending too much time game at all. I already spend almost all my time on there anyway and it doesn’t seem to have any negative side effects. Key word “seem.” People need to make sure they don’t get correlation and causation mixed together.

Like many other parents, we’ve been struggling mightily with games, devices, and screen time during the pandemic (although for us this is an issue that carried over from The Before Times). As Petersen says, this is a complicated challenge and I am sympathetic to both the arguments these kids make (which mirror what I’ve heard from my kids) and parental concerns about too much time on devices (the effects of which I’ve seen in my kids).

What we’ve done, imperfectly, is prioritize the social aspect of gaming time — playing with friends, gaming clubs, playing together in the living room — over manically grinding away for hours on end in a dark room. We try to meet them on their terms — ask them what they did today in Minecraft or Among Us, show real interest about their progress, etc. I empathize and commiserate when I can — I grew up playing video games and I still get a little too into them on my phone or iPad sometimes. But we also encourage them to get outside and move their bodies, find ways to connect with friends that don’t involve killing virtual people, and try to get them to recognize some of the worst effects of too much screen time (they do, if you catch them at the right moment about it). Keeping a good connection with your kids around gaming & screens is the key bit, I think. With that in hand, in theory it’s at least possible to keep kids and parents alike safe and sane during all of this.

Softbody Tetris

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 02, 2020

I thought you could use a video of some fuzzy Tetris bricks that automagically ease/ooze into their proper places. That’s it. That’s the post. (via @Remember_Sarah)

The Game of the Year: the 3D Virtual Walkthrough of 8800 Blue Lick Road

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 28, 2020

This week’s fun internet plaything has been the 3D virtual house tour of this three-bedroom house at 8800 Blue Lick Rd. in Louisville, KY. If you take the tour, you’ll quickly see why: from the standpoint of physics, the house doesn’t seem to make any sense. You think you’re in the basement and then head up some stairs to find yourself…still in the basement? It’s all very Inception crossed with the Winchester Mystery House with a side of How Buildings Learn.

So of course people turned it into a game: find the oddly located bathtub. They even started speedrunning it.

Resident internet meme sleuth Andy Baio called the owner of the house and got the scoop on the puzzling residence.

A larger question remained: what’s the deal with this place? Whoever owned it, they were too organized to be hoarders. The home appeared to double as the office and warehouse for an internet reseller business, but who sells a house crammed floor-to-ceiling with retail goods?

Internet sleuths unearthed several news articles from 2014, outlining how police discovered thousands of stolen items being sold online during a raid at the address, the result of a four-year investigation resulting in criminal charges for four family members living and working at the house.

But it didn’t add up. If they were convicted for organized crime, why was there still so much inventory in the house, with products released as recently as last year? Why is it still packed full while they’re trying to sell it? And what’s with the bathtub!?

I had questions, so I picked up the phone.

He also explains why the bathtub is no longer viewable in the 3D walkthrough.

Behind the Scenes Footage of Mortal Kombat

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 23, 2020

Released on the heels of the success of Street Fighter II, Mortal Kombat was one of the earliest games to make extensive use of human actors as models for onscreen action. You can see this proto-motion capture in action in the video above, which features actors & martial artists performing the moves for each of the fighters in the first version of the game. Each pose or motion was recorded and then turned into actions by the onscreen avatars. In the first few seconds, you can even see the actor doing that subtle rocking motion thing that video game avatars do now. (Does this motion have a name? The ready stance?)

See also the making of several subsequent versions of the game — the capture techniques obviously get more sophisticated as the tech improves.

Reprogramming a Game By Playing It: an Unbelievable Super Mario Bros 3 Speedrun

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 17, 2020

After a fellow named Zikubi beat the speedrun record for Super Mario Bros 3 with a time of just over three minutes, speedrun analyst Bismuth made the video above to explain how he did it…by changing the game with the gameplay itself.

The first couple minutes go exactly as you’d expect, but the speedrun takes a weird turn when, instead of using the second warp whistle to go to level 8, he uses it to go to level 7. And once in level 7, Mario races around randomly, letting opportunity slip away like a blindfolded birthday boy unwittingly steering himself away from the piñata. It’s only later, during the explanation of how he got from level 7 to the final screen so quickly, that you realize Mario’s panicky idiot behavior is actually the player actively reprogramming the game to open up a wormhole to the ending. Watch the whole explanation — it’s a really fascinating little hack.

See also Bismuth’s explanation of a Super Mario Bros world record speedrun, which includes a short argument by me about why video game speedrun breakdowns are interesting to watch even if you don’t play video games.

In the video analysis of this speedrun, if you forget the video game part of it and all the negative connotations you might have about that, you get to see the collective effort of thousands of people over more than three decades who have studied a thing right down to the bare metal so that one person, standing on the shoulders of giants in a near-perfect performance, can do something no one has ever done before. Progress and understanding by groups of people happens exactly like this in manufacturing, art, science, engineering, design, social science, literature, and every other collective human endeavor…it’s what humans do. But since playing sports and video games is such a universal experience and you get to see it all happening right on the screen in front of you, it’s perhaps easier to grok SMB speedrun innovations more quickly than, say, how assembly line manufacturing has improved since 2000, recent innovations in art, how we got from the flip phone to iPhone X in only 10 years, or how CRISPR happened.

(via @craigmod)

It’s Rain in Games

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 08, 2020

From Jez Burrows, 30 minutes of rain from video games like Uncharted, Batman: Arkham Knight, Donkey Kong Country, Spider-Man, and Animal Crossing.

A supercut of video game characters taking a break from solving crime or shooting people to enjoy a meditative minute of miserable weather.

(via @kellianderson)

Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 03, 2020

As a huge fan of Mario Kart (and a relatively recent owner of a Switch), this looks absolutely amazing (if it works smoothly). In Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit, you race a physical kart (against other peoples’ physical karts if you want) through your actual house, controlling it via onscreen AR on your Nintendo Switch (the onscreen view comes from a tiny camera mounted on the kart). Here’s what Nintendo says about it:

Created in partnership with Velan Studios, Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit brings the fun of the Mario Kart series into the real world by using a Nintendo Switch or Nintendo Switch Lite system to race against opponents using a physical Kart. The physical Kart responds to boosts in-game and in the real world, stops when hit with an item and can be affected in different ways depending on the race. Players place gates to create a custom course layout in their home, where the only limit is their imagination. Race against Koopalings in Grand Prix, unlock a variety of course customizations and costumes for Mario or Luigi, and play with up to four players in local multiplayer mode.

Watch the trailer above…it does look totally cool.

Lego Nintendo Entertainment System

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 15, 2020

Lego set of the Nintendo Entertainment System

As a child of the 80s, this Lego set of the Nintendo Entertainment System activates a very ancient and primal region of my brain. As you can see in this short video, the set includes a controller, a cartridge that you can put into the machine, and a vintage TV with a hand-crank that you can use to “play” Super Mario Bros.

Pok√©mon Grandpa’s Incredible Phone Array

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 25, 2020

Chen San-yuan, a Taiwanese man who has been nicknamed Pokémon Grandpa, has affixed an array of 64 phones to his bike in order to play dozens of simultaneous games of Pokémon Go.

Pokemon Grandpa

When I first posted about Chen back in Nov 2018, his mere 15-phone setup looked like this:

Pokemon Grandpa

How much bigger can he go? He’s averaging adding ~2.5 phones per month to the array (assuming linear growth, which I’m not sure we can, but let’s start there) so he could reach 100 phones by August 2021. Stay tuned!

The Origin of 8-Bit Arcade Fonts

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 13, 2020

Aided by Toshi Omagari, who wrote Arcade Game Typography, Vox’s Estelle Caswell explores the origins and history of 8-bit arcade fonts. From the description of the book:

Video game designers of the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s faced color and resolution limitations that stimulated incredible creativity. With each letter having to exist in a small pixel grid, artists began to use clever techniques to create elegant character sets within a tiny canvas.

As the creator of a tiny pixelated typeface, I find this stuff infinitely fascinating.

Universe Sandbox

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 14, 2020

Universe Sandbox is a interactive space & gravity simulator that you can use to play God of your own universe.

You can create star systems: “Start with a star then add planets. Spruce it up with moons, rings, comets, or even a black hole.” You can collide planets and stars or simulate gravity: “N-body simulation at almost any speed using Newtonian mechanics.” You can model the Earth’s climate, make a star go supernova, or ride along on space missions or see historical events.

I found Universe Sandbox after watching this video about what would happen if the Earth got hit by a grain of sand going 99.9% the speed of light (spoiler: not much). This game/simulator/educational tool is only $30 but I fear that if I bought it, I would never ever leave the house again.

Recommended Soundtracks from Mobile Games

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 30, 2020

I am always on the lookout for good music to write, design, and code to and video game music is definitely one of my go-to genres. Chris Gonzales wrote up a pair of guides to Mobile Games with Fantastic Soundtracks (part 2). Represented soundtracks include those from Monument Valley, Alto’s Odyssey, Gorogoa, and Stardew Valley.

Andy Cheung made a Spotify playlist of all the recommendations:

One that I listen to a lot that’s not on either list is Ben Prunty’s Ftl soundtrack (on Spotify).

iPhone Case Is Also a Playable Game Boy

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 18, 2019

Game Boy iPhone case

Here’s a thing I just found out about: protective iPhone cases that are also playable Game Boy-style handheld gaming console. Here are a bunch of different ones on Amazon for different phones in a variety of colors that come preloaded with games.

Buyer beware on these though — the reviews are just ok, many of them likely don’t come with actual NES or Game Boy games, and who knows if they’ll actually protect your phone? The CaseBoy claims to come preloaded with games like Super Mario Bros, Donkey Kong, Tetris, Galaga, Contra, and the like, but it seems unlikely that Nintendo (or anyone else) licensed these games to them. The Verge panned one of the cases in this review (so did MacWorld).

I scrolled to “E” to find the Frogger knock-off, in which I maneuvered a single block through rows of moving bricks. The letter “D” let me play a Galaga clone, although I had to imagine the missiles since they didn’t show up on screen. Games I-Z are all variants on Tetris, ranging from the standard tile-matching puzzler to one that made the stack of blocks move to the right every few seconds.

As for its actual effectiveness as a case? It depends.

Fun idea though! Has anyone used one of these? I’m tempted to order one just to see how bad/good it is.

Logos of Video Game Consoles from 1976 to the Present

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 14, 2019

Video Game Console Logos

Reagan Ray has collected the logos of video game consoles from 1976 to the present. He ignores the first generation of consoles because there would have been too many to include. (Historical interlude: I didn’t know gaming consoles were broken down into generations. Apparently we’re in the 8th generation now — Wii U, PS4, Xbox One, and Switch.)

See also Ray’s collections of classic airline logos, record label logos, 80s action figure logos, American car logos, etc..