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Mario Cartridge

by Harry Rabinowitz

“Can I take a look?” Rebecca asks me, gesturing towards the blue-screening copy of Mega Man III.

“Sure.”

I open the lid of the Nintendo Entertainment System, a piece of equipment a little under a decade older than me, caress the cartridge of Mega Man III out of the system and pass it to Rebecca, a visiting videogame preservation expert.  She flips the large square upside down.  It rattles a bit.

“What’s that?” I ask.  “Sounds like a bead or something.”

“It’s bad.  Really bad.” She frowns.

Rebecca explains what the sound means.  I ask more questions, naturally curious about games and a console I never had the pleasure of owning.  It gets complicated.  About a half-hour later I get the gist of it.

That copy of Mega Man III is dead.  We won’t be able to get it to play anymore.

I work in the NYU Game Library.  Every day, I sit at my desk placed in front of hundreds of cartridges.  Atari, NES, N64, Sega Master System, SNES, GameBoy, you name it.  I’ve probably only played three of them.  Slowly but surely, each and every one of these games will degrade.  The cartridge might get “finicky”.  The consoles might run a game strangely.  And one day, a Legend of Kage or Zelda II with have its final death rattle.  It might literally start rattling, or just show a silent blue screen, and that’s that.  If I were more versed in this kind of hardware, I could open up the cartridge and try to bring it back.  But I’m not, and I don’t know a single person in my generation who is.

60 years from now will people still be able to play any of these NES cartridges?

Videogames are not like other art forms.  We cannot just put a copy of The Legend of Zelda in a glass display somewhere and be satisfied.  To understand a game, you need to play it.  With companies like Sony and Microsoft abandoning backwards compatibly, the likelihood that my stack of PlayStation 2 games will ever see playtime is shrinking every day the console gets older.  Nintendo is trying its best with the Virtual Console store, but they do not offer nearly the amount of titles that sit behind my work desk.

Unfortunately, I’m not sure how to physically preserve the consoles and games I work with everyday.  But I do know how to digitally preserve them.

I am, of course, talking about emulators.

Things for from grim to hopeful (albeit a bit complicated) with the turn of a page…

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As we approach the holidays, Circle members have been hard at work bringing you reviews, news, and the latest happenings in games!

Jorge Jimenez reviewed the hotly-anticipated Xbox One exclusive, Sunset Overdrive, over on Dualshockers.  Jeff Bakalar also reviewed the game over on CNET.

Craig Goldstein talked with police to compile a list of law enforcements’ favorite games.  And yes, Lego Batman is one of them.

Samit Sakar reported on Extra Life’s annual “Game Day,” where participants raised over 5 million dollars for charity.

Jason Cipriano gave his review of Platinum’s The Legend of Korra, the developer’s first licensed, download-only title.

Lucas Siegel reviewed Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved, the Kinect-based music adventure by Harmonix.

Jeremy Voss picked up (and most likely put down)  Alien Isolation.  Reads his thoughts on Shouts From The Couch.

As an extra bonus for the week, we’re also spotlighting Chelsea Stark‘s exclusive look at Condition One‘s first Oculus Rift documentary entitled Zero Point.

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In which an ardent, young writer channels the ghost of George Plimpton, co-founder of the The Paris Review and legendary participatory journalist. Here’s what he learned.

by Jason Tabrys

I discovered one thing quickly. Eric “Problem” Wright, Zach Farley and Steve Gibbons clearly have a lot of fun when they play Madden Football, a game that they’ve each been playing since the mid ’90s version of the game premiered on the Sega Genesis. But while they love the franchise, playing it nearly everyday is serious business, a part of their jobs. Wright is a champion pro-gamer and Farley and Gibbons literally write the book (the Prima guide) on Madden Football every year.

Wright’s pursuit of playing Madden professionally started in high school when he stepped away from playing real sports like football and basketball after being introduced to the existence of The Madden Challenge. The sight of a winner holding a check for $50,000 didn’t hurt either.

“I knew I wasn’t going to make it to the NFL; that’s unrealistic. You see the numbers of the people who make it there, so why not try Madden?”

Though Wright, 26, wasn’t an immediate success, he soon found ultimate glory as the winner of ESPN’s Madden Nation (which brought him his own big check for $100,000). Victory in the Madden Challenge followed in 2008, 2010 and 2013. Wright tells me that if there were a Madden 2015 tournament next week, he’d be ready.

Employed full time in an unrelated field, Wright’s part time job as a pro gamer has taken him on 18-hour drives from West Covina, California to Denver and to Dallas. His supportive mother served as his carpool partner on early road trips.

Wright is focused on maintaining his edge for competition while playing against a group of friends who also play on the circuit (and the occasional random opponent online). But it’s Farley’s and Gibbons’ job to make everyday Madden gamers into better players.

To do this, the two 28 year old friends who have been playing Madden together since college to refine their skills and write their guide book while occupying a Boston office 11 months out of the year. They also run MaddenTips.com, a site where they sell a bundle of their offensive and defensive playbooks (and Eric “Problem” Wright’s playbook) to those seeking an advantage over the competition. The pair also posts tips and top plays on the Prima Games YouTube channel.

It’s also their responsibility, in their role as a part of EA Sports’ Gamechangers program, to help make a better game by traveling to EA Tiburon. There, they advise the Madden developers and get their first hands-on with the game. That’s where that 12th month goes.

“We always try to get 1,000 hours of play time in before the game comes out. That requires around a month of living in Orlando, Florida so we can play the newest builds and talk with the people who actually make the game on site. This means being away during the summer when our friends are at the beach getting a tan. The only tan we get is from the brightness of the TV screen.”

Isn’t being away difficult? “Sure, you are excited to get home after long trips. But Madden is not only our job but our passion, and it’s great when those two things overlap.”

These guys clearly put in the time and they clearly have no shortage of passion. But how good are they at the actual game? I mean, really? I mean, I felt I was pretty good, too. And I love Madden a lot. I decided to find out first hand in an online match versus Zach Farley.

How did our adventurer fare in his match? Find out on the next page…

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This week, we have features, interviews, videos, explainers, and reviews, all from the lovely members of the Critics Circle.

Harold Goldberg published his long-in-the-making, 5000-word cover story on League of Legends, eSports, and Cloud9 HyperX over at Playboy Magazine.

Alex Navarro sat down with Vinny Caravella for another GiantBomb quick look, this time for Duck Dynasty.

Ben Gilbert educates the masses on Google and Oracle’s upcoming (and ongoing) legal battle over coding and Android.

Adam Rosenberg interviewed creative director Jens Matthies about Wolfenstein: The New Order and its incredibly deliberate design choices.

Jeff Bakalar reviewed The Evil Within, Shinji Mikami’s latest entry to the survival horror genre.

Anthony John Agnello reviewed Persona 4 Arena Ultimax, the follow up to 2012’s Persona 4 Arena, which is the fighting game spin-off of 2008’s Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4.  It’s a bit complicated…

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by Harry Rabinowitz

I don’t like playing games in public.  I get self-conscious, embarrassed, like I have a group of critics watching my every move, even when no one is paying me any mind.  I want games to be respected by everyone, and when something inherently silly, childish, sexist, stupid, mundane, poorly written, or poorly designed happens in the game I’m playing, I can’t help but turn around to see if anyone’s noticed.

And half the time, someone does notice.  I have the pleasure (and curse) of playing games around game designers.  Designers can strip a game down in a matter of seconds, either making you look smart for choosing to play that game or look like a tasteless buffoon.

Most days, it’s the latter.  Recently, I was watching a friend of mine play Final Fantasy XIII, a series that I am very familiar with, but an installment I have not touched.  Throughout the play session, I was intrigued by the battle system, character progression, story, and world.  Only an hour or so in, I hadn’t really decided if I “liked” the game or not.  Like many JRPGs, the character designs were easy to poke fun at, but I made fun of Snow’s plaid waist scarf and Vanille’s triple stringed yo-yo staff thing in an endearing way.

That is until one of the many MFA game design students begins to take note of the game.  After watching for about four minutes (and calling a robotic scorpion boss monster “cute”), he stated, “So this game is just walking down hallways, watching cutscenes, and rolling a bunch of dice?”  My friend replied, “basically”.

Final Fantasy XIII, 6 years in development, millions of dollars in the making, broken down into a sentence.  After hearing that, I looked back at the game and it seemed like trash, an utter waste of time.

This is why I don’t like playing games in public.  It constantly feels like I need to defend the game I’m playing, or even my right to play it.  After watching a five minute long cutscenes with shaky dialogue, I feel like I need to explain why this is worth my time to the board of “proper game designers” behind me.

But after playing one game demo in public, I threw all this out the window.  Bayonetta 2 showed me that, if I’m having fun, maybe I shouldn’t feel the need to defend myself.

It helps that Bayonetta 2 is utterly insane.  You can see what I mean for yourself on the next page.

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Unknown

Held at the Cafe Club Fais Do-Do in the City of Angels, IndieCade 2014 was another resounding success.  Todd Martens’ Los Angeles Times article framed the event nicely, saying that IndieCade proudly hosted bold, experimental new games amidst opposition in the form of #GamerGate.

The award winners, which can be found in full on the IndieCade website, are as follows:

With more than 150 games being shown to the public, the festival served as a central hub to discuss the changing landscapes within gaming culture.

Did you attend? Share your stories and thoughts with us in the comments below!

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by Harry Rabinowitz

Read about last week’s gaming happenings from the best in the East!

Russ Frushtick makes his debut on The New York Times with his piece on the 10 player arcade game Killer Queen.

Over on Kotaku, Evan Narcisse gave his review of the completely over the top action-spectacle Bayonetta 2.

Ebenezer Samuel reviewed an action game of a completely different sort, Disney Infinite 2.0, over at The New York Daily News.

Chelsea Stark and Jeff Bakalar both took a look at Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel and both came to similar conclusions.  It’s a pre-sequel.  You can find Chelsea’s review on Mashable and Jeff’s review on CNET.

Samit Sarkar talked with Remember Me developer Dontnod Entertainment about their upcoming episodic adventure game, Life is Strange.

Anthony John Agnello bring us his impressions of the Resident Evil: Revelations 2 demo, straight from the New York Comic Con.

And for another bonus this week, Jason Schreier has been busy over on Kotaku, writing about the strange “Limbo” that occurs for game devs at Ubisoft when between games as well as tackling the next-gen 1080p kerfuffle.

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