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Gil Ruta powers up Nintendo’s Airstream trailer decked out in flat screen TVs and game consoles on South Congress Tuesday afternoon. The media relations staff has been traveling around the country promoting Nintendo’s holiday game line-up, which includes titles such as “Super Mario 3D Land” and “The Legend of Ze

Photo Credit: Ryan Edwards | Daily Texan Staff

Nintendo’s silver, Mario-and-Zelda decorated trailer has been zigzagging across the country since September, showcasing upcoming titles such as “Super Mario 3D Land” for the portable Nintendo 3DS and “The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword” for the Wii.

On Tuesday, it made its way to Austin and media people interested in trying out the games were invited to climb inside the plush, surround-sound equipped trailer and do just that. The Daily Texan also took the games for a spin.

“The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword”
Release date: Nov. 20
System: Wii

The new Zelda title not only looks fantastic — Shigeru Miyamoto, who created the “Zelda” franchise, reportedly wanted the watercolor-like graphics to resemble impressionistic art — it really puts the Wii MotionPlus system to work. When “The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess” was released in 2006, there were some grumblings about its neglect of the Wii’s motion capabilities, but this latest game addresses those complaints in a big way. When you hold the Wii Remote to the right, Link holds his sword to the right. When you slice horizontally, so does Link. And when you hold the remote in the air, wait for a moment and then jab it forward (careful not to put your hand through the TV screen “and end up on YouTube,” said the Nintendo representative who was manning the trailer), Link duplicates the motion and shoots a beam of energy into whatever you’re aiming at.

The game’s demo version allows players to control Link while he rides on a bird (a new feature of the game), explores a dungeon and fights a boss. The dungeon is populated with classic enemies such as Skulltula, those bony spiders that hang around on webs, and Stalfos the ill-tempered skeleton soldier, but their fighting styles were anything but typical. Instead of the same predictable swordplay and attack tactics in previous games, the bad guys react to Link’s moves and players will find themselves having to actually block and parry strategically with the remote.

The boss battle with Lord Ghirahim — an elegantly creepy fellow with a long tongue that he flaps around Gene Simmons-style when he gets annoyed — started out fun but became a little repetitive. The fight felt a little more scripted than the dungeon gameplay, with Ghirahim using the same moves such as grabbing Link’s sword and transportation moves over and over again. But the intense, horror movie-meets-philharmonic orchestra soundtrack, the detailed graphics and that unique, beautiful feeling that overwhelms you when Link grabs hold of the heart container at the end of the battle generally make up for the repetition.

“Super Mario 3D Land”
Release date: Nov. 13
System: Nintendo 3DS

“Super Mario 3D Land” puts a huge emphasis on the 3D, which adds a lot to a franchise that, if it were any other, would have been played out a decade ago. Really, how many lands, worlds and galaxies can one moustached plumber explore before players say enough? Apparently, with this new game, there’s room for one more. The demo version felt comfortably familiar, with plenty of question mark blocks to head-bump, meat-head Goombas to squash and even the reappearance of the raccoon-styled Tanooki suit — absent from Mario games since 1988’s “Super Mario Bros. 3” for the NES. The well-known Mario environment is enhanced by the Nintendo 3DS’ 3D capabilities, which makes the 3D worlds of “Super Mario 64” and other older games look like “Pong.” Beyond just making the landscapes pop with color and depth, the 3D elements actually figure into the gameplay. Players can use the 3D perspective to find blocks that need smashing and power-ups that need grabbing that they aren’t able to see in plain-Jane 2D. Of course, for anyone who feels a bout of motion-sickness coming on, the third dimension graphics can be conveniently lowered or even switched off completely by turning a dial on the side of the 3DS.

Printed on Wednesday, November 2, 2011 as: Mario, Zelda demos feed nostalgic urge

You’ve probably heard one of Friendly Fires’s songs whether or not you’ve heard of the band themselves. For the past couple of years, their songs have acted as the backing tracks for all sorts of advertisements for companies such as Nintendo and Gucci. The English alternative funk trio is currently on tour with Theophilus London in support of their newest album, Pala.

The Daily Texan spoke with Friendly Fires’s lead guitarist Edd Gibson about going on tour, their writing process and their new album.

The Daily Texan: The last time you guys came to Austin, you played a bunch of shows during South By Southwest. Was that your first time in town?
Edd Gibson:
Yeah, it was our first experience. We were terrified before it because we’d done CMJ [music festival] before that, where it was done in the wintertime and everyone’s fucking stressed. Around Austin, it’s just taking place on a couple of blocks, everything’s penned in, everyone’s just kind of milling about in T-shirts and shorts, drinking and eating good food, whereas in New York, everyone’s really stressed out, getting captured in the rain.

DT: Speaking of stress, I know you’re about to start what is set to be your biggest U.K. tour to date. How are you preparing for that?
Well, we’ve been playing shows since before the record got dropped, we began touring in February. We finished off the last track, “Hawaiian Air,” in March, just before the record was mastered and released. Since then we calculated 37 festivals we’ve played. We’ve got this North American tour, we’ve got this massive European tour, hopefully all of that will gear us up for doing a good show — a tight show. We’ve even got our lighting guy sort of tracking down all these cool disco lights, just trying to make it a big atmospheric event, rather than just us performing.

DT: Are you recording for a third album even though your second just came out, or are you just kind of taking it easy on the road?
We’re recording new stuff, but I don’t think it’s going to be for album three. For the U.K. tour we’ve got this awesome guy called SBTRKT supporting us, and we’ve played with him a few times in Europe before, so we’re just trying to do a song together so we can hopefully get it nailed in time to put it out with a limited release for the tour or something. We’ve also been trying to finish a track with Andrew Weatherall, and that’s finally coming together. I don’t know what we’re going to do with it, since we’re a week away from touring with it. We’ve never really stopped, we just like to make music. That’s our idea of a holiday anyway. We just pleaded with him to do a track with us and it’s finally coming to a point.

DT: What’s the production process like for you guys? I know some bands kind of hole themselves up in remote mountain shacks for writing, but I imagine it’s kind of different when you make music to dance to.
No, we really need to just divorce ourselves from society for quite a while. I think we can get too easily distracted by socializing and going out. We began recording Pala in a little basement in East London. But we know lots of people who lived there, and there’s always something to do. It’s quite easy to say “Oh, maybe we’ll go out for a drink and come back with a fresh mind.” It wasn’t conducive to writing, so we went back to Ed’s garage where we did the first record and places like that were far more conductive.

DT: What do you guys listen to when you’re on the road?
We always try to keep listening to new things. Jack, our drummer, put me onto this one electronic guy called Oneohtrix Point Never. He’s like Boards of Canada, you know. Sort of nice, with a lot of compressed beats to it. I have a really good compilation called Ghana Soundz, and there’s one I like to listen to before we play, it’s called “Bukom Mashie,” it’s by this guy called Oscar Sulley, it’s got the most incredible baseline, which sort of propels the track along, and the rest of the band just sort of freestyles over this one line. It’s such a good song, I think it could work on any dance floor anywhere.

DT: I think there are a lot of songs with heavy bass lines that make for really good dance songs, and that’s actually how I found you guys a few years ago. I heard “On Board” in a Wii Fit commercial, and fell in love with the bass line.
Yeah, that was before we had a record deal, we weren’t even sure about going to America, we were just trying to get gigs in the U.K. We were offered the advert, and we just lept at it, since it’s almost like putting a little release out. But yeah, it was definitely sort of a bass track. I think that’s how we generally start writing most songs, we just start writing a generally solid beat and a bass line, and if we’re all dancing to that in the studio, you’re on to something catchy and whatever you put on top is just going to make it better.

DT: Was there an influence in naming Pala after an island in an Aldous Huxley novel?
I don’t know how Ed came upon the book island, but originally it was just the name of the track. The more we talked about trying to come up with artwork for the record, the more that word seemed to stand out as something sort of simple, and something that embodied more than any other song title. I think initially, for us, it was as simple as “this is a four-letter word that looks good.” I think what Ed took from the book related to the experience we took from the first tour, and that is what we were writing about the second time around, that experience.

DT: It definitely feels like there’s a lot more of a tropical feel to this album as well. I mean, you’ve got the different exotic bird covers, and the song and video for “Hawaiian Air” — was there an actual tropical influence in there, or are you guys just big fans of Hawaii?
I think we just now realized “Fuck, if we write a song about Hawaiian air, we might get to go to Hawaii when we do the video, so I think third album around is gonna be “Playing with Kittens” to track one, or “Getting Off with a Hot Girl” to track three, etc.

DT: You could even just write a song called “Going to Space.”

DT: What was your favorite song off the new album?
It changes pretty regularly, I really like “Helpless” at the moment. I think we’re not playing it live at the moment, and that makes it sort of more precious, so I’m not listening to it night after night. I really like the mood that’s sort of captured within that with Ed’s vocals. They sound like very solid R&B vocals to me and that sounds like nothing we’ve really done before. I also really like “Pull Me Back To Earth,” I love playing that live. We just sound checked that and we have a live horn section playing with us, and the end part when they play it and go up an octave — I just love that bit, I get a bit of hair raising up on the back of my neck. I’d say those two.

Crowds gather around a screen displaying new “Modern Warfare 3” footage during the last week at E3.

Photo Credit: Allistair Pinsof | Daily Texan Staff

Last week, thousands of game developers and publishers gathered at the Los Angeles Convention Center to show off what they have in store for the next 18 months.

E3, or the Electronic Entertainment Expo, is the largest annual video game tradeshow that brings together people in the industry, investors and journalists. And I was one of them. This year’s E3 was a spectacle to behold, filling the convention center with bounce houses, booth babes, towering sculptures of game iconography and, of course, the games themselves.

E3 2011 was a notable event in the show’s history. Sony and Nintendo introduced their new systems in a big way. Elsewhere on the showroom floor, Activision and EA competed for the largest, flashiest displays for their upcoming games, EA’s “Battlefield 3” and Activision’s “Modern Warfare 3.” After covering the floor for three days, I was able to check out some of the games you’ll be talking about and playing nearly a year from now.

Here are the highlights:

The rumors leading up to E3 introduced Nintendo’s new console, but now we have an official name and hands-on time with it. The Wii U is more than just an HD update of the Wii: It’s a box full of new hardware paired with a revolutionary controller.

At first glance, the Wii U controller looks like an iPad forced its way into a Dreamcast controller. I got to hold it, and I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the screen and the controller’s lightweight feel. Nintendo was able to keep the controller light by leaving all the computer processing to the main console. The Wii U controller receives a wireless video stream that lets you interact with games in new ways, such as using it as a magnifying glass or item screen. And you can take the HD console experience with you around the house. It’s unclear how powerful the machine is — no hardware specs were given. It’s anyone’s guess how close to the console you have to be to receive video.


Upcoming PlayStation and Xbox 360 games were announced for the Wii U, but only tech demos were playable on the floor. All these games, including a gorgeous “Legend of Zelda” demo, showed off aspects of the hardware and novel ways to use it. “Chase Mii” is a “Pac-Man”-inspired game where four Wii remote-wielding players chase the player with the Wii U controller, which gives the player access to a map and other information through the controller’s screen.

Other highlights at Nintendo included the quirky music game “Rhythm Heaven Wii” and the much-anticipated “The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword.” The Nintendo 3DS also seems to be coming into its own with upcoming entries in the “Mario Kart,” “Mario” and “Luigi’s Mansion” series.


Sony’s new handheld, the PlayStation Vita, was the central focus of its E3 presence. The Vita features graphics on par with its PS3 counterpart and a dual touchscreen — not only can you touch the screen like an iPhone, you can also interact with games by touching the back of the system.

The dual touchscreen feature is gimmicky, but I had fun playing with it during a “LittleBigPlanet Vita” demo that used the handheld’s features in clever ways. Some sections would require you to guide a rolling tire by tilting the system, while other sections required you to pop in and out of platforms to jump on by using the back and front touch areas.

I also spent some time with “Sound Shapes” and “Uncharted: Golden Abyss.” No Vita game has impressed me enough to decide on a day-one purchase, but the hardware has enormous potential. At the reasonable price of $249 ($299 for an improved 3GS Wi-Fi connection), the PlayStation Vita might give Nintendo’s 3DS some competition when Sony launches its new handheld this winter.

“Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception” also made a strong impression during and after Sony’s press conference. Developer Naughty Dog invited me to try out the revamped cooperative mission mode, which has better controls, collectible loot, co-op-specific buffs and a focus on telling a narrative arc independent of the game’s single-player story.

I didn’t get to play the game in 3D, but I did get to check out Sony’s new 3D technology that lets two people play on the same TV without sacrificing any screen space. Instead of rendering 3D images, the TV produces two different overlaying images that can be separated with 3D glasses. It’s as if Sony found a way to fit two TVs into one.


With over 10 million Kinects sold, you can’t blame Microsoft for making it the focus of its E3 press conference and floor space.

I expected this, but what I didn’t expect was that Microsoft would leave the rest of Xbox 360 owners in the cold. “Gears of War 3” and “Forza Motorsport 4” have been shown at previous E3s and “Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary” and “Halo 4” have been known entities for some time.

“Gears” creator Cliff Bleszinski showed me, in a one-on-one session, a new portion of the game’s campaign. Aside from fast, body-size mechs called “Silverbacks” and four-player co-op, it’s the same game you either love or hate. The “Halo” remake looks nice, running on the “Halo Reach” engine, but it’s just a nostalgic trip back to 2001 within a game series many, like myself, are already tired of. “Halo 4” had nothing more to show than a teaser trailer with no gameplay. It was announced it would be the first entry in a new trilogy for the 360. The thought of playing “Halo 6” on the same hardware depresses me, but maybe the new series developer, 343 Industries, will do something different with the franchise.


The Kinect games seem to be more of the same, but with a few exceptions. Beyond sequels to “Kinect Sports” and “Dance Central,” there were some nice surprises on the floor. “Leedmees,” an Xbox Live Arcade title developer Konami calls “a full-body puzzle game,” was a highlight of the show. You use your body to guide tiny lemmings across your on-screen avatar by stretching out your arms to make a bridge and kicking out your leg to keep lemmings from falling to their death. The game is even better when played co-op, as both players have to coordinate and hold uncomfortable stances to win. “Fruit Ninja Kinect” and “Rise of Nightmares” seemed vaguely interesting. Surprisingly, “Once Upon a Monster,” a “Sesame Street” game, was one of the better-looking Kinect titles at the show.


Third Party Publishers

Activision continues to pump out “Call of Duty” titles despite most of the original team departing from developer Infinity Ward. The latest in the series, “Modern Warfare 3,” increases the scale of the conflict by bringing to life World War III in urban areas across the world (including London and New York City), but the core of the game remains the same.

The two single-player missions I was shown were rote and linear to a fault. However, I spent time with the recently unveiled Survival mode which combines the series’ Nazi Zombies mode and Spec Ops mode into a challenging, addicting co-op experience. You and a buddy survive waves of enemies, which increase in firepower and health with each encounter. By the time you are facing helicopters and bomb-strapped hounds, you’ll have enough money to spend on weapon upgrades, armor and support calls. Support can range from summoning an airstrike to flying out a squad of computer-controlled allies to distract the enemy.

Warner Bros. showed off new footage of “Batman: Arkham City,” which looked great. The game mixes the stealth and hand-to-hand combat of the original while adding depth and a massive world to explore. In many ways, it feels like a superior “Assassin’s Creed,” as Batman and Catwoman run across rooftops and explore hidden alleyways. The attention to detail is impressive, both in the city streets and nuanced combat. “Arkham City” delivers on its ambitious premise while keeping the best parts of the original.


Best of Show

Going into E3, there was a lot of buzz surrounding “BioShock Infinite.” After a ho-hum sequel by a different developer, Irrational Games return to their flagship franchise without reiterating on their previous accomplishments. The result is a stunning game that has to be seen to be believed.

The behind-closed-doors presentation was a live demo, but I couldn’t believe what was being shown could be playable. Between the careful character setup and hectic action, the game felt cinematic without limiting the player to a set path. The player driving the demo leaped across rails in the sky, hooking on to different tracks among gunfire while enemies followed closely behind. The action in this quasi-sequel (set in a different location and time period) is faster than its predecessor, but it retains the exploration and storytelling that made the original memorable.


The flow of the storytelling and clever dialog made the fantastical Columbia, a city in the sky, feel like a tangible place you could visit. Compared to the original “BioShock,” the art direction in this sequel embraces primary colors, wide-open space and early 1900s Americana. The art direction and set design give the game a distinct, inviting look.

“BioShock Infinite” is a long way from being released and it’s hard to say how accurate the demo will be to the final retail version, but Irrational Games stood out at E3 by taking influences from outside video games. It has created a world unlike any that has appeared in film or books and brought it into a medium that lets you explore and play within it.

In a year when franchise fatigue is at an all-time high, Irrational’s bold choice to make a sequel that doesn’t use the original as a crutch has paid off.

Photos by Allistair Pinsof

Music Monday

It would be hard to encapsulate the personalities of each member in Anamanaguchi, a New York-based chiptune punk band and arguably the most famous band to ever use hacked Nintendo consoles as makeshift synthesizers.

Lead songwriter Peter Berkman, for example, is complex, and not in a bad way. He’s excitable and incredibly knowledgeable when he talks about cult Japanese video games, the way a wine connoisseur would talk about Californian pinot noir. He’s somber and reflective when the topic of Japan’s recent disasters comes up, but his mood can turn on a dime when Four Loko or smoking pot on 4/20 weaves its way into the interview.

That kind of capriciousness serves the band well though, considering their penchant for making songs that are energetic but not cloying, emotional but not overwrought, and incredibly complex despite the fact that Anamanaguchi’s software can be extremely limiting. Making refreshing post-punk music with their limited set-up, Berkman asserts, is something that’s finally starting to come more naturally.

The Texan spoke with Berkman more in-depth about these subjects and much more in anticipation of Anamanaguchi’s show with Peelander-Z at the Parish on Thursday.

The Daily Texan: The last I heard about Anamanaguchi, you and the band were performing a free show in Union Square in support of Four Loko. Can you tell me a little more about that and what exactly the band was trying to accomplish?

Peter Berkman: [laughs] Yeah man. As we all know, Four Loko was an embattled beverage with caffeine, 12 percent alcohol, and it’s only two bucks for a lot of it. Once people started to campaign against it, we launched a counter-campaign against that. So basically, we did a free show with our friend Ryder Ripps from There were a bunch of people with homemade signs, and pretty much as soon as we started playing there were people — people who we did not invite to the rally — that started showing their butts off and getting crazy. Pretty rad.

DT: Sounds like the quintessential Four Loko party. What was your favorite flavor?

PB: Watermelon. Blue Raspberry. Lemonade. Though a lot of them taste like blood really.

DT: I swear it tastes better if you pour it into a glass. Anyway, I want to get a little serious for a minute. I’m very much aware of how much Japanese pop culture plays a role in your music and how much you guys love the country, and I wanted to see if you had anything to say about the earthquake and tsunami that devastated the country last month.

PB: Yeah, I mean that tsunami affected us pretty hard, honestly. Ary’s girlfriend was in Japan and we all have friends in Japan. We’re on tour with Peelander-Z right now, and they’re from Japan as well. We definitely are a band that’s very much influenced by Japanese pop culture and music and art. I grew up with it in my life, you know? Whether it was video games or music or films or art. I think it’s amazing that America is finally catching up to their style.

DT: I was reading about how the band’s name came to be and I didn’t know if this was a joke or not, but apparently you and James worked at Armani, Ary worked at Prada and Luke worked at a Gucci store in Soho. People called you the Armani-Prada-Gucci boys and that eventually got shortened to Anamanaguchi. Is that right?

PB: Yes. Absolutely.

DT: I never took you guys for fashionistas. I’ve seen you play before, and Anamanaguchi is a pretty straight-laced shirt-and-jeans kind of band, no?

PB: Yeah, dude, we keep it secret. In the daytime we wear our fancy clothes. And at night, we rock it out. [laughs] OK, not really.

DT: What’s the word on the next album? I heard there might be some J-Pop and French electro influences on this one?

PB: As soon as we get back from tour we’re going to be locked into a room until the album comes out. Yeah there will probably be those influences there, but these songs also have their roots based in the older Anamanaguchi.

DT: What’s changed, you think?

PB: I feel the songwriting has definitely matured, more so than it used to be. And I’m more apprehensive of structure. There may be some vocal collaboration, too. [laughs]

DT: Why are you laughing? Wait, it’s 4/20 today, isn’t it? Are you guys “celebrating?”

PB: Yes, we are all celebrating in each of our individual ways.

DT: I feel like Anamanaguchi is able to make complex and intricate music in a way that’s sort of exciting given that the software and setup limits you in what you’re able to do, is that accurate?

PB: Yeah, totally.

DT: And now that a lot of super-produced electronic music is getting popular, dubstep and house music for example, how do you think Anamanaguchi fits into the electronic music sphere?

PB: I feel like we all love like Skrillex and dubstep and house music just as much as everything else really, but as far as how chiptune fits into that world, it’s like taking all those electronic elements and putting them through a distortion pedal and getting the rawest and most primitive form of them. Square waves and white noise are as simple as you can get, and coming from a sound chip from a synthesizer, it’s like punk guitar in the ’70s, when rock music was a big thing, and like, ‘That’s cool, but I can express myself better in the most simple way possible.’ It can be grating to some, though.

DT: Well-put, man. So you just scored the video game for “Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World” and got a lot of praise for it. I know you guys are pretty big gamers, so I have to ask: what are your top three favorite video games of all time?

PB: I think No. 1 would probably be “Shadow of the Colossus.” That game blew my mind, are you familiar with it? It’s a Japanese game and it’s an extremely minimal sort of deconstruction of games in general. You fight 16 bosses in the game and that sounds really standard, but there really is nothing else in the game. No menus or items or nothing. As you go through the bosses, you start to question why you’re defeating them. It’s beautiful. [No. 2] would be Katamari Damacy. It’s perfect in its aesthetic appeal, in its look and feel. It’s super childish and super beautiful and the music accompanies it perfectly. You play as like a prince of space, this little cute dude, who has to roll up objects that stick together. You start off rolling objects up the size of like pencil erasers and over time the balls grow up to the size of cities. You just roll up stuff. It’s awesome. And lastly ... damn. I’m trying to think. A game I’ve been playing a lot lately is called Blocky. It’s a horrible, terrible game for Xbox Arcade. It’s fucking atrocious in every way possible.

DT: What have you been reading lately?

PB: Oh, man. I just finished a manga by Osamu Tezuka called “Ayako.” It’s about this family living in Japan, post-World War II and how they adapt to living in Japan after the war.

DT: How would you describe your perfect sandwich?

PB: Lots of bacon, lots of hot sauce and good, fresh bread.

DT: Favorite pair of shoes?

PB: Normally I’d be inclined to say my Adidas just because I love them, but we just got these new shoes by Zuriick and they are classy as fuck! They are beautifully made shoes by a bunch of bros in Salt Lake City, and they give you a cigarette case and gummy bears along with each pair. Whaaaaaat! [laughs]

DT: Last question: What would you do on your perfect day off?

PB: That’s a great question. Ideally, I wake up at 9 a.m. after a full night’s sleep and then I’m going to my arcade cabinets in my house. I’ll play “Marvel vs. Capcom” with my brothers — and win every time. [laughs] I’d go out to get some breakfast, bacon and pancakes at a diner. And then go to IFC in New York City to catch a good matinee of a movie I’ve never heard of. Then chill for a bit, and go to a show and rage.


WHAT: Anamanaguchi w/ Peelander-Z

WHERE: The Parish

WHEN: Thursday, 8 p.m.

Tickets: $10 advance, $12 at door

Video game franchises live on within the walls of publishers primarily for profit, but the pixilated heroes of fans’ youth continue to resonate because of nostalgia.

Over the past decade, a generation of bedroom programmers grew up, and many have taken to recreating childhood favorites in their own voice. Like a cover song, these free remakes, demakes and remixes are tributes that will ignite a spark in the nostalgic fan and a cease-and-desist letter from copyright holders.


Fan remakes have a history of being canned because of cease-and-desist letters (as was the case with the much anticipated 3D “Chrono Trigger” recreation) or development problems (“Black Mesa Source,” a “Half-Life” remake that has been in the works for nearly five years). There are a few that surface and brilliantly update an old fan-favorite, such as the recently updated “Streets of Rage Remake”: an 8-year-old passion project that tweaks the beloved Sega beat’em up series with 19 playable characters, 103 stages and a level editor that allows others to add to the project. However, there is a chance it will be taken down by Sega. Last year, Sega removed (though the website still exists) the download link to the stunning HD fan remake, “Sonic Fan Remix” — a game which many fans considered superior to recent “Sonic” titles. Even Metroid and Link have been given updates in fan projects that updated the Gameboy versions of their respective series with improved graphics and sounds representative of their Super Nintendo incarnations.


Atari 2600 graphics were once thought to be state-of-the-art for home consoles, but people weren’t impressed with last year’s “Halo 2600” because it was pushing boundaries graphically. The title, developed by a Microsoft employee, took the popular Xbox franchise and reimagined what the game would have been like if conceived two decades earlier — a so-called “demake.” These demakes take an established game and recreate them in a way that emulates hardware from an earlier time. Demakes of “Silent Hill,” “Team Fortress 2” and “The Legend of Zelda” emerged after the indie developer community at held a competition around the concept in 2008. Since then, the idea has carried on and inspired demakes of current acclaimed titles, such as an 8-bit “Left 4 Dead” and “Portal” reimagined entirely in text and grey blocks (“ASCIIpOrtal”).


Many video game mash-ups were never meant to be, but that hasn’t stopped curious programmers from experimenting with putting iconic characters in a different franchise’s world. Last year’s popular “Super Mario Bros. Crossover” is an excellent example. It’s a faithful recreation of the original Nintendo title that lets the player select characters from other Nintendo classics, such as “Mega Man,” “The Legend of Zelda,” “Contra” and four others. Each character plays exactly like they did in their original title, making for a surreal experience as you try to crush Goombas with Simon’s (of “Castlevania”) lackluster jump. A more enjoyable alternative is “Super Mario Bros. X,” an ambitious project that blends all of Mario’s 2-D titles together with elements of other Nintendo games (Link is a playable character), two player co-op and original power-ups. Fighting game fans and pop culture junkies will find much to love in “M.U.G.E.N.,” a fighting game program that lets players build and import their own characters and stages, and tweak rules. You can do anything from staging your own “Mortal Kombat” vs. “Street Fighter” tournament to having SpongeBob and Homer Simpson beat Peter Griffin and Michael Jackson to death. The best downloadable character, however, is Chuck Norris, who can defeat an opponent in one move by summoning a Death Star that crushes whoever stands below.

In a Nintendo press bus, with Donkey Kong’s and Mario’s faces painted on the sides, Warren Spector waits patiently. You may have had him as a professor for a radio-television-film class, and if you were on campus in the 1980s, you may have read his articles in The Daily Texan. But now, he designs video games.

His childlike exuberance and signature sweater vest are unmistakable, but now he sits a long way from the dungeons of “Ultima Underworld” and the futuristic cityscapes of “Deus Ex,” the 2000 release that recently labeled as the second best game of the decade. Now, Spector’s new studio, Junction Point, isn’t only driving Austin game development forward but also the future of Disney’s most iconic character, Mickey Mouse.

With “Epic Mickey’s” Wii-exclusive Nov. 30 release date drawing near, The Daily Texan talked with Spector about Disney’s unexpected proposal, what all his games have in common and why his latest won’t disappoint fans of Mickey Mouse or “Deus Ex.”

The Daily Texan: Was it ever a struggle to pitch your creative vision to Disney?
Warren Spector: The reality is Disney came to me. I didn’t go to them and say, “Give me Mickey Mouse!” They asked me if I wanted to do a Mickey Mouse game. They actually had a core concept that they pitched to me. It was so funny. They asked if it would be okay if we pitch you our ideas of what a Mickey game might be. Are you kidding me?
The idea of Wastleand, a world full of forgotten, rejected concepts — that came from Disney. Bring back Oswald the Rabbit, Disney’s first cartoon star — that came from Disney. Even the Phantom Blot kidnapping Mickey and dragging him into this world, which is how our game starts — that came from Disney. I thought they were genius.

DT: Will the greater world of Disney make an appearance in the game?
WS: The game is set in a world called Wasteland, which is a place where 80 years of Disney creative efforts, rejected and discarded Disney stuff, goes. So, of course you’ll see a lot of stuff from Disney’s history. A lot of stuff you may recognize but a little bit different. A lot of stuff you may never [have] heard of but you’ll learn about [while] playing the game.
It was kind of weird. It was the first time I went to a team and said, “Don’t make stuff up.”

DT: You’re known for making deep, challenging games. What’s the difficulty level going to be like in “Epic Mickey?”
WS: If you want a challenging platformer experience, you can have that. If you are a less skilled, platformer player, like me, you can just paint a path. If you do that, the game will feel a bit more like a “Zelda” game or an action-adventure.
The difficulty of the game and how the game actually feels is largely in your hands. Thanks to the power of paint and thinner you can really decide how crazy the platforming challenges are. You can decide whether you are going to defeat enemies in combat, make them your friends or avoid them entirely.

DT: In “Epic Mickey,” you have these Steamboat Willy levels where the game becomes a 2-D platformer. When did the idea for those come about?
WS: The idea of using 2-D platforming sections came pretty early, actually. There were two reasons. One was, purely selfish. I always wanted to do a platform game and no one was crazy enough to let me do it. I figured I could sneak it in this way — I probably shouldn’t have said that out loud, should I? The other reason was that I wanted to give players the opportunity to jump into films, to really feel they are in a cartoon. In those sections, we turned off the player’s paint and thinner abilities, so that we could make the game look exactly like those cartoons.
Were there any ideas you had from before you got the Mickey license that worked themselves into the game?
A lot of games, they talk about interactivity, but really it’s like you are on a movie set. If you look behind the flats, you’ll see there is nothing but dry wood and masking tape. We wanted to try to make a game that had a more dynamic world and that idea certainly carried over.

DT: What will there be to please fans of your past games?
WS: I’ve been on a personal mission since I go into the electronic games business in 1989. Every game I’ve worked on — and this will be my 20th — has been about player expression. About you getting to decide how to solve problems and you showing how clever and creative you are, as opposed to me and my designers. I think “Deus Ex” and “Ultima” fans will find plenty to like here.
Mickey Mouse is such an internationally recognized character at this point.

DT: Do you have any doubts about how the game will be received in Europe and Asia?
WS: Not “doubts.” That’s not the right word. You always have this excitement. “Oh, how are people going to enjoy it? Are they going to get it? Are they going to like what we did? Are they going to compare us to Mario which is this dedicated platformer game or Zelda, a dedicated puzzle and exploration game, or are they going to get that we let you decide what to do?” If they get that, we win.

DT: How has the Wii as a platform influenced the game’s design?
WS: The Wii as a platform pretty much determined everything. When we made the decision we were going to be a Wii exclusive in Jan. 2008, Disney gave us a gift. They basically allowed us to start from scratch. The beauty of working on a single platform is that you can design for that platform without compromise. What we were able to do was to look at the Wii, look at what it offered us, look at what it allowed us to do that no other platform would allow us to do and then take that and turn it up to 11.

DT: How long has Junction Point been a studio?
WS: I left Ion Storm in spring 2004; I had a noncompete. We incorporated in early 2005. I left Ion Storm because I wanted to do digitally distributed episodic content. I got crushed. That’s the bottom-line. I needed a lot of money and everyone said, “Oh, this is a great idea. We love this, but you are five years too early.” But, I’m thrilled to be where I am.
It seems you hired a lot of your Ion Storm team back. Why was this important?
Well, there are people I’ve been working with a very long time. We work together because we like each other, I guess, and we share a design sensibility and we share some goals. There are a lot of people now making games — I call them “games of choice and consequence” — but the way I [and the people around me] like to do them is a little different. I try to steer clear of good/evil, right/wrong judgments and just let people play. People who get that, that we are not judging, they are pretty rare. So, I’ve been lucky.

DT: This is your first third-person perspective game. What problems did that bring up?
WS: It’s funny. I have to wonder how the heck did Disney think I was the right guy to do this — other than being the biggest Disney geek on the planet. I never did a third person game, never did a game that had platforming elements of any kind, never done an action-adventure game. The average player of my games topped 30 about 10 years ago, so I make games for older guys and, I mean, largely guys. And, all of a sudden, I’m making a game about Mickey Mouse. It’s crazy. But that’s part of why I wanted to do it. I’m not sure why they let me do it.
I tell you, I have a lot more respect guys who do platformer games and third person, action-adventure games. The camera, oh my god! The camera is just insane. I do first person games so I never had to deal with that. I now think that third person camera is the hardest problem in game development.

DT: One of my favorite things about the UT Video Game Archive is the giant tome that is the design book for “Deus Ex” that you donated — what was the preproduction process like for “Epic Mickey”?
WS: Pretty incredible, actually. We went through several phases. We wrote up about 300 pages of design documentation. Then when we actually got around to working on the game, we made the decision to be a Wii exclusive, so a lot of that stuff went away and we had to start over from scratch.
The most fun and exciting part was actually collaborating with folks at Disney, getting into the archives, talking to people in feature animation at Pixar, consumer products people and anyone else we could talk to. It was pretty remarkable.

DT: Why Pixar?
WS: When you are talking about a Disney game, I think you have to start with quality animation so talking to people from feature animation is important.
You had a master class on game design at UT in 2006. Any hope you’ll do something like that again?
I’d love to do another master class or just teach classes in general. I was working on my Ph.D. at UT, in fact, when I left to start making games. I was teaching RTF314. One day I got a call from the chairman of the radio-television-film department saying, “Spector, we have to take your class away. You are only allowed nine semesters of support as a doctorial candidate and you have 13.” I love teaching. It’s just a question of much time it takes. I’m a game development guy now. If I ever get the time, you bet I’m teaching and I hope it’s at UT. 

Summer is always unkind to gamers. The releases are few, the news is slow and everyone you usually play with is on vacation. Maybe it’s because of competition from Hollywood or marketing research, but game publishers are convinced summer isn’t the time to release games.

Despite that belief, this summer was full of news on what Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo have in store for the upcoming year and a couple of quality, high-budget releases.

The summer began with the Electronic Entertainment Expo, the largest annual game conference of the year, which had Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft offering a closer look at their upcoming hardware and unveiling many surprises to the public.

While Nintendo struggled to get its Wii controller to work onstage (cell-phone interception allegedly was to blame), the new motion-control technology — Microsoft’s Kinect and Sony’s Move — garnered mixed reactions from attendees.

For such a heavily controlled environment and original technology, the demos of the games were said to be unresponsive and uninspired, apart from a couple of exceptions that implemented the technology in novel ways.

Test units at various shopping centers that have recently been released for Kinect are only making it more clear how troublesome the product is with drastic lag and strict limitations on how much free space is required to play.

The big story, though, was Nintendo’s 3DS — a name so simple that it can only lead to confusion. Not only is it a new, improved DS with a thumbstick and higher-resolution graphics, but it’s also in 3-D. The best thing is that no dorky glasses are required to experience games in 3-D, and it looks stunning.

To go along with the 3DS, Nintendo stole the show by announcing new entries in the “GoldenEye 007,” “Donkey Kong Country,” “Kid Icarus” and “Kirby” series. The first two are being handled by new developers, but their intentions of blending the old with the new seem promising.

Sony finally got around to showing off its Move technology, which seems like nothing more than a more accurate, glow stick-looking Wii Remote. One of the new games designed for Move, “Sorcery,” allows players to control a young wizard by directly manipulating his wand to cast spells, an interesting idea wrapped around a rather uninspired world and aesthetic.

The rest of its lineup focused on converting new entries in older series to work with the technology, as is the case with “SOCOM 4” and “Killzone 3” — but don’t worry, you can still use a traditional controller. There was also the announcement of a new “Twisted Metal,” for those who don’t think firing missiles from an ice-cream truck should be left back in 1997.

The same can’t be said of Microsoft, who focused solely on copying Nintendo’s past successes in the hope that they can cash in on what has already been sold. Even worse, some of the technology shown in Kinect’s promotional videos from last year, such as the ability to scan any real-world object and add it to the game, were not shown in any demos or publicly discussed this year.

As far as current releases are concerned, the summer has been expectably slow. “Super Mario Galaxy 2,” “Alan Wake” and “Red Dead Redemption,” Rockstar San Diego’s American Old West take on the “Grand Theft Auto” series, started off the summer with strong reviews and sales.

Not until the release of “StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty” in late July was there another release worth talking about. Not that there needs to be, considering how much praise and attention the game is receiving, and rightfully so after seven years in development and 12 years after the release of the original.