TIME Video Games

Here’s How Far Mario Travels in Super Mario Bros.

Mario
James Coldrey / Getty Images

I’m not great at math (stay in school, kids!), perhaps because I never liked it much. But this is a good use of math.

Nick Greene over at Mental Floss fielded one of the most pressing and important reader questions we’ll ever grapple with in our lifetimes: How far does Mario travel in Super Mario Bros.?

Greene calculated Mario’s steps based on a stance-width of 26 inches – a little more than shoulder-width apart — and assumed that Mario would be the small, pre-mushroom Mario.

The final tally:

  • 3.4 miles, assuming no visits to bonus areas or warp zones
  • 1218.5 feet swimming (about 7.5 laps in an Olympic-sized pool)
  • 3.7 miles, assuming visits to bonus areas
  • Another 344 feet swimming, assuming visits to underwater bonus areas

Kind of puts your entire childhood into perspective, no? I would have guessed dozens and dozens of miles, but we’re actually dealing with a moderately-paced, hour-long treadmill workout.

Granted, the treadmill workout is one without jumping, consuming shape-shifting mushrooms, spitting fireballs and trying to avoid being killed by various animals. I bet Mario burns more calories than we think. He’s still a bit on the pudgy side, but don’t forget that he subsists almost entirely on pizza.

How Far Does Mario Have to Run (and Swim) in Super Mario Bros.? [Mental Floss]

MORE: The History of Video Game Consoles – Full

TIME Video Games

Celebrate Windows XP’s Demise by ‘Escaping’ from It (Just Watch Out for Clippy)

Microsoft

The end is nigh, but you needn't go gently into that good night.

How many operating system’s deserve sendoffs with parades of flaming trashcans and sentient, grasping file bins and menacing, building-sized, laser-blasting paperclips?

Just one: Windows XP was where I first played stuff like Civilization III, The Elder Scrolls: Morrowind, Europa Universalis II, Freedom Force, Dungeon Siege, Warcraft III, Neverwinter Nights and Age of Mythology. From a gaming standpoint, it was a godsend: the gaming versatility of Windows 98 somehow coupled to the resilience of Windows 2000 (I oversimplify, but that’s how we thought of it then). Windows XP basically put paid to all the PC gaming promises Windows 95 made half a decade earlier.

I remember XP’s debut better than any other operating system, I suspect because it arrived just a few weeks after September 11, 2001 (everything that happened around the end of 2001 is unusually vivid). I remember alternating between running it on a built-from-parts desktop PC and a woefully underpowered IBM ThinkPad laptop (that originally shipped with Windows 2000). I remember switching on ClearType and realizing just how awful aliased text looks. I remember playing games and — for the first time with a computer operating system — that sense that PC gaming was this rickety scaffolding prone to manifest inscrutable bugs or collapse outright finally faded (well, mostly).

And now Microsoft’s asking that we bid XP adieu. The last time I used it (and Windows) as a workspace was in the mid-2000s, on a hulking 12-pound Dell gaming laptop, before I threw in with Apple and separated church and state. XP remained my mainstay for PC gaming until its replacement, Windows 7 (we’ll not speak of Vista) in 2009, by which time I’d already said my farewells and dropped the little OEM booklet and install disc into storage, where it remains to this day. I haven’t seen XP up and running for years.

Until this morning, when my editor shared a link he saw on Reddit to what looked like a virtualization site. I clicked it and sure enough, there it was, booting up with the low-res Windows icon perched over a moving bar, the trademark F-Ab-Eb theme playing against “Bliss” (the default background of a cloud-shadowed green field in Sonoma County, California), and then of course, the sudden inexplicable appearance of a blue screen of death.

But then things got weird, and kind of cool. It turns out Microsoft (and developer Bradley and Montgomery) has a sense of humor after all. If you want to see what I’m talking about, click this link and give it a minute or so to take. Enjoy the most excellent chiptunes (that’s 10 n’s before the bandcamp.com link to the folks who wrote the music). And remember: W-A-S-D, the spacebar and the arrow keys are your friend (and you can hit “1” and “2” to switch between the machine gun and battery blast).

Escape from XP [Microsoft via Reddit]

TIME Opinion

Critiques of Free-to-Play Games Aren’t All Snobbery

Free-to-play has upsides and downsides, and we shouldn't allow a healthy, ongoing dialogue to be reduced to advocates versus snobs.

Let’s get one thing straight: snobbery is just another way of saying “I prefer this.” We’re all snobs about something by definition. The very act of preferring one thing to another implies a belief, conscious or otherwise, that the thing you prefer is superior to the thing you don’t, however much you might try to wriggle out of those implications to avoid being stereotyped as a snob. Snobbery is just another part of being human.

If you want to extend that definition of snobbery to include unwarranted disdain or condescension toward others who don’t hold with you on whatever position, fine, but I’m talking about the baseline definition of the word, plucked from the New Oxford American Dictionary. And I’m standing on that baseline definition only to make a point about former EA and Lionhead exec Ben Cousins’ claim in an op-ed carried by Polygon that “snobbery” drives critiques of free-to-play games.

I have no fundamental beef with free-to-play games. I’ve spent my fair share on them (I’m looking at you, Temple Run 2), and I’ve played plenty where the mechanic doesn’t feel intrusive or gimmicky, where the game experience benefits from having certain salable levers you can optionally pull in lieu of not having them. I’d argue freemium games with aptly balanced and carefully integrated micro-transactions have their place, that place being where the parabolic curve and sense of iterative in-game accomplishment dovetails with in-game insuperability — and you’re able to surf that curve either way — for whatever intended demographic.

But I’m also as skeptical as anyone else of the effect and influence of commercial requirements on aesthetic choices in artistic mediums like literature, film, visual art, music and, more recently, gaming. I’m talking about the ways in which commercial demands shape or dictate the form a video game takes, and the follow-on assumption often made by the moneymakers that opened wallets equal thumbs up to design choices, and that popularity alone is all the justification art needs.

We’re making enormous culturally-driven assumptions when we argue any of that stuff has to be monetized to be sustainable or even worth doing in the first place, of course. Not everyone makes the same assumptions, and I’d like to think there’s room for a dialogue about this that doesn’t involve disdain or condescension toward artists who’d dare make art for art’s sake.

At the same time, I understand the allure of bandwagons and the tendency for commercial interests to swarm those bandwagons like sharks scenting blood. Free-to-play has been good to game-makers and players alike. On the casual side of the industry, it offers higher rates of return at lower entry thresholds, certainly when compared to the sort of Hollywood-caliber stakes involved in developing triple-A (or as Amazon’s VP of games put it the other day, quadruple-A) games like the Call of Dutys or Grand Theft Autos of the world. You can make a decent living off a successful free-to-play game without assembling battalions of developers and racking up tens of millions of dollars in art asset creation expenditures, and that more people are able to make games and sustain careers…all the poorly made stuff aside, I’m trying to see how lowering the idea-to-execution-to-sustainability threshold is a bad thing.

And looking at it from the player’s vantage, swinging back to Cousins’ piece, he makes some important and valid points about free-to-play’s overlooked perks: free-to-play games may on occasion take the form of bait-and-switch, but they can also be “played extensively before you even make a purchase.” There’s an “implementation efficacy” test here — plenty of free-to-play games get this wrong — but I’ve found this to be true as often as not. Furthermore, Cousins is correct that traditional games, with their radically higher investment stakes, are often far worse about bait-and-switch in terms of promising things they don’t deliver, because then that’s marketing and rate-of-return 101, ergo caveat emptor.

I can also see where “whales” — players who spend unusual sums on game additives — might well be simply cautious, methodical enthusiasts, as opposed to easily duped irrationalists. Spending more money on things you like than someone else isn’t inherently irrational behavior. Assuming the buyer’s not harming anyone, who are we to judge?

But I’m less persuaded by Cousins’ argument, assuming it’s statistically correct (and it may not be), that there isn’t a predatory risk in free-to-play models when it involves consumers who might not possess the faculties (and economic experience, and psychological independence, and financial obligations) necessary to make responsible purchasing decisions — namely children.

The hypothetical issue of children getting snookered into spending money on freemium content may not be widespread, as Cousins argues, and even if it were, I’m not sure I’d be in favor of introducing regulation (free-to-play games are hardly cigarettes, and much, if not most, of ensuring children aren’t racking up free-to-play tabs comes down to parental involvement). But we need to be able to have a conversation about how the most vulnerable among us might be more susceptible to making uninformed or impulsive purchases in free-to-play applications without slippery-sloping into bipolar “for or against free-to-play” bulwarking.

We should, for instance, at minimum be watchful of what developers and publishers are up to when building games expressly for children, as well as lobbying for evolving strictures on our computing devices to help us better self-regulate how we or our children interface with free-to-play content. Someone trying to sell you something has the most incentive to simply sell you that something, and the least incentive to consider anything else. Where that involves kids and spending money, we ought to at least tread lightly.

Last up, I want to take a swing at what I view as Cousins’ weakest argument in the piece: In closing, he compares free-to-play to “the telephone, the jukebox, rock ‘n’ roll and many other examples,” adding “we fear what we don’t recognize, and in this case it’s the industry not recognizing where it’s heading.” It’s as snobbish a claim as any I’ve seen: as if free-to-play were this inexorable, vanguard force, and anyone who disagrees hates The Beatles, technology and general progress.

Maybe that’s true of free-to-play and maybe it’s not, but it’s just as true that industries head in all sorts of directions, not all of them healthy, and momentum alone isn’t a rationale. You can recognize where something’s going or trending and have concerns for reasons that have nothing to do with cultural shortsightedness or stubbornness. Not every industrial force or outcome is for the best — slavery was once considered an economic godsend, to reference one of the most nefarious — and not every skeptic’s just a blinkered, elitist, fearmongering fool.

TIME Video Games

Interview: Amazon Says Fire TV Isn’t a $500 Games Console, and It Wasn’t Meant to Be

Amazon

Amazon's vice president of gaming Mike Frazzini answers questions about Fire TV's game prowess, hybrid computational gaming, the optional gamepad and more.

Amazon’s Fire TV was expected in the sense that we’ve all been speculating about the company cutting out middle-player competitors like Apple and Roku for years. In nearly all of those scenarios, there’s also been the presumption that an Amazon set-top would play games. But the grapevine had Amazon’s gaming plans pegged as OnLive-like: a streaming game service that moved everything into the cloud, albeit — given intrinsic latency issues when you’re doing connection-dependent game streaming — at the expense of visual fidelity and hair-trigger responsiveness.

The grapevine turned out to be wrong: Amazon’s Fire TV packs the innards of a Kindle Fire tablet into a multifaceted microconsole capable, if not of squaring off against Sony’s PlayStation 4 or Microsoft’s Xbox One at this point, at least of holding its own against high-end smartphones and tablets.

I spoke with Amazon Games vice president Mike Frazzini about Fire TV as a game device. Here’s what he told me about the company’s game design identity and future plans.

Fire TV was a bit of a surprise from a gaming standpoint. You announced something with respectable local horsepower, you announced an optional gamepad that’s right there in the mainstream, design-wise, and you’re launching Fire TV with a first party Amazon-developed game, Sev Zero. Is this Amazon firing a shot across anyone’s bow?

It’s less about firing shots and more about Fire TV being a great experience for customers. When we look at what Fire TV offers, the expansiveness and just the totality of entertainment that you get for $99, I think it’s unique. There’s no other device that allows you to have the range of entertainment, from TV to movies to photos to music. There’s also Kindle FreeTime that allows parents to determine what content and how much of it their kids watch, and for how long. And then we offer a wide variety of games that are affordably priced.

Who do you see as Fire TV’s competition in gaming-dom? Where do you want gamers to see this box on the spectrum of smartphones, tablets, microconsoles, consoles, computers and so forth?

It’s a hard question to answer because that’s not really how we think about building things. The first thing we do with any endeavor is, we write a press release — before writing any code or doing any product work — and that press release expresses to our hypothetical customer what it is we’re going to build and deliver. We did it for the games piece, the music piece, the TV and video piece. The idea is, we want to be able to identify for ourselves the most important things that we can deliver to customers.

When it comes to other products on the market, we obviously want to be mindful that if we think something’s great and it already exists, what’s the point? But in this case, there’s no other device that offers this range of entertainment for just $99. It just doesn’t exist in another product today.

Another way to look at it is smartphones and tablets. The smartphone was at one point not as good of a gaming device compared to dedicated handheld game consoles. Over time, as developers built better and better content, it became a fantastic place to play games. But it’s also so much more than that. I think it would be a mistake to call a tablet a portable gaming device as much as it’s a tablet.

Gaming happens to be the number one or two activity on phones and TVs, and so lots of customers will buy Fire TV to play games. But lots of them won’t, yet they might wind up playing games anyway. We certainly see a lot of people who buy Kindle Fire tablets to read books and then end up playing a lot of games. It’s the range of content you’re getting for the price point that makes this whole scenario compelling.

Sure, and I think everyone gets the multifaceted thing, but I have to press a little on the gaming angle. You’re the VP of Amazon Games, so you have to have thought about who you’re going after market-wise on the gaming side. Your first-party launch game Sev Zero, for instance, is technically a hybrid shooter and tower defense game, which positions it more in the realm of mainstream gamers.

This is an overgeneralization, but you essentially have two ends of the spectrum in terms of gameplay. On one end of the spectrum, call it the casual end, there’s the metaphorical Match 3 game. They’re great games, they’re a lot of fun, and you have a number of developers building games in this vein, again, metaphorically.

At the other end of the spectrum you have the game studios with hundreds of developers that work for multiple years on games, like the triple-A games, which are almost morphing into quadruple-A games because the costs are getting so high.

We love both ends of the spectrum, but we think there’s this big gap in the middle, this place where there’s an opportunity to create games that are immersive and creative and a lot of fun and that have a lot of soul. And along those dimensions, we think these games can score as high as any other game out there.

Examples of this would include Minecraft. We set out for Sev Zero to be that type of game. Another one that’s available on Fire TV is Asphalt 8. And another one is Ski Safari, which is a game my kids absolutely love and grew up playing on a tablet, and can now play on Fire TV.

So the point is that there’s a vast opportunity for games along the dimensions of fun, creativity, uniqueness, emotional appeal, immersion, and that can score as high as any game that’s made. Along the singular dimension of graphics? That’s not what Fire TV’s about. We want the graphics to be fluid and good, and we want customers to be able to have a great gaming expreince. But it’s not a $500 console, and it wasn’t meant to be.

What sort of development project load is Amazon Game Studios juggling? Do you have an annual release volume number in mind?

We have a good collection of games in the works and we just released a sneak peek video of games under development.

That said, I wouldn’t want to commit to any release timeframes at this point, but I’d say what we’re seeing is more and more developers occupying the middle space I mentioned earlier, where you’re seeing teams of five to 30 people and they’re working from six to 18 months on the games they make. And with our game studio at Amazon, we’re very much filling that bottle.

We’re hiring people from the industry who’ve made some of the best games ever released, that have worked on these huge mega-franchises, and they like what we’re doing. They like our sandbox and cloud infrastructure mixed with smaller teams, where individuals on the team have the ability to express themselves creatively and maintain creative autonomy in crafting these games. I think that’s a key point, and it’s allowing us to hire some of the most accomplished people in this industry.

At one point the rumor mill had Amazon pegged for an OnLive-style streaming games service, which turned out not to be true. Is it something you considered? That you’re still considering?

We don’t generally comment on speculation, but there are a couple of things we’ve publicly announced in this area. One was a bigger release. Within AWS [Amazon Web Services] we launched a service called AppStream. It’s a primitive service that allows the content developer via a game or a CAD application or a simulator — anything that’s computationally or graphics or storage intensive — to run within AWS and be streamed to a mass-market, local device. It’s possible for a game developer to build a game, or release their game in AppStream and run it on Fire TV. We don’t have any games that do that today, but it’s possible.

The second thing pertains to rendering in the cloud. There’s two different use cases for what we think of as cloud gaming. One is to take a game that’s already been made and run it from the cloud and stream it entirely. That’s what OnLive did, and that’s compelling.

Another option is to actually think about the cloud from the inception of the game, so that you’re doing things because you have the cloud resources that you otherwise simply wouldn’t be able to do. By way of example, we showed off a prototype that we made, and it’s actually the game in our highlight reel at the very end where you see the titan get hit by a ball of fire. We always had this idea that we’d love to make a game where it’s almost like you’re in The Lord of the Rings, where you have thousands of bad guys attacking you. Just the artificial intelligence alone of trying to render that is very, very computationally complex, and then to have all the graphics and physics associated with that ratchets up the challenge exponentially.

So in the video, you can see we have thousands of bad guys, if you will, attacking your tower. And the way that game’s rendered, is that all the foreground parts around your catapult and the things that you’re controlling are running on your local device, because it’s easy and relatively simple, computationally speaking. All of those thousands of characters that are out in the field, and the physics, and the audio mixing that’s associated with that, and all of those things that are difficult to do, we’re doing through AppStream. And then we stitch it together so that it’s a singular environment and experience for the customer, but it gives you, in that case, an experience that otherwise would not have been possible unless you had a high-end gaming rig.

A hybrid local-cloud experience so you can outsource computation without compromising visual fidelity?

Both runtime environments are engaged at runtime, and it’s combining them so that the experience is consumed and played as a single experience using resources both from the local device as well as the cloud. We’re very excited, by the way, about the prospect of this, and part of what our game studios are doing is pushing toward game experiences we’ve always wanted to create since we’ve started thinking about doing things this way.

You’re offering an optional gamepad that looks more or less like the gamepads you’d use with an Xbox or PlayStation. How’d you settle on a traditional mainstream gamepad design?

We’ve had various versions of Fire TV kicking around in the lab for awhile, and only more recently did we land on the set of features that led to the version you’re seeing. We wanted to make it easy for people, so we came up with the Fire TV remote, which you can use to play a lot of games, like Ski Safari, where all you need is the remote.

But we also wanted to cater to the sort of customer who might want to play tons of games for hours on end. For them, we designed a more comfortable controller. The other aspect of this was familiarity. We wanted customers who’d played games in the past to be able to pick our controller up and go.

We feel really good about what we’ve built. The controller’s $39.99, it comes with 1,000 Amazon Coins, which is $10 in value, so you can buy a bunch of games. And it also comes with Sev Zero, which we built in-house, and that’s a $6.99 game.

Interestingly, and you never know how these things are going to resonate, we sold out of the game controller on the first day.

How insulated is the gaming aspect of Fire TV from lukewarm reception on the gaming side? Is Amazon leveraging its brand power and stuff like Amazon Prime to hedge against potentially slow uptake on the gaming side?

I think the experience we’re offering on day one is very good along all of these dimensions. We’re certainly going to learn and iterate over time, as you would with anything, but in general, the value of the device is in the wide array of entertainment. Lots of customers will buy it just to watch TV and movies and then they’ll wind up playing games. We expect lots of customers to buy it so they can play games, who’ll end up using it to do their photos on the TV and the like. We’ve seen this notion that when you offer customers the option of being able to do a lot of things with a device, it’s worked out very well in the context of smartphones and tablets, and we think that same simple construct will hold true on the TV as well.

MORE: The History of Video Game Consoles – Full

TIME Video Games

Nvidia Shield Takes PC Gaming on the Road, but Mileage May Vary [Update]

Jared Newman for TIME

Nvidia's Shield now lets you play full-blown PC games from anywhere, but it's a work in progress.

I love my Nvidia Shield, but the $200 gaming handheld is much less useful when I’m not at home. Its best feature, which lets you stream PC games from a networked computer, had only worked over a local Wi-Fi network, so you were limited to simpler Android games outside the house.

That changed this week, with a major update to the Shield’s software: GameStream now works remotely as a beta feature, so if you have a fast enough connection, and a PC with a supported Nvidia graphics card inside, Shield will let you play full-blown PC games such as Dark Souls and Borderlands from anywhere.

At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work. I’ve seen a couple reports of remote GameStream working well, but in my experience it wasn’t good enough to be playable. The best I can say right now is that remote PC game streaming is possible, but it’d be risky–or maybe just premature–to buy a Shield simply for this feature.

To use remote GameStream, Nvidia recommends upload speeds of at least 5 Mbps on your PC’s network, and download speeds of at least 5 Mbps on the Shield’s remote network. My home connection gets upload speeds of 6 Mbps–just passing the test–and I tested the Shield’s connection on two networks in my neighborhood. One was a home network with 30 Mbps download speeds, another was a home network with 15 Mbps download speeds. Finally, I tried remote GameStream on my AT&T phone’s 4G LTE hotspot, whose download speeds fell anywhere from 5 Mbps to 25 Mbps.

None of those connections were good enough to stream my PC games reliably. The biggest issue, by far, was framerate. Every game I tried would drop a horrendous number of frames, making it nearly impossible to control the action reliably. At best, I managed to get through a moderately difficult level of Trials Evolution and take down a few bad guys in Borderlands 2, but these weren’t pleasant experiences. Going into Shield’s GameStream settings and dialing back to minimum quality didn’t help.

I also had problems establishing the initial connection to my PC. On nearly every attempt, Shield would tell me that the connection failed, and would boot me back out to a menu. I could usually get around the issue by relaunching the stream a few times, but it was still an annoyance.

The good news is that controller input seemed fairly responsive on the two home networks, which showed pings of around 25 ms using Speedtest.net. If the framerate issues weren’t present, I’d probably be comfortable using remote GameStream for racing games, puzzle-driven platform games and maybe some easier shooters or adventure games.

Keep in mind that both test situations were on the same Internet service provider in the same neighborhood. I wasn’t able to test GameStream in more remote settings, but when using Shield on my LTE hotspot, with a ping time of around 100 ms, input response was much laggier. Ping generally increases as you move farther from the source, so I wouldn’t be too confident in more remote setups.

I don’t know what’s causing the framerate issues, but it could be a problem with remote GameStream being a rough beta. I’m actually hoping that’s the case, because if Nvidia puts the same kind of attention into this feature that it did into in-home streaming, it’ll be a much more useful feature before long. If my 6 Mbps upload speeds are the culprit, there’s nothing I can do. I’m already subscribing to Time Warner’s “Extreme” Internet package, which is two steps above the standard tier. The lack of competition in my area means Time Warner has no incentive to improve upload speeds anytime soon.

I bought an Nvidia Shield last week, hoping remote GameStream would come in handy, but knowing that I’d still get plenty of mileage from the device with in-home streaming alone. I recommend that anyone else eyeing a Shield go in with the same mentality, at least until we have more time to see if remote streaming improves.

Update: I just ran some more tests after setting up port forwarding rules with Nvidia’s help. Performance was better on a home Wi-Fi network, with fewer game-breaking stutters. Borderlands 2 and Trials Evolution felt playable this time around. Connecting over my 4G hotspot still introduced a hefty dose of input lag, so I still wouldn’t go that route for games that demanded quick reflexes. While having to set up port forwarding isn’t ideal, this is an early beta feature, and hopefully these extra steps won’t be necessary in the future. I’ll continue to test remote GameStream in the coming weeks, but I’m feeling better about it now.

MORE: The History of Video Game Consoles – Full

TIME Video Games

Someone Tell Sony It’s Remastering The Last of Us for PlayStation 4

Sony Entertainment Network

The game most consider the apotheosis of Naughty Dog's story-driven oeuvre is coming to PlayStation 4.

You’d think a remastered PlayStation 4 version of a game that won 2013’s Writers Guild of America award (“Outstanding Achievement in Videogame Writing”) and an Annie (“Best Animated Video Game”) and a Game Developer’s Choice Award (“Game of the Year”) might warrant a little ballyhoo.

But no, the official announcement for the PS4 version of Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us — and by official, I mean Sony’s own Sony Entertainment Network — is a surprise banner gracing the carousel at the top of the company’s PlayStation Games page. The banner itself notes the game’s won “over 200 game of the year awards” bracketed by little film festival-ish laurel leafs. (In other words: “We’re art!”)

If you click the banner, there’s nothing on the other side of the link, and there’s nothing listed about a release date or timeframe at this point.

Maybe the non-announcement’s a store malfunction, or someone goofed up the publish date and we’re not supposed to know yet, or there’s a press release deluge happening as I type this, but the advert’s been up for awhile and no one’s taken it down, so I guess this is it folks: your very own official not-hyped, post-marketed version of an announcement about what’ll probably be the boutique version of what most consider to be one of the most accomplished video games yet made. I suppose there’s something refreshing about that.

Also refreshing: that I didn’t have time to finish the PlayStation 3 version, which means I get to experience the remastered version with fresh eyes. I almost dove back in to wrap it (and the DLC) up over Thanksgiving, after (finally) finishing Uncharted 3. I’m glad I waited.

MORE: The History of Video Game Consoles – Full

TIME Video Games

Every Super Nintendo Start Screen in a Nine-Hour Video? Yes, Please

Surely you can set aside nine measly hours of your workday to watch this. Yes? Yes. Say yes.

I remember January 22, 2014 like it was only a few months ago. That was the day I published a post called Every Nintendo Start Screen in a Three-Hour Video? Yes, Please. Best moment of my life – top five, at least.

Now it’s April 8, 2014. I’m a little older and whole lot wiser. And the same NicksplosionFX YouTube user who put together the epic three-hour Nintendo montage just made it look like a second grader’s dopey science project. The Super Nintendo version is just over nine hours long. Believe it or believe it, I haven’t watched the whole thing, but it’s currently streaming along on the TV in my office like a calming drip of nostalgia.

SUPER PRESS START [YouTube via Geekologie]

TIME Opinion

Molyneux: Xbox One Without Kinect Is Inevitable

Microsoft

22Cans studio founder says he's certain Microsoft will eventually release a price-reduced version of Xbox One without Kinect.

Getting irritated with the capriciousness of Kinect for Xbox One is an accretive process. Back in November when I reviewed the system, I was genuinely impressed with the strides Microsoft had made with its voice recognition technology, which I felt (and still feel) were much better realized and more accurate than the original — in my view, broken novelty add-on — that the company somehow managed to sell to millions of masochistic Xbox 360 owners anyway.

But several months into the Xbox One’s run, I’ve stumbled into the revamped Kinect technology’s uncanny valley — that place in its aural geography of elocution somewhere between the effortless economy of “Xbox, on” and the maddening superfluity of “Xbox, on. Xbox, on. Damn it, Xbox on. EKSSS. BOKSS. OHNNN.”

At least one former Microsofter agrees with me: In an Edge interview that canvasses several Microsoft execs about the prospects for Xbox One going forward (the magazine weirdly asks “Can Microsoft turn things around for Xbox One?”, as if turning around’s needed at this point), 22Cans founder Peter Molyneux takes a shot at Microsoft’s living room ear-eye:

I actually wish Kinect wasn’t a requirement. It feels like an unnecessary add-on to me. Maybe it’s because we’re in England, and it doesn’t really use the TV stuff, but it feels more and more like a joke. My son and I sit there saying random things at it, and it doesn’t work. They could cost-reduce it [by removing Kinect]. I’m sure they’re going to release an Xbox One without Kinect. It would be unthinkable that they wouldn’t.

Unthinkable? I guess we’ll see how recently promoted Xbox honcho Phil Spencer feels about the peripheral’s necessity (and maturity) as Xbox One rolls out to new markets this fall. The company’s challenge is in convincing consumers that a still-in-transition technology is strong enough to justify bundling and keeping the platform’s price $100 higher than Sony’s PS4. I think the first Kinect, much like Nintendo’s Wii, enjoyed a period of novelty sales — call it the consumer curiosity honeymoon phase — where it was new and unusual enough that the promise (as opposed to the much lesser reality) fired imaginations (and wallets), putting a slew of Wiis and Kinects in living rooms like so many fondu-makers and coffee table books.

But by the time you’re circling ’round to the next generation of these technologies, I think people are looking for companies to put paid to these concepts, not sell iterative “almost-there” devices. When you’re “almost-there,” you start expecting the interface to be as deterministic as your old one, and that’s simply not the case with Kinect for Xbox One. Interfacing in that uncanny valley now — interacting as if you ought to be able to depend on recognition perfection — makes the disconnect all the more evident, and your willingness to play ball fades, because who wouldn’t rather take the extra second to pick up a remote and go back to getting a precise response every time?

Amazon Fire TV gets this precisely right, by the way: control the navigational interface with a deterministic remote, then use your voice to input longer words or phrases. Even where it goofs, and it certainly does, it’s still probably faster to voice-ask twice for “Christopher Nolan” than it would be to type the name in manually with a remote or gamepad.

I’m with Molyneux: Unbundle Kinect now and get the Xbox One’s price down $100 or more. Sell the system (and I mean really sell it) to game enthusiasts — your strongest evangelists, and evangelism’s crucial in a system’s early days — because the Xbox One is a games console first and foremost (it looks awfully silly as a media box, up there next to the hockey pucks from Amazon, Apple and Roku). And double efforts to get studios to ensure performance parity between PS4 and Xbox One games so we can stop having this stupid debate about which system’s more powerful (answer: they both are, depending which developer you ask).

Full disclosure, I recently yanked Kinect from my Xbox One and dropped it back in its cardboard packaging. My press unit sits in my office, where I use it to play games and little else. My media center in the living room has an Apple TV, Roku 3 and now an Amazon Fire TV that’s as good at parsing morphemes and phonemes (when I’m searching for video content) as anything Kinect’s capable of. I’m also a fairly quiet guy. I’d rather push buttons than pretend I’m on the bridge of a starship — or pretend Kinect works well enough to be my go-to navigational interface.

MORE: The History of Video Game Consoles – Full

TIME Video Games

Xbox Owners Can Finally ‘GoPro’ and Upload Game Clips to YouTube

Microsoft

Xbox One owners finally get YouTube uploads, Xbox 360 owners get an extreme-sports-angled camera partnership.

Let’s be clear: GoPro is not a verb…unless I’m using it in a title, in which case it is, just this once, I promise. It’s also a brand of rugged high-def cameras that get people to say stuff like “extreme” and “sports” a lot. And as of tomorrow, it’ll be an official app that lives on your Xbox 360 (Microsoft says the Xbox One version’s coming sometime this summer).

According to Xbox Wire, the GoPro app is meant to stream some of that “extreme” content to your Xbox 360, browsing “a variety of categories including sports, athletes and adventure, and watch individual videos or view back-to-back videos within a category.” You’ll need Microsoft’s $60 a year Xbox Live Gold subscription to access it, and you’ll also have the option to buy GoPro cameras and accessories — handled by Microsoft’s online store — directly through the app. Microsoft reminds us this is the first time it’s bundled physical purchases with an Xbox app, so think of it as the company’s canary in its Xbox-meets-Amazon mine.

But the news you’re probably reading this for, is that Microsoft’s finally adding YouTube support to its Game DVR and Upload functions on the Xbox One (and yes, no surprise, Xbox Live is required). According to Microsoft:

Now, use Game DVR to capture epic gaming moments, edit them in Upload Studio, and, with the simple click of a button inside the YouTube app (look for My Uploads), share them instantly to your YouTube channel. The updated YouTube experience also allows you to watch YouTube videos in Snap Mode, add individual YouTube videos to your Pins, earn Media Achievements, and add your YouTube channels to OneGuide for instant access to YouTube videos right next to your favorite TV listings or App Channels.

How much this matters probably depends on how much you’re already streaming game sessions to Twitch, which launched (late — the PS4’s had it since launch in November) on Xbox One in early March. Twitch has somewhere in the vicinity of 45 million viewers a month, compared with YouTube’s monthly one billion. But then Twitch is a broadcast service, while YouTube’s a clip-sharing one, so there’s plenty of reason to use both.

 

MORE: The History of Video Game Consoles – Full

TIME Video Games

Simcraft: What If The Simpsons Did Minecraft?

Check out the 547th episode's surprise couch gag.

The latest episode of Fox’s indefatigable The Simpsons, “Luca$,” may be something of a critical clunker, but forget the goofy plot about Lisa dating a competitive eater-in-training, or Bart covering up a B-list character’s illicit activities. You’ll want to watch this video for the unexpected hat-tip to one of the most (unexpectedly) popular games ever made.

No, I don’t get all the Minecraft references either — I’ve only dabbled with the game. But I’d bet dollars to Lard Lad donuts my brother’s seven-year-old son would get all of them (and probably be able to offer scholarly annotations in the bargain). He spent most of our last get-together asking me nuanced gameplay questions. I pretended to understand, nodding in the right places, but I’m pretty sure he figured me out.

On the other hand, I’m not sure how clever the couch gag is here. Is Minecraft‘s most visible contribution its blocky look? That seems to be the only conceit here: “Hey! Look! The Simpsons as LEGOs!” (Which, of course, is already a thing.) And Moe showing up as a creeper, because of course he would.

Here’s mister Minecraft himself, Markus “Notch” Persson, reacting to the spot:

And on how surreal it still feels when this sort of thing happens:

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