super nintendo project
|CREATE AND MANAGE A LIVING CITY|
The history of urban planning is ultimately one of control machines – of efforts to build spaces that will shape the lives and psyches of its inhabitants. Housing developments to sort and contain them, roads to dictate the ways in which they move through space, and lattices of utilities and infrastructure that transmute the abstract relationships of power that govern them into brutal physicality. It is the creative practice to which psychogeography is the criticism.
It is, of course, an illusion that the city is some sort of authored construct. Even moreso than the video game, where our convenient fiction of an auteur figure like “Will Wright” is in reality a mask worn by a team of developers and, in the case of a game like SimCity, a swath of teams responsible for the huge number of ports and versions. The iteration of SimCity that served as a launch title for the Super Nintendo is one of more than a dozen – it was a game that existed on the Commodore 64, the Amiga, the Macintosh, the BBC Micro, and others, all taking the smear of psychic landscape attributed to Will Wright and adapting it to new forms, with varying degrees of success.
[In practice, this is one of the rare cases where the console port is a highlight, at least in one sense. Ported by Nintendo EAD, it not only has the charming detail of Bowser in place of the generic lizard monster disaster, and adds an interesting system of special buildings like casinos and libraries that can be built under certain circumstances. Though in the end, little can remove the basic problem that a Super Nintendo controller is an unsatisfying replacement for a mouse when it comes to this sort of game.]
The city, like the video game, is multi-authored, a teeming mass of viewpoints and visions. And this includes not merely the ostensible creators – the programmers and urban planners – but those who are shaped and interpolated by it, and whose interactions with it define it; a city without inhabitants is as barren as a game without players. But citizens and gamers are two very different things. The gamer cannot, in the end, change the game in ways beyond those strictly delineated for him. The citizen, on the other hand, has meaningful resistance as an option.
Ironically, the difference is one of escapability. The gamer can quit the game, whereas nothing the citizen does can ever render them no longer a citizen – even if they move to some other city, they are still a citizen of something that has far more similarities than differences to the original. But because citizenship is inescapable, it in turn cannot fully reject the dissident. Put another way, the city can bulldoze the crime-ridden slums and replace them with a row of gleaming stadiums, but the list of the biggest problems in the city and a non-zero disapproval rate are irreducible elements of its existence.…
Anna Wiggins will be contributing a guest post for each year’s worth of games covered in the Super Nintendo Project. For 1991, she’s talking about F-Zero.
It begins with sound. When I think about F-Zero, it is the soundtrack that sticks in my mind. Where other games I had played had background music, F-Zero had songs. Big Blue was the most memorable. These memories are pleasant. This music has been a part of my internal soundtrack for most of my life, occasionally earworming in over the years, always an oddly comforting sense memory.
And this sort of sound was unprecedented. The number of bits in a gaming system was on the one hand meaningless to me; at seven years old, I had no idea what the technical difference between an “8-bit system” and a “16-bit system” were. But on the other hand these terms held an iconic power; clearly the SNES was twice as powerful, and so its games would be twice as cool. If I’d had a little more knowledge, I probably would have expected them to be 256 times as cool.
So this, for me, was my first real taste of what “16-bit sound” could do. I was hooked, and after this game music became a much larger part of how I judged games.
(What I didn’t know at the time was that the SNES made considerable improvements to the NES’ sound system, beyond just doubling the size of all the registers. The SNES came equipped with a separate dedicated co-processor for audio processing, the S-SMP, which meant game programmers could spend more cycles doing software manipulation of sound samples without affecting the game’s performance. Separate graphics processing chips were common in consoles already, but a coprocessor dedicated to audio was a leap forward for sound capability, and allowed for a lot of the richness in sound that jumped out at me here.)
Next comes light. This game looked great, with an initially dizzying faux-3d effect that pivoted around as the player’s car turned. I remember being amazed by this, and it’s what made me want to play the game, despite racing games not being the sort of thing I’m naturally inclined to play.
(F-Zero and Pilotwings were both basically tech demos for Mode 7 graphics, though I didn’t actually come across the term Mode 7 until much later, when SquareSoft ran television advertisements for Final Fantasy III. “Mode 7” was Nintendo’s great technical superiority claim for the SNES, a counterpoint to Sega’s “Blast Processing”. It sounds less impressive than Blast Processing, and indeed, described from a technical standpoint, it sounds like a fairly humble feature. However, unlike Blast Processing, it can be described from a technical perspective. The SNES graphics hardware had 8 different “modes” for drawing backgrounds, numbered 0-7. (Programmers always start counting from 0. It makes us feel special.) If you know just enough about computer graphics processing to be dangerous, it may seem strange that backgrounds were handled differently than anything else, but console graphics chips at the time had built-in notions about ‘backgrounds’ (things that didn’t move) versus ‘sprites’.…
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There are two ways to begin this.
I am, of course, talking about Super Mario World here and not The Super Nintendo Project, where there were an infinitude of ways I could have gone. No, I’m referring to the start of Super Mario World, where you are presented with a straightforward choice between going left to Yoshi’s Island 1 or right to Yoshi’s Island 2.
(Here’s a secret history for you.
The 1986 wide release of the Nintendo Entertainment System was one of the great marketing successes of 1980s American capitalism, a period with no shortage of contenders for that title. At the heart of the success is simply the sheer degree to which Nintendo triumphed over conventional wisdom. Following the shocking collapse of the Atari-led American video game industry in 1983, the American market was enormously wary of the entire idea of video games.
Indeed, it was in some ways surprising that Nintendo even had the opportunity to try, given that they very nearly allied themselves with Atari in 1983, just before the crash, an alternate history prevented only by a staggeringly unforced error in which Atari executives mistook a Coleco Adam running Donkey Kong at a 1983 trade show as evidence that Nintendo was making a deal with Coleco (formerly the Connecticut Leather Company), when in fact the Adam was simply playing the Colecovision release of the game via its backward compatibility. This resulted in Atari abruptly pulling out of its deal with Nintendo to distribute their successful Famicom console in the US.
Nintendo thus went it alone, initially trying to release the system as a personal computer akin to the still popular Commodore 64 or the Apple IIe, and, when this faltered, regearing the product as a straight video game console, and creating R.O.B., a console peripheral/toy robot that allowed Nintendo to situate the system not as a video game system in the mould of the failed Atari 2600, but rather as a toy.)
It’s more of a choice than it might first appear. The sense of linear progression would obviously lean towards starting with Yoshi’s Island 1, but this undersells the degree to which movement from left to right is a fundamental part of the conceptual grammar of the side-scrolling platformer genre that Super Mario World is in many senses the apex of. Likewise, the world map as visible at the start of the game emphasizes the importance of going right – the path extending forth from Yoshi’s Island 2 has two nodes that are visible markers for where Yoshi’s Islands 3 and 4 will appear, as well as a castle, recognizable as the end-of-world objective.
Funnily enough, I don’t remember the exact circumstances of getting the system. It would have been somewhere in the vicinity of my ninth birthday, which was the official release date, although systems arrived in stores a couple weeks earlier.…