Hail Mario 3: Revenge of the Stock

Cameron Faulkner at The Verge:

Nintendo has announced its Black Friday deals, and chief among them is a $299.99 Switch console bundle that includes a free download code for Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. This deal will start on Thursday, November 28th, and will be available at several retailers. So far, we’ve seen it confirmed in Target’s Black Friday ad, but expect it to pop up at the other major players, like Best BuyWalmartAmazon, and more. 


Getting a free game with the Switch is great, especially one that’s as good as Nintendo’s popular kart racer, but there’s some fine print with this deal that you may, or may not, care about. You’ll only get the free game with the HAC-001 version of the console, the original launch model that has been superseded by a new version with vastly superior battery life (a range from 4.5 to nine hours versus the original’s 2.5- to 6.5-hour claim, depending on the game). 



This deal might read as a way for Nintendo to clear out its remaining stock of launch units without cutting the price, but thankfully, the older version is no less capable, and crucially, no less fun to play on.

I’m willing to bet Faulkner is correct here.

I’ve written about Nintendo’s use of Mario Kart 8 as a unit mover. For the Wii U, it was used as a final Hail Mary to reinvigorate Wii U sales with not only the game, but a very early review embargo and a free additional game. For the Switch, it was a the first widely recognized party game to offer local multiplayer support, allowing early Switch adopters to showcase the console’s unique modes of play ahead of the holidays, namely table-top mode — the mode that allows two local players to play anywhere, each leveraging a single Joy-Con as a controller and prop up the Switch as the screen.

Here we are on the other end of the spectrum. With the wild popularity of the Switch and a relatively new SKU that boasts better battery life, what better way to exhaust stock of the original SKU than to throw in arguably the most polished, popular, and accessible game in Nintendo’s library for free.

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Polygon’s 100 Best Games of the Decade

Polygon Staff:

We began with a long list of around 300 games that team members nominated. Then we individually voted for the 50 we most wanted to see in the list. After we tallied the votes, we gathered together to sort out the unholy mess, and to argue the merits and faults of the top 150.

After a surprisingly calm and erudite discussion, we agreed on the following list. It is, by its nature, a compromise, but it’s the best we’ve got.

A fun look back at a decade that now seems shorter than it felt — I’ll blame that on the past three years.

I played 23.5 of the 100 titles mentioned in this list. Honestly, that’s more than I thought I would have. (While Red Dead Redemptions 1 and 2 are counted as a single entry, I only ever played the first, so it counts as half.)

As I have a soft spot for Nintendo games, I’m happy with Polygon’s Mario pick over what I assumed would be the shoo-in. Likewise, I’m happy to see an overwhelming industry/fan/consumer favorite sit extremely high in the list at number 2, but not receive top honors. Societal/cultural impact takes precedence here, as I argued back in 2016.

My biggest takeaway is that the past 10 years of games have broadened the scope of what constitutes a “video game” more than any other decade. That seems an obvious observation as there’s evolution in any medium, but video games by their infinite malleability allow for innovation and creativity beyond any other. Video games can be anything (and therefore video games do not exist). Just read Polygon’s justifications for Device 6, Johann Sebastian Joust, or Journey.

If 2000–2009 cracked the door on infinite possibilities, 2010–2019 blew it wide open.

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Video Games Do Not Exist

I was invited to write an original piece for the ‘From the Aether’ newsletter — the bonus newsletter for backers of the Into the Aether Podcast Patreon.

I’ll leave a teaser here, but I encourage you to listen to the podcast. If you’re so inclined, become a patron of an insightful and welcoming low-key video games podcast.

The year is 20XX. Video games do not exist. They never have.

But tomorrow they will.

And when they come, all of today’s modern technology and tools will be available to their creators. There will have been no precedent other than their analog counterparts, which — come to think of it — consist of cardboard, cards, metal or plastic tokens, dice, tiles, paper, pencils, backpacks, guns, talking… walking… geese…

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Fire Emblem: Management Simulator

A new day dawns. Another Wednesday in the office. The hours go by; meetings and one-on-ones had. But something feels different.

I care for my employees. It’s normal for me to wear their burdens — work-related and otherwise — upon my shoulders. But today, it feels like my attention of their emotional well-being and performance has gone a level deeper. Maybe it’s because it’s review season and I’ve been carefully reflecting on their year? No. This is different than years past. I can’t shake the feeling that I’ve been a sounding board and observer of each of them a bit more as of late.

Then it dawns on me. I haven’t been spending more time in the office, but I have spent at least 20 hours of my free time playing Fire Emblem: Three Houses — a game that puts me in the role of a military academy professor intently focused on the subtleties of my students’ personalities and behaviors, strengths and weaknesses. The better I can guide them down the right paths, uncover hidden talents, or find deeper relationships, the better they will perform in battle.

Many a review and commentary focus on Three Houses’ Harry Potter-like setting and structure. Garreg Mach Monastery is a sizable castle (Hogwarts) with its students divvied up between three houses — the Golden Deer (Gryffindor?), Blue Lions (Ravenclaw?), and Black Eagles (definitely Slytherin). In addition to students, staff and several members of the Church of Seiros walk the halls helping you train, build relationships, and assist in battle. Consider these the professors of Hogwarts. You will spend a majority of your time wandering the monastery speaking with students and staff, teaching your recruits different skills, analyzing individuals over tea, fishing, forcing conversation between students over a meal, fishing, taking exams to unlock a new military class, and fishing.

This is a game focused on education and academy life. It’s not about a 9-5. That said, since I become a manager, I’ve felt there is a direct parallel between teaching and managing. Harvard Business Review will tell you the best leaders are great teachers. It’s no surprise that I began to see my own work-life take place within the walls of Garreg Mach.

Fire Emblem: Three Houses is my first foray into the Fire Emblem series. Jumping into the 50 hour TRPHPFS (tactical role-playing Harry Potter fishing simulator) took very little deliberation. Since The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, every core Nintendo franchise title released on Switch has been the fully realized version of itself. I figured this would be a good place to dive in. I wasn’t wrong. I haven’t been sucked into a game like this since Breath of the Wild. Even then, it was less about the game itself and more about the zeitgeist propelling me forward.

Three Houses taps into something true to my core: empathy. I legitimately care about the cast as I care about my real-world contacts. Will Ignace realize his full potential as an artist? Will Raphael, the jovial brute, realize he can master the battlefield? Will Marianne realize she is a wise warrior… that can talk to… horses? Will Lorenz stop fucking harassing women?! If none of them can on their own, can I help them get there by revealing chinks in the armor of their ignorance?

These are not the same issues as the employees I care for. But I care nonetheless. Will they approach ambiguity with unease or confidence? Will they understand the subtleties of negotiation within a large bureaucracy? Will they learn to lean on the specialities of someone with less “professional” experience? Will they feel comfortable leading a particular project?

I take these thoughts home with me. And when I pick up the game, they come back to life. I think carefully about which skills to stretch, not entirely sure my judgement will pay back the greatest dividend. I think beyond the workplace and wonder how home-life may be influencing my employees’ creativity. Are they committed? Are they motivated? Do they care? Is this what they really want? Do they need a break?

Fire Emblem: Three Houses asks these same questions with every explore-teach-fight loop, ultimately growing my cadets. And they do throw it back at me. If I offer and incorrect response or pair incompatible personalities together, they’ll let me know. No two students are alike. No two employees are alike. No two human are alike.

And like management, the more students I have under my purview, the less time I can spend teaching them individually. Who is more critical to grow? How balanced does my team need to be? Should I round out each individual, or focus on their strengths? And ultimately, who are my favorites?

And there in lies the beauty of Fire Emblem: Three Houses. There is a repetitive loop, yes, but there is also painstaking care put into each of the students. And the fact that you will likely only experience 1/3 of them on your first play through is quite incredible. There are two other houses, two entirely different yet connected campaigns to explore. (I’m a sucker for games where only a fraction can be played through, leaving more to discover again and again. Think Star Fox 64.)

What is more is understanding how to balance the comfort of an individual for individual-growth. The best path forward may not be the easiest or the one that suits an individual’s strengths. There is pain in growth, for the individual(s) involved as well as for the leader calling the shots.

Where things divide — where a game cannot mirror reality — is balancing the growth of an individual and the goals of the bureaucracy. A role-playing game will almost always propel you to win, regardless of the “feelings” of its characters. In reality, it’s impossible — or should be impossible — to ignore the feelings of our own kind. As a manager, it’s a more difficult and existential challenge to prioritize the company’s goals over the fulfillment of your employees. More often than not it’s your job to move the company forward — increase revenue, decrease cost; increase productivity, decrease bottlenecks.

Fire Emblem: Three Houses rewards you as a professor with growth whenever you successfully pair students in activities or win a battle. These are balanced by days on a calendar. Will you converse with students this week, or will you fight? Either way, you’re leveling up. In reality, those choices are not and will never be as clear cut. Your professional growth is measured by the value you provide the company. Creating a great culture amongst your employees ultimately pays the company back, but the time it takes to build that culture versus hard and quick calls will always be under the omnipresent eye of the corporation.

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‘But when I play video games, I begin feeling guilty and even bored’

I had the great fortune of hearing a question I’d asked to the hosts of the Into the Aether podcast via Discord repeated on the episode “There’s a Troll in this Chili’s”, timestamp 34:51. (Honest to god, the question is more serious than the title of the episode.)

Yours truly:

Howdy! I love video games. I love the idea of playing video games. At work, I get excited by the idea of sitting down for a long bout of video games. But when I do, I begin feeling guilty and even bored. Am I broken, or am I just playing the wrong games? Have either of you dealt with this?

Hosts Brendon Bigley and Stephen Hilger spent nearly 25-minutes thoughtfully addressing these questions, ranging from living in the moment, mental health, and easing up on the burden caused by zeitgeist and “completionism”. Even if this weren’t my question, I’d tell you it’s worth your time.

If you’re unfamiliar with Into the Aether, the hosts bill it as a “low-key video games podcast”, but I think they’re selling themselves short. It’s funny and intelligent; the commentary on video games is never one of snobbery; the subject matter spans beyond just games and into art, community, and culture. It has honestly become one of my favorite shows. And over the past few months, it has quickly jumped up my priority listening queue. Seeing as I only listen to podcasts while out on a jog, I find myself running a bit more often these days.

Additional note: Prior to launching Into the Aether, Brendon Bigley interviewed me about Zero Counts and about my piece “Big-N’s Big Year”. You can find the interview at the bottom of the post or on the Ported Podcast feed.

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‘It’s like friendly punk’

Bennett Foddy, Playdate game developer, in an interview with Edge Magazine (via Apple News+):

We’ve standardised around two hardware platforms: the touchscreen, and ten buttons, two analog sticks. That’s got its benefits, but you miss out on novel experiences. So yeah, there is something that is kind of punk about it, and that yellow case. It’s like friendly punk.

I recently restored my Game Boy. I don’t play it. It just sits on my desk. But I pick it up every now again because, aside from nostalgia, there’s something so pleasing about it.

As I’ve been thinking about Playdate today, it dawned on me — that something is the buttons.

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Playdate

Playdate press release:

Playdate is both very familiar, and totally new. It’s yellow, and fits perfectly in a pocket. It has a black-and-white screen with high reflectivity, a crystal-clear image, and no backlight. And of course, it has Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, USB-C, and a headphone jack. But it also has a crank. Yes, a crank: a cute, rotating analog controller that flips out from the side. It’s literally revolutionary.

There’s more: Playdate includes games — a full season of them. The games will be delivered over-the-air, once a week for 12 weeks, and they’ll be a surprise: when the new game light flashes, you’ll never know what you’re about to play. Panic recruited some of the world’s best game designers — some well known; others under the radar — to make games exclusively for our system. Playdate isn’t just hardware: it’s a complete experience.

Hot on the heels of the 30th anniversary of the Game Boy, this little handheld console is a sight to see.

Since bringing my Game Boy back to life, I’ve been yearning for the good ol’ dot-matrix days. But I’ve also had the feeling they‘d likely disappoint. Rose-colored glasses and all. Seeing the Playdate feels like a realization of that pining. Something new of something old:

Playdate’s 2.7-inch (68mm) screen is a unique, black-and-white, low-power LCD from Sharp, with a resolution of 400 × 240. On the surface, it might be tempting to compare the screen to, say, the Game Boy. But Playdate’s display is quite different: it has no grid lines, no blurring, is extremely sharp and clear, and has much higher resolution. It sounds odd to say, but: it’s truly a “premium” black-and-white screen.

And it wouldn’t be the same without Teenage Engineering. At initial glance, I knew something looked familiar. Sure enough, I noticed that Teenage Engineering had a hand in the design (and crank!) of the Playdate. I keep a PO-20 in my nightstand and am constantly enthralled by its ingenuity.

I encourage you to read the press release in full — ideally on an iPhone or iPad as there’s a very cool AR experience to check out. The damn thing is so cute!

I’m signed up to receive updates about the Playdate and I recommend you do too.

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A Video Game Developed To Detect Alzheimer’s Disease Seems To Be Working

Zack Zwiezen, Kotaku:

According to researchers, every two minutes spent playing the game is equal to five hours of lab-based research. Because Sea Hero Questhas been out for a few years and downloaded and played by over three million players they’ve collected the equivalent of 1,700 years of research data on Alzheimer’s

Researchers involved with the project studied people who carried the APOE4 gene, which is thought to increase that person’s risk of developing dementia, as they played the game. They then compared these people’s results to the results of folks who played the game who don’t have that gene.

“We found that people with a high genetic risk, the APOE4 carriers, performed worse on spatial navigation tasks. They took less efficient routes to checkpoint goals,” said Professor Michael Hornberger, a member of the team.

Two minutes. 99.33% of time shaved off. Truly incredible.

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Game Boy Restored

Today marks 30 years since the Game Boy’s initial release in Japan. After seeing loads of Game Boy tributes for the handheld, I decided to dig up my old system for a first-hand experience down memory lane.

It was in pretty shoddy condition — unable to power on, battery corrosion inside, possible paint markings on the back, and general grime throughout. I’ve been reluctant to open it up to attempt a repair, concerned about the reliability of the plastic around the screws after 30ish years.

Well, there’s no better time than Easter — a day of resurrection — to take a crack at it. At least I could say I tried to bring this gamer boy back into the world.

Throughout the teardown, I took a few photos of some of main unit and boards, posting them to Instagram. At the compliment of friend Sam Gross, I’ve decided to post them here as well.

My photo setup is nothing fancy:

  • iPhone XS
  • IKEA Malm desk (white)
  • generic table lamp
  • Philips Hue White Extension Bulb A19 E26
  • Apple Photos app auto-enhance
  • Instagram editing tools
  • Video: Apple’s Clips app + Instagram’s ‘Lark’ filter

The Game Boy, pre-spa treatment:

Both sides of the brain:

Motherboard (3)

Display circuit board

I didn’t take a picture, but there was considerable battery corrosion on the battery contacts. This was the likely culprit of the power issue. To clean, I popped out the battery contacts and submerged them in distilled white vinegar for about 10–15 minutes. They came out looking brand new.

Once all of the guts had been removed, I took a baby wipe to the exterior and buttons. For interior grime, I soaked a Q-tip in the white vinegar and swabbed it out.

After all plastic had been cleaned, it was time for reassembly and the moment of truth…

Happy 30th, Game Boy.


Retr0bright Update

A restoration is not complete without attention paid to the appearance. The more I looked at the end result of my Game Boy restoration, the more I was bothered by the yellowing of the casing.

The yellowing of ‘80s and ‘90s electronics plastics is caused by a combination bromine — afire retardant — and exposure to UV light. The plastic is known as acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, or ABS.

The method to reverse the effect of bromine is referred to as retr0bright and includes a mixture of  hydrogen peroxide, xanthan gum, glycerin, and “oxy” laundry booster. Being the lazy sap I am, I decided to opt in for a discovered alternativeSalon Care by Sally Beauty.

Wearing latex gloves, painted a generous amount of the Salon Care on to the disassembled casing of the Game Boy, wrapped it in Stretch-Tite plastic wrap, and placed the piece outside in direct sunlight.Game Boy disassembled during retr0bright process

Essential: The Salon Care coated plastic should be exposed to UV light for 4–6 hours total. However, it is critical to massage the plastic wrap + Salon Care every 45–60 minutes or so. This helps avoid air bubbles which can contribute to blotchiness in the end result. (This is where I goofed.) Likewise, you should rinse the plastic and re-apply the Salon Care every 90–120 minutes as it begins to evaporate after lengthy exposure. (Another goof of mine. I had to redo the process the next day as the Salon Care seemed to lose its effect after about 2 hours.)

After the process was complete — which is to say the color reversal was at a point that was good enough for me — I rinsed and thoroughly dried the plastic and reassembled the Game Boy and photographed a side-by-side before and after:

Game Boy retr0bright before and after

If you look closely, you will notice some of the blotchiness I mentioned above.

Overall, I’m quite satisfied with the end result. This restored Game Boy teleports me back to Christmas 1989, unwrapping my first console ever, and playing Super Mario Land for hours on end.

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Nintendo Knew How

Shahid Kamal Ahmad on the Remaster Podcast, looking back on Reggie Fils-Aimé‘s legacy:

This is a real problem with video games, right. You go into video games as a new person who hasn’t played video games. You play a modern AAA game, and first of all, you have tutorials that are extremely patronizing for the really experienced player. But still bewildering for new players. How do you get those players in? Nintendo knew how.

Nintendo knew that they had to make the controls more accessible, and Reggie knew [those controls] were coming with the Wii. He knew that would be suitable for people who were intimidated by the controller. Personally, I thought that was an absolute genius move.

I’ve had issues with controllers for a long time. Not personally, but in terms of accessibility. There’s been this steady increase in the complexity of a controller. It hasn’t become easier to use; it’s become more complicated to use. Yes, it’s got more features — now you have touchpads; now you have analog buttons; now you have analog sticks; now you have two or three or four more buttons on the thing; now you have pro controllers and elite controllers, £120 controllers. What Nintendo recognized was, “oh, we can do something that does away with all of that and introduce an entirely different type of technology that ‘hey! It’s actually not that expensive to manufacture.’” It was utter genius.

Keying in on the phrase, “I’ve had issues with controllers for a long time”: You and me both, Shahid. You and me both.

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