I am not affiliated with the University of Waterloo

Evidently, if you Google “Super Memory Bros,” the first result is an article of the same name published in the journal of Memory and Cognition in 2008 by the University of Waterloo.

The article’s abstract is as follows:

When memory is contrasted for stimuli belonging to distinct stimulus classes, one of two patterns is observed: a mirror pattern, in which one stimulus gives rise to higher hits but lower false alarms (e.g., the frequency-based mirror effect) or a concordant pattern, in which one stimulus class gives rise both to higher hits and to higher false alarms (e.g., the pseudoword effect). On the basis of the dual-process account proposed by Joordens and Hockley (2000), we predict that mirror patterns occur when one stimulus class is more familiar and less distinctive than another, whereas concordant patterns occur when one stimulus class is more familiar than another. We tested these assumptions within a video game paradigm using novel stimuli that allow manipulations in terms of distinctiveness and familiarity (via similarity). When more distinctive, less familiar items are contrasted with less distinctive, more familiar items, a mirror pattern is observed. Systematically enhancing the familiarity of stimuli transforms the mirror pattern to a concordant pattern as predicted. Although our stimuli differ considerably from those used in examinations of the frequency-based mirror effect and the pseudoword effect, the implications of our findings with respect to those phenomena are also discussed.

Not only am I not affiliated in any way with the above article but a lot of those words make me sleepy.

I tried to access the journal through my university’s library database in the hopes of freeing myself from this ignorance but no such luck. I’m honestly curious about the research and have no idea how to go about accessing medical journals as a non-med student.

In the meantime, I will walk around with a stethoscope and hope something shakes out.

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Super Breaking Bad Turbo 2

I just watched the season 5 premiere of Breaking Bad. Although this is roughly 200 Internet years old by now, I can’t get sick of this College Humor video that reimagines the first two seasons as a 16-bit RPG.

And if fighting games are more your style, the Internet has got your back.

It’s only a matter of time before Breaking Bad is officially added to Stuff White People Like. As of writing this, it isn’t. I Googled that shit.

If you aren’t watching it, you probably should be. For me, it has taken over the mental space previously reserved for The Wire. This means I can stop being terrified of the city of Baltimore and spend more time worrying about Mexican drug cartels. Both are totally legitimate concerns for someone living in Chicago.

Between Mad Men, The Walking Dead, and Breaking Bad, AMC has managed to cover the three basic TV food groups: rich white dudes, zombies and meth.

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Grimrock and Dungeon Crawlers

I’m thoroughly impressed with Legend of Grimrock. It is perfect throwback to first-person PC dungeon crawlers with enough innovation to keep it from feeling like a graphically superior tribute.

We’ve come a long way from Lands of Lore: Throne of Chaos.

As I’ve mentioned before, I grew up mostly with JRPGs on consoles so the amount of quality PC RPGs I missed out on is staggering. Every once in a while I get a bug to go back and find out what I missed but oftentimes the dated feel of the games usually interferes with the experience.

Don’t get me wrong, modest graphics are not a deal-breaking criteria for me. My love for the 8- and 16-bit eras of console gaming speaks to this. However, games have been innovating off their predecessors since their inception. There is a point where booting up Ultima 4 feels like you’re coercing dated software instead of playing a game. Naturally, this applies to console games as well.

Unless you played Ultima 4 when it was released. In which case, the above statement seems like blasphemy.

Compatibility issues between old games and newer version of windows were also a concern before Good Old Games launched in 2008. GoG.com sells DRM-free digital copies of old PC games that are compatible with modern versions of windows (and Wine for Linux users) and are generally pretty cheap to boot. For those digital hoarders out there, each game bought off GoG also comes with digital versions of all the shit that originally came in the box: illustrated manuals, maps, clue books, that sort of thing.

Tangents aside, Grimrock is perfect simply because it encapsulates the spirit of what I missed in early dungeon crawlers: party management, heavy exploration, an impending sense of doom, Myst­-like puzzles, and grid-based movement. In fact, Grimrock boasts an “Old School Mode” that removes the in-game map so players have to bust out the grid paper and do their own cartography. I opted to avoid this because my sense of direction is bad enough without trying to make sense of endless corridors that all look the same. You know who sucks at corn mazes? This guy.

I went with the default party setup (human fighter, Minotaur fighter, human rogue and human mage) but you’ll be happy to know lizardman is a selectable race if you make your party from scratch. All games are made better with lizardmen.

The in-game description of lizardmen explains humans don’t trust them because they are viewed as being “capricious and deceitful.” I wouldn’t trust them because they are Goddamn huge bipedal lizards.

I’m currently on the 4th level of 10 and so far my party has been killed for a variety of reasons. Here are some of my favorite causes of death so far:

  • Undead spearmen
  • Poison
  • Giant spiders
  • Sentient piles of ooze
  • Gravity
  • My own hubris
  • Tentacle monster
  • A walking fungus-covered stump that snuck up on us while sleeping and literally slapped everyone to death

Pro tip: Being outsmarted by a stump does not feel good.

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Summer Steam Sale

As of last Thursday, Valve began their assault on my wallet with the Steam Summer Sale. This would have been more timely if I mentioned this, say, Thursday, when it went live but I was too busy spending my money and starting games that will no doubt have to be added to my ever increasing backlog.

I’m normally a very frugal person. I usually don’t buy things I don’t genuinely need and sometimes I need to convince myself to buy things that I actually do. Like groceries. No one has ever mistaken me for a married man based on my items in the checkout line. You don’t need to look at my hand to know the guy with only peanut butter, bananas, bread, and a frozen chicken pot pie isn’t wearing a ring.

This isn’t an income issue; it’s some weird vestigial behavior from living meal to meal as an undergrad. I’ve attended gallery openings in River North for the sole purpose of acquiring free wine and cheese than I’d care to admit.

But with Steam’s annual summer sale (and holiday sale in December), all that shit gets thrown out of the window. Since Thursday, I’ve bought the following:

The amount of money I’ve saved per title is stupid. Most of these games were bought at a quarter of their normal cost. Whether or not I need them is another story.

EA’s Origin, Steam’s main competitor as a digital publishing platform for games, is currently offering similar promotional rates for many of their games. Although matching the competition shouldn’t really come as a shock, this is somewhat interesting considering that David DeMartini, the head of Origin, was quoted as saying that Steam sales, like the one currently underway, “cheapen intellectual property.”

I found that argument somewhat suspect. As you would expect, Valve released an official statement responding to the supposeded cheapening of IPs. Although Origin is offering to waive distribution fees for indie games for the first 90 days after release—this puts more money in the pockets of smaller game studios—I feel like Steam is generally a better service for exposing new IPs to potential customers. This is especially the case with Steam’s new Greenlight program which will put the community in charge of deciding what gets published.

In addition to daily deals off several titles and franchises, Valve is also offering flash deals that rotate every few hours that keep bargain-seeking gamers compulsively checking back like addicts.

The sale ends on July 22nd. God help us.

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Mega Man’s Original Box Art

The first  Mega Man game on the NES has my favorite box art for any video game. Instead of attempting to explain how weird/terrible it is, I’ll let you see for yourself:

Nothing about the above box art resembles the game, which looks like this:

When Capcom released Mega Man 9 and 10 as an 8-bit homage for various platforms in 2008 and 2010, they went for full nostalgia and embraced their original terrible box art that debuted the Mega Man franchise.

Recently, fans were upset that Mega Man did not appear as a playable character in Marvel vs. Capcom 3. Capcom addressed these concerns by making sure he was a playable character in Capcom vs. Tekken. Unfortuantely, it was this  Mega Man:

Needless to say, a lot of diehard Mega Man fans were not nearly as amused as I was.

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A looser definition of sports games

A friend just brought Cyber Stadium Series: Base Wars to my attention. I don’t know how I missed this game growing up but it is worth mentioning in the wake of my recent post on baseball video games.

Evidently, Base Wars was released on the NES towards the end of the system’s 8-bit lifespan in ‘91.  It seems like my favorite approach to sports games: take a sport and make it more awesome by removing any semblance to reality and adding sci-fi elements. This is precisely why I can’t recommend Mutant League Football or Mutant League Hockey enough.

Base Wars takes fragile humans out of America’s pastime and replaces them with robots that come in a variety of robot flavors: tank robots, motorcycle robots, UFO-floaty robots and boring bipedal robots. In addition to regular baseball related activities, close outs result in a robot fight. When this happens, the game switches from the overhead view of the field to a side-view 2D fighter perspective. If you were, for example, trying to slide into second and you best your opponent in brutal robot combat you were safe.  Likewise, if the second baseman shoots you in the face with his robot gun arm you are out. The way baseball should be.

In a similar vein, Capcom released Mega Man Soccer in ’94 for the SNES. Players put together a team of various Robot Masters from the Mega Man franchise and, as you might expect from the name, play soccer.  Even though characters can use special kicks that resemble their boss powers from Mega Man, regular, non-robot soccer is probably more interesting. As an American, that’s saying something.

What’s really odd is that Capcom never released the game in Europe. Why they chose to release it in the US but not in Europe is beyond me. I hear people in Europe go nuts over that soccer thing.

Personally, I prefer Midway’s goofy take on the great sport of hand-egg.

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July 9, 2012 · 6:25 pm

Retrospective: SimCity 2000

Herman Cain is launching a new web-only TV channel aptly called Cain TV. The trailer (is that the right word? Do TV channels have trailers?) can be viewed here.

You are either going to think it’s laughable or exactly what America needs. I can’t imagine Cain TV occupying a space anywhere between those two polarities.

My infatuation with Herman Cain stems from the fact his “999” tax plan was ripped straight from SimCity 4. Cain’s “999” proposal involved a 9 percent corporate income tax, a 9 percent individual tax, and a 9 percent national sales tax. Thanks to the resulting media frenzy that occurred in November, you probably already know that this is the default tax structure for any new city in SimCity 4.

I have no intentions of running for president and I don’t think video games should be used as models for policy making but I will say this: I learned a lot about civics and government thanks to the SimCity franchise.

My family’s first computer, a Packard Bell, came with SimCity 2000. I spent countless hours watching (staring dumbfounded) as my cities (cesspools) grew into economic powerhouses (devolved into crime-ridden shitropolises).

Not pictured: terrible demon noise produced by the disc tray.

More importantly, I developed a sense about how cities generate income, the costs associated with building and maintaining infrastructure, and, more generally, do stuff. Although I have previously written about horribleness of edutainment video games, kids can learn from some games—especially simulations where playing and developing systemic thinking are so entwined.

I also got to play with the relationship between industry and its impact on the environment. I always made a point to research satellite microwave power plant. These fictional plants were fitted with a giant satellite that collected cosmic energy that was beamed down from space. This type of plant was extremely clean but there was always the chance the beam could misfire and destroy parts of your city. So even though space lasers were randomly melting schools, the lakes of Buttville were fucking pristine.

Thanks in part to Sim City and also Age of Empires, I developed an interest in the rise and fall of ancient empires and their cities. This means I made some pretty badass dioramas of Ancient Rome for Social Studies.

“What’s a diorama?”

Best of all, Maxis is developing a new SimCity for early 2013 and it looks fantastic. Unfortunately, it looks like it will have always-on DRM, which is a bad, bad thing.

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