Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Super Mega Mario Kart Panorama.

As those of you who read Copperpott's Cabinet of Curiosities may be aware, I have a bit of a yen for panoramic pop-culture art. And so much the better if that piece happens to be the collaborative effort of over forty very talented artists, and based on one of the greatest Nintendo games of all time - one that, appropriately enough, is itself founded on the principles of collaboration, competition, and group play.

Thus we have The Mario Kart Collab, v.0.1: the (nearly?) final product of an assortment of artists from DeviantArt, each taking one character and their vehicle from the Mario Kart games and rendering it in their own unique style.

Click on the image below to see the full-length work.

(Mario Kart Collab, v.0.1, by various)

(I hope that Themrock and Deviantart forgive me for the direct link to the larger piece, but Photobucket refuses to host such a large file for me without resizing it first, and trust me, you want to see it in all of its glory.)

To quote Tara from Purple Peep Bits (and Birdo artist):

Almost a year ago I was invited to take part in this collaboration project that my good friend Dirk was throwing.

It's a collaboration done with over 40 of the finest artists you can find on DeviantART. Independent and people who already work in the industry came forth for the project from all over the world.

It's an absolute MUST to full view the original picture and check out everyone's interpretations of each driver. They're all fantastic!

Driver artists:
Toad - Mike Jungbluth
Baby Mario - Patricio Betteo
Dry Bowser - Robb Mommaerts
Luigi - Dirk Erik Schulz
Funky Kong - Hugh Freeman
Yoshi - Henry R. Frew
King Boo - Grim-Amentia
Princess Peach - Makani
Baby Luigi - Adrián Pérez
Mario - Andrew Kauervane
Donkey Kong - Fubumeru
Baby Peach - Basakward
Waluigi - Dapper Dan
Bowser jr. - Erin Hunting
Bowser - Richard J. Smith
Dry Bones - Neilando
Birdo - Myself
Daisy - Vernavulpes
Diddy Kong - Becky Dreistadt
Wario - Zach Bellissimo
Toadette - Kyle A. Carrozza
Petey Piranha - Sam Mckenzie
Koopa Troopa - Mario González
Shy-Guy - Benjamin Anders
Para Troopa - Emma Särkelä
Rosalina - Der-shing Helmer
Baby Daisy - Chris E.
Lakitu - Sabrina Alberghetti

Background Characters:
Michael Perez
Emily Jayne Weber
Yves Bourgelas
Lindsay Smith
E. D. Thweatt
Adrian vom Baur
Psycho Time

I really hope that "I am 8bit" checks this out.

I second that. I want a poster-sized print of this for my living room so badly it's not funny.

(via Offworld)

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Ahab vs. Dick

("Ahab vs. Dick" t-shirt from Split Reason, via infinitelives.net)

Tell me you didn't have this EXACT mental picture in your head while reading "Moby Dick".

(Split Reason also has shirts to satisfy your Half-Life, Donkey Kong, and Ghostbusters II fanboy\girl needs.)

Thursday, September 17, 2009

My Personal Nemeses: Five Video Game Villains Who Still Haunt My Nightmares

(Pyramid Head Pony, by oOneondragonOo)

I think it's safe to say that over the course of our lifetimes, we've all come up against countless videogame bosses, be they Mother Brain, M. Bison, Big Boss, or whatever adversary waits for us at the final terminus point of our long journey. Some of them were surprising pushovers, some of them were frustratingly tough, and a handful managed to provide a satisfying exclamation point to the narrative we'd gotten wrapped up in. Most of them, however, represented little more than closure, and once we'd beaten the game, we stuck it on a shelf to collect dust and rarely thought of them again.

That said, we all have our own personal videogame arch-rivals - the ones that stick in our craw and evoke an inappropriately emotional reaction. The ones who, even after you've dealt with them, still manage to appall you with their grandiosity, their monstrousness, or their irrationality. Here are mine:

5. GlaDOS (Portal, 2007)

(GlaDOS, by Phantom Quasar)

I've had girlfriends like GlaDOS: passive-aggressive, pedantic, and homicidal. Some of them even spoke in that same pitch-shifted monotone. But what really gets me about GlaDOS, the ubercomputer administrating Aperture Laboratory's portal-gun experiments - what really and truly drives me up the wall to this day - is how impervious she is.

I don't mean in a material sense. In fact, your final confrontation with her isn't really all that difficult compared to some other end-bosses. What I mean is that she's impossible to get through to. Even while you're disassembling her and she's going through her full range of pre-programmed emotional states, from admonishing mother to enraged harpy, there's no talking to her. It's like every disagreement I've ever had with anyone which has turned into a full-scale screaming match, rolled up into a single showdown, which also happens to involve a state-of-the-art weapon that can bend space.

GlaDOS is like a female version of HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey (which, of course, is referenced in the final moments of your fight with her). When HAL refused to open the pod bay doors for Dave, you wished that he had a neck so you could wring it; when GlaDOS tries to kill you, she does so with such specious reasoning that you get distracted by and aggravated with the irrationality of her underlying convictions. Beating her without saying a word (and honestly, what COULD you really say?) feels like walking away from a heated disagreement and slamming the door behind you. It might be the best thing to do, but you're left feeling drained and emotionally unfulfilled.

Even the end-credits song is passive-aggressive.

4. Sephiroth (Final Fantasy VII, 1997\Kingdom Hearts, 2002\Kingdom Hearts II, 2005)

(Sephiroth, by Pepper-Tea)

Sephiroth shows up on most lists of this ilk. There's good reason for that, I suppose: he's menacing, he's a former cohort who's turned to the dark side, he even has his own spooky theme song.

Truthfully, while Final Fantasy VII was a pretty incredible gaming experience and Sephiroth provided a satisfyingly complex climactic battle, I never thought all that much of him until he showed up in the Kingdom Hearts games. And it was there that I truly began to fear him.

In both games in the series, Seph shows up as an optional boss. I'll repeat that: defeating him is OPTIONAL. It's not necessary to beat Sephiroth in order to finish the game. And that is what makes me hate him so very much, because when I play a game, I'm going to get my money's worth and do what it takes to eliminate all potential threats. I'm a HERO, goddammit. That's my JOB.

He has no right whatsoever to be as hard as he is. I still tremble at the memory of his devastating opening attack, which drains your health down to one lonely, desperate point. He's harder than any other boss in Kingdom Hearts; hell, he's harder than any other videogame boss in history.

I never managed to best him in either game. I never even managed to make a decent case for myself. I just hung my head in shame, reloaded from my last save point, and went to kill Surly Pete or Walt Disney's Evil Twin or whoever the hell was next in line.

Fantasy movies and poorly-written genre fiction have led me to believe that no matter how powerful an opponent is, the good guy will win out in the end, usually through the implementation of some kind of deus ex machina. But despite having resolved the majority of evils plaguing the Final Magical Fantasy Kingdom, I know in my heart that there is still one obstacle that I was never strong enough to overcome. And sometimes, in the wee hours of the night, I'll wake up and be reminded of that with brutal clarity, and that's when I crack open the flask of cheap whiskey and contemplate my inadequacy as a gamer.

3. Pyramid Head (Silent Hill 2, 2001)

(Pyramid Head, by Insanity Binge)

I can hardly put into words the primal terror that Pyramid Head inspires in me. Videogames run rampant with villains and level bosses and all manner of creatures which, for one reason or another, intend you grievous personal harm. Pyramid Head, on the other hand, is genuinely monstrous. The first time you encounter him, while hidden in a closet in an old apartment complex because Silent Hill 2 is the kind of game where you're so terrified you just want to find a small, dark place and curl up in a fetal ball, you see him RAPING OTHER MONSTERS. He's not doing this to freak you out. He doesn't even know you're there. HE'S DOING IT BECAUSE THAT'S WHAT HE DOES.

The denizens of Silent Hill - the ones trying to kill you, I mean - are all pretty disturbing, and you learn pretty quickly that your smartest strategem is running the hell away from them. With Pyramid Head, that's your only option. You can't kill him, you can't slow him down, you can't do ANYTHING except flee from him in gibbering, abject panic. Do you know how he eventually dies? He commits suicide. That's right, the only one capable of beating Pyramid Head is Pyramid Head.

Most horror games are of the 'ugly thing pops out at you from nowhere and tries to kill you' variety, and while that might make you jump out of your seat once or twice, it's nothing compared to the innate blocks of solidified dread used in the manufacturing of the Silent Hill series. Pyramid Head is the capstone of that architectural abortion. And what is possibly the worst part of it all is that you come to understand that he, like all the rest of it, is a product of your own suppressed subconscious. You created him. Somehow that makes him so much worse.

2. Mantorok (Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem, 2002)

(I couldn't find a picture of Mantorok so instead here's a visual
metaphor for what would happen to your fragile human mind if I HAD)

Eternal Darkness is a game that never really got its due. Despite being critically acclaimed as one of the best titles to be released on the GameCube, it was also a survival-horror actioner on an overtly family-friendly console and never found its target market. Unfortunate, because it is one of the most incredible gaming experiences I've ever had in my life. I bought a GameCube solely for Eternal Darkness, and held onto it for far longer than I needed to because I couldn't bear to part with the game.

I first played Eternal Darkness in 2002. My brother and I went over to a friend's house, and after drunkenly tooling around with Mario Kart and Soul Calibur, our mutual acquaintance threw it in. We spent a solid six hours that night playing Eternal Darkness, passing the controller to whomever was next in line whenever things got too intense - which happened with admirable frequency. But for the life of us, we couldn't stop; it was one of those rare moments of total videogame immersion, and one which I was gratified to discover was not diluted when I finally obtained a copy of my own.

It's difficult to sum Eternal Darkness up in a few paragraphs, and without giving anything away. Suffice to say, you play each of twelve chapters as a different character from different key points in history, from a Roman Centurion to a medieval Frankish monk to a Canadian firefighter in Iraq during the Gulf War to the protagonist's own grandfather in the 1950s. Magic (not the cheerful "I cast Magic Missile!" RPG flavour, but the sinister "unholy pact with unspoken atrocities" variety) is slowly introduced into a real-world setting, and often with gut-wrenching consequences. You have a sanity meter in addition to your health and magic meters, and when it runs low, horrible mind-fuckery ensues - not just to your character, but to yourself as well. You have everything from scimitars to elephant guns to cavalry sabres at your monster-dispatching disposal.

And at the end of the day, you come face to face with Mantorok, the Corpse God - or at least, his once-human vessel. Mantorok is one of the few times in gaming history where Lovecraftian entities in all their originally-intended incomprehensible power and malice have been done RIGHT. You know you don't have a hope in hell of actually doing him the least bit of harm - all you can do is cling to whatever sanity you have and hope to dely the inevitable as long as possible.

So why does Mantorok earn himself a place in my own-going night terrors? For starters, he's the very definition of primordial evil: he's less a bad guy than he is a primal and fathomless LAW. Like Lovecraft's Great Old Ones, he predates not only Judeo-Christian archetypes of death, destruction and chaos (the Devil, the Grim Reaper, the Black Rider) but those of all of humanity since its inception to such an extent that the very idea of him is difficult to conceive. Like contemplation of the great dark abyss of infinite space itself, the mere thought of Mantorok can drive one to madness.

But, if for no other reason, I'm still haunted by Mantorok because he's the dire nucleus of a masterpiece in narrative, engine and gameplay which deserves to be held up as the model for truly innovative videogame design, yet probably never will.

1. Ganon (The Legend of Zelda, 1986)

(Phantom Ganon, by amandaamassacre)

Ganon (who also goes by Ganondorf) was my first true pixellated foe. I genuinely LOATHED him. We initially encountered one another when I was ten - My parents gave my brother and I a Nintendo Entertainment System for Christmas, along with Duck Hunt and The Legend of Zelda. Shooting at ducks was fun for a while (though I lost interest once I realised I wasn't able to shoot that damn giggling dog), but the adventures of Link and his quest to regain the pieces of the Triforce utterly consumed me. I would run home every day after school for a year and spend HOURS playing that game. Other kids were playing catch and setting off cherry bombs in the field behind the school, but I didn't care: I had a PRINCESS to save, goddammit.

Thing is, while The Legend of Zelda offered the occasional challenge, it wasn't a particularly HARD game to play through. That is, until the final showdown with Ganon, the dark mastermind behind all the wrongs you've worked so hard to right. I probably spent as much time trying to beat him as I had on the rest of the game combined. For starters, the bastard was invisible - and he could TELEPORT. Secondly, because I'd saved repeatedly over the same save-slot instead of spreading it out over multiple slots (a tendency I still have to this day), I went in to face him with half of my health hearts missing and devoid of the silver arrows or a proper shield. And finally, because these were still the days when the Internet was still in the hands of military nerds and I wasn't lucky enough to have a subscription to Nintendo Power (and also I was ten), the strategy for defeating him was beyond my comprehension. I would swing my sword wildly in the hopes that he might walk into it, all the while a sitting duck for his stupid fireballs.

I am, admittedly, a controller-thrower when I get frustrated, and my poor NES gamepad took a hearty beating during those weeks. To its credit, it bore up admirably -- until the day that I finally beat Ganon and, in a fit of martial triumph, flung the controller so hard that it hit the stone hearth of the family-room fireplace and exploded into shards of grey plastic and green circuitboard.

So Ganon, I may have bested you, but in the end, you had the last laugh. And I still hate you for it.