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With Super Mario Maker 2, Nintendo both unleashes and leashes creators – TechCrunch

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Nintendo’s Mario Maker series is among the most generous gifts the company could have given to its fans, and the new installment on Switch is better than its predecessor in every way. Yet despite the freedom and encouragement it gives, it’s hard not to feel a gentle tug groundward when your ambitions begin to soar.

For those unfamiliar with Mario Maker, the original was a totally unexpected joy on the Wii U and one of the few games that truly took advantage of that console’s unusual hardware. It allowed players to use the touchscreen and stylus to put together Mario levels in a variety of styles, and the resulting number and complexity of creations boggled minds worldwide.

The sequel, Super Mario Maker 2, announced in February and released at the end of June, is a natural evolution of the previous game. It adds new items, new styles, new ways to sculpt the landscape and a variety of other complexifiers like conditions you can impose on players: no jumping, carry this item to the goal and so on.

A welcome addition is the robust tutorial for the maker mode, featuring the weird/cute duo Nina and Kawamura (a girl and a pigeon) walking the player through the tools and providing what amounts to platformer design 101. There’s also a single-player campaign: A hundred unconnected levels that let you have some good old Nintendo-designed Mario fun, but also serve as inspiration for how to use various blocks and level styles.

storymode levels

Within days of release, the “Course World” is already brimming with strange and fun levels to play, full of ingenious ideas and uses for blocks and enemies that will have you shaking your head — and biting your controller with rage. There’s even a whole category for “auto-Mario” levels (a strange and wonderful genre that sprang out of the original Mario Maker) that take the player through an adventure sometimes without any input at all.

Importantly, this game adds a few things that Mario levels really need: locked doors and keys, for instance, or checkpoints so players don’t have to replay a punishing section. That opens up things considerably and already I have seen lots of interesting levels taking advantage of this to make you visit multiple areas, beat a certain enemy before proceeding, and such.

puzzle

This devious little level is nothing like Mario, yet uses Mario rules

I’ll let other reviews go into detail about the various more granular improvements the game makes. Suffice it to say here that it’s a ton of fun, making levels is hard and between the single-player, multiplayer and Course World modes, Mario Maker 2 more than justifies its purchase price. For my part I want to call attention to something I feel is important about the game and the carefully thought-out limitations it places on creators.

Nintendo’s zeal for seeking and destroying copyright violations is well known; just last week we had Mario Royale shut down almost instantly. And the company is also well known for its highly conservative stance on licensing, in some ways at least — for instance, only ever letting Zelda games appear on Nintendo consoles rather than having them come out on Sony and Microsoft platforms as well. There are plenty of good reasons for that, I’m just making a note of it.

Nintendo’s fan base, however, is the only one that rivals it for zeal, and over the years they have found many ways to modify or reuse the properties that Nintendo has been happy to either let lie or recycle tamely via Virtual Console. Nintendo would never, for example, have made Mario Royale. Nor would it make something like the A Link to the Past Randomizer, which changes the locations of items in the classic game to make each playthrough unique. (A similar one exists for Super Metroid and other beloved and much-played classics.)

Again, Nintendo’s philosophy forbids many of these things — their idea of games is a much more pure one and it’s hard to fault it when the results are things like Super Mario Odyssey and Breath of the Wild. But players want more, and they regularly do whatever they can to break Nintendo’s creations out of the carefully manicured walled gardens the company has long cultivated for them.

Enter Mario Maker.

This title essentially performs a bleed on the community that is so fervently dedicated to playing Nintendo’s games outside of Nintendo’s rules. By letting players make their own levels, and by giving them a tool that’s really quite powerful to do so, they remove a great deal of the pressure that has built up and resulted in things like rom hacks.

mycourse

A course I’m working on: Infiltrating Moleville

The second game especially opens up the creative floodgates, since the new items and capabilities make possible the complex levels that have made up the best of Mario from the beginning. Straight-up platforming is always fun, but Nintendo’s level designers have learned to theme each level with a specific skill set or feel in mind, and the sequel’s tools enable that to take place in a much greater way than before.

And yet there are some purposeful omissions. The most purposeful is the lack of any ability to tie together levels using an overworld map or even a 1-1, 1-2, 1-3 structure. While it’s possible some creators may be able to circumvent this in a small way, this is a clear sign from Nintendo that this is a tool for making levels, not games.

Withholding higher structure (that could be as simple as designing playlists) is a strategic move that reserves that structure for official games. And allowing for easy sharing of levels and playlists, instead of relying on Nintendo’s own algorithms and onerous number-based sharing system, makes it trivial for the company to control the means of distribution.

courseworldAgain, I’m not saying they shouldn’t, exactly — and there will be thousands and thousands of levels worth playing, more than any one player could possibly want. But what’s clear from the popularity of Mario Maker is that millions of players also want to see Nintendo’s creations unbound by Nintendo’s strict rules. And while Mario Maker 2 loosens those rules considerably, it also indicates the limits of what Nintendo is willing to allow its community to do.

That said, within those limits there are near infinite variations and, in fact, it’s probable that the game’s creators deliberated intensely on what to include and what to exclude. I’m desperately missing the invincible giant moles from SMW, but would having them (and a dozen other rare critters) in the enemy selection just clutter it up? I’d like to have an overworld, but for the casual maker or speedrunning level maker, wouldn’t that really just be an extra step that would be skipped more often than not? The intention of the game is to facilitate creation, but part of that is knowing what tools not to provide.

Ultimately my wish that Nintendo demolish the walls of its garden amounts to nothing more than asking them to give away the keys to the castle, so to speak. And it’s not like I’m being oppressed here — I can barely put together a decent course of my own, and others are happy to work within these constraints. Not being a genius Maker myself, I tend to see the restrictions rather than the possibilities.

I just want more Mario, and in fact more Mario than Nintendo is willing to give. With Mario Maker it has secured me a constant drip-feed of Mario-adjacent content that’s just enough to keep me playing but also just limited enough that I look forward with immense impatience to the next “real” game. Whether that’s a kindness or a cruelty I can’t say, but whatever it is, it’s going to take up a hell of a lot of my time over the next couple of years.

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Arcade1Up pinball cabinet review: Fine for families, interesting for modders

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Enlarge / Say hello to the Arcade1Up Attack From Mars physical pinball cabinet. The chassis is physical; its games are all virtual. Read below to understand what the heck that means.

Sam Machkovech

If you’re of a certain generation, chances are you have imagined (or, at this point in your adulthood, built) your own home arcade that resembles something out of the golden ’80s era. One useful path to making this a reality, especially in tighter quarters, is the “multicade,” an invention that squishes multiple games into a single cabinet.

But what if your old-school gaming dreams revolve around something bigger and bulkier, particularly pinball? Until recently, your options were either buying a bunch of original pinball cabinets or building your own ground-up emulation solution. And the latter is complicated by the realities of how pinball plays and feels.

I’ve wondered how long it would take for that to change in the gaming-nostalgia market, especially as companies like Arcade1Up produce and sell more multicade cabinets for home use. The time for change is now, evidently, thanks to a handful of manufacturers producing pinball multicades. Arcade1Up in particular launched three distinct pinball emulation cabinets this year, each revolving around a different license.

Thanks to Arcade1Up, I’ve gone hands-on with arguably the most interesting product in its 2021 pinball line: a collection of 10 classic tables, all created by Williams during its arcade heyday but emulated for more convenient home play. What exactly does $600 get you in terms of emulation and build quality?

Time to get Mad and Medieval

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Game Boy Advance game gets split-screen multiplayer through new FPGA core

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Developer Robert Peip shows off some split-screen Game Boy Advance multiplayer gaming through his new FPGA core.

Here at Ars, we’re big fans of situations where emulation creates a classic gaming experience that’s actually better than what you could get with original hardware in some way or another. In the past, that has meant upsampling rotated sprites in SNES’ “Mode 7” games or adding “widescreen” support to NES games or mitigating the controller lag that was built into certain older consoles or overclocking an emulated SNES to remove slowdown without ruining gameplay timing.

The latest emulation-powered retro-gaming upgrade to cross our paths greatly simplifies an oft-overlooked capability built in to many Game Boy Advance titles. Namely, it adds the ability to play multiplayer titles in split screen on a single display.

This upgrade is the work of Robert Peip, a developer who’s spent years working on field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs). These days, Peip works primarily on the MiSTer FPGA an open source project that recreates classic gaming hardware extremely accurately through emulation “cores” that replicate every single logic gate involved in the schematics of the original system (most of Analogue’s high-end retro hardware is similarly powered by FPGA cores). Such cores are currently available for consoles ranging from the Odyssey 2 through the Neo Geo era and more.

Peip’s new “special version” of the Game Boy Advance FPGA core works relatively simply, running two GBA cores in a single MiSTer. As Peip explains, “you get 2 raw GBA cores, one connected to SDRAM, one connected to DDR3, communicating directly inside the FPGA. Sound is used from Core 1 only.”

Thus, games originally designed to be played on two consoles connected via link cable can now be played in split screen on a single MiSTer with a single connected display, as shown in this demonstration video. Peip says that “most multiplayer games should be supported,” a statement that presumably includes original Game Boy games (which work on a GBA link-cable through a supported secondary mode).

Playing these multiplayer GBA games on original hardware required two separate consoles, two copies of the game, and a GBA link cable, ensuring most casual players probably never even bothered (some GBA games offered limited multiplayer with just one cartridge). And while previous GBA emulators have offered link-cable support, even that required a LAN or Internet connection between two separate machines with two separate displays. While some RetroPie users have done a bit of finagling to get multiplayer games for the original Game Boy working via split screen, we’ve never seen a similar one-machine, one-display solution for Game Boy Advance multiplayer games before this.

Peip’s turnkey test core for multiplayer GBA emulation is currently only available by supporting his Patreon, and it is currently missing features like savestates, fast forward, and visual filters available on other GBA cores. Still, we’re excited to have a new, easier-to-use method to try the oft-ignored multiplayer modes in some classic portable titles. Now if we could only get split-screen support for those four-player GBA titles…

Listing image by Nintendo

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Peter Jackson’s 6-hour Beatles documentary confirmed for Disney+ this November

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Peter Jackson’s next six-hour epic is finally coming out this year—and in a first for the acclaimed director, the film will launch directly to a streaming service. It will also be broken up into episodes.

The Beatles: Get Back, an expansive documentary originally announced for a theatrical run this August, has had its release strategy tweaked. On Thursday, Jackson and Disney confirmed that the entire project will launch exclusively on Disney+ during this year’s American Thanksgiving holiday. Each third of the documentary will launch on the streaming service on November 25, 26, and 27. As of press time, Disney hasn’t said how the film will reach audiences outside of Disney+’s supported territories. Neither Jackson nor Disney clarified how the original theatrical run might have worked or whether the global pandemic forced anyone’s hand.

Today’s news confirms that Jackson had an abundance of footage to work with. Roughly three years ago, the remaining Beatles handed him access to a musical holy grail: over 60 hours of previously unseen video recordings, mostly capturing the Beatles working on the album Let It Be and rehearsing for, and then performing, the band’s legendary 1969 rooftop concert in London.

Jackson stitched the footage together with access to what Disney calls “over 150 hours of unheard, restored audio”—meaning yes, somehow Apple Corps. still has some tapes in hiding after this many Beatles special edition albums, anthologies, video games, and Cirque du Soleil collaborations. For further context on the Let It Be recording sessions, the film will be paired with a physical book full of photos and original interviews, now delayed to an October launch.

Jackson’s comments in today’s news, as provided by Disney to members of the press, imply that he indeed sought to release a long documentary: “I’m very grateful to the Beatles, Apple Corps., and Disney for allowing me to present this story in exactly the way it should be told.” He also commented on the original documentary footage, filmed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg, as something that is “not nostalgia—it’s raw, honest, and human.”

The Beatles: Get Back will launch on a Thursday, thus breaking Disney+’s latest initiative of launching new series episodes on Wednesdays instead of Fridays. If anyone can break a newly sacrosanct Disney+ rule, it has to be the Beatles.

Listing image by The Walt Disney Company / Apple Corps / Wingnut Films

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