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August 2010

Zebes On Parade: The Art Of Super Metroid

Samus hunts bounty With the new Metroid: Other M for the Nintendo Wii poised to tell another tale of the ongoing saga of Samus Aran, it seems like a good time to take a step back and have a look at one of the bounty hunter's most beloved adventures.  Considering that Other M opens at the end of 1994's Super Metroid, it's only proper to have a fresh look at the promotional character artwork created for the Super NES title nearly two decades ago.  From Samus herself to the titular Metroids to Space Pirates and Mother Brain's army of horrifying space monsters, planet Zebes saw a lot of action before being blown to kingdom come. Let's review a little of that madness before moving on to Samus's latest challenge.

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Power Button - Episode 21: Garth Chouteau Of PopCap Games Brings The Zombies And Zumas (Plus A Diegetic Discussion)

Power ButtonWe always enjoy talking to Garth Chouteau Of PopCap Games, and this week's episode of Power Button is no exception.  Joey Davidson and I convince him to spill the beans on the new versions of Plants vs Zombies for the Microsoft Xbox 360 and Nintendo DS as well as the company's plans for the new social networking version of Zuma, Zuma Blitz.  We even have release window dates to share for all of the above (including the recently revealed DS title).  If you've been wondering what the recently trademarked PopCap property Vacation Quest is all about, you'll definitely want to listen as we ask Garth what that's all about and actually get an answer out of him.  Then in our second segment we sink our collective teeth into the topic of diegetic music in video games and how that relates to the fourth wall, idle animations, in-jokes, and characterization in general.  We have something for everyone this week. Download this week's episode directly from PTB, listen with the player below, or subscribe via iTunes, and be sure to catch up on past episodes if you're joining us late. Remember that you can reach all three of us via  and you can even follow on Twitter at @PressTheButtons or for just podcast updates, @ThePowerButton. We're Power Button. Turn us on!

Power Button - Episode 21: Garth Chouteau Of PopCap Games Brings The Zombies And Zumas (Plus A Diegetic Discussion)

PopCap Games Talks About Vacation Quest

PopCap GamesThe Internet lit up last week with news that everyone's favorite casual-but-core video game developer, PopCap Games, had filed a new trademark for something called Vacation Quest.  Naturally, fans everywhere want to know what this Vacation Quest is all about, how to play it, and when to buy it.  Like any talented studio, PopCap will sell no wine before it is time and has been quiet on the matter.  Quiet, that is, until I had the opportunity to talk to PopCap's VP of Communications, Garth Chouteau, for Episode 21 of the Power Button podcast.  I couldn't let the chance to ask about Vacation Quest slip away.  Here's what Garth had to say as heard on Episode 21 about the discovered trademark:

When it comes to trademarks, we file those very judiciously because they're expensive and in part because we're really not supposed to file superfluous or frivolous trademark submissions, but when it comes to domain names — URLs — it's very cheap to sort of secure them and it's usually a good idea to do that in a kind of scattershot way, so we may not even have a game in the works with that name.  That may be some promotion or a derivative or some game name that we think someone else might take to confuse consumers or grab what should be some of our web traffic.  There's no way to know.  We file a lot of those, and it's funny about the ones that kind of end up bubbling up.   Some of those never get used.  A good portion of them never turn into anything.

Nice dodge there, Garth.  I salute you!  My guess is that I asked about Vacation Quest before the company was ready to talk about it, but at least now we know a little of the method behind PopCap's trademark and domain name registration madness.  So there you have it.  PopCap's Vacation Quest (if it exists) will be available to play (unless it isn't) sometime in the future (unless it's not).

Power Button's Matt And Brad Appear On The Kombo Video Game News Team 5 Podcast

KomboBrad Hilderbrand and I aren't content to only be a part of the Power Button podcast.  We've set out sights on taking over every gaming podcast starting with a guest shot on Kombo's new in-house podcast, Kombo Video Game News Team 5.  Brad and I turn up on this week's Episode 2 along with show mainstays Jeff Grubb and Pete Davison in which we discuss games we've played recently such as Shank, Mafia II, Top Gun, and Tales Of Monkey Island.  Then we set our sights on the news stories of the last week such as a lack of multiplayer for BioShock Infinite, the used game debate and charging extra for games that offer a 3D options.  A third segment details examples of gamers helping other gamers, but we're not involved with that.  You'll find the show over at Kombo.  Check it out.

Xbox Live Prices Going Up

Xbox Live prices Microsoft has announced via Major Nelson that subscription rates for its Xbox Live service are on the rise starting in November for some regions.  The United States, Canada, Mexico, and the United Kingdom will have to pay a little extra for Live Gold plans; a year of Gold in the USA will run you $60 now, for instance.  As you can imagine, there are two opinions regarding this price increase.  On the Microsoft side you have this:

Since launching Xbox LIVE in 2002 we have continually added more content and entertainment experiences for our members, while keeping the price the same. We’re confident that when the new pricing takes effect, an Xbox LIVE Gold membership will continue to offer the best value in the industry.

While on the angry subscriber side, you have incongruous things like this:

wtf!  You don't even give us enough content to justify $50 let alone $60..  glad I'm paid up for the next year and a half...

The price of any service from Xbox Live to cable television to electricity and beyond eventually increases over time, so considering that Live rates have been the same for the last eight years, I suppose it was due for an increase, and an extra ten dollars isn't too terribly much in the grand scheme of things. After all, there are some services out there that can make a ten dollar increase seem like a rounding error.  Still, that doesn't make accepting the news any easier to take in these tough econo... wait a minute.  Isn't this just an extra eighty-three cents per month?  Alright, never mind.  I'm not a fan of price hikes either, but if you're already paying $50 a year for Xbox Live (on top of presumably buying new games several times during that period) and can't come up with an extra $0.83 a month to cover this increase, maybe you should rethink this whole Xbox 360 thing.

Nintendo Drops Prices Of DSi, DSi XL

Nintendo DSi XLNintendo has announced that it is dropping the prices of the DSi and DSi XL in North America starting September 12.  Soon you'll be able to snag the units for $149.99 and $169.99 respectively.  The price of the DS Lite isn't changing, while the original model DS has long since been discontinued.  I'd quote from Nintendo's press release, but you're pretty much caught up and probably don't want to read the marketing spin.  Oh, what the heck.  It's tradition!

"We know shoppers want to get the maximum value out of every dollar they spend," said Cammie Dunaway, Nintendo of America's executive vice president of Sales & Marketing. "Our new Nintendo DSi prices make it easier than ever for consumers to access the tremendous variety of games, applications and social tools on the Nintendo DSi and Nintendo DSi XL systems."
The Nintendo DSi and Nintendo DSi XL systems offer consumers access to more than 1,300 packaged games and more than 200 downloadable games. Both systems feature two built-in cameras and photo- and sound-manipulation software that provide for a more social experience. Users can wirelessly upload photos to Facebook with the touch of a button (wireless broadband Internet access required). The Nintendo DSi XL system, which features a screen that is 93 percent larger than that of the Nintendo DS Lite, comes pre-loaded with software like
Brain Age™ Express: Math, Brain Age Express: Arts & Letters, Flipnote Studio™, Photo Clockand the Nintendo DSi Browser.

Consider some friendly advice before you rush out to the store on the twelfth.  This price cut has to be a pre-response to the upcoming release of the DSi's successor, the 3DS.  If you don't already have a DSi, hold out for the new machine.  It'll cost more than a DSi, yes, but you'll be better off in the long run.  Now, if I may speculate: if the DSi is getting a price cut now, doesn't that make you wonder if the 3DS's release is closer than we assume?  It's almost as if Nintendo is trying to clear out some stock before the next big thing shows up to steal last generation's thunder...

Weekly Poll: DLC For You And Me

Weekly Poll for 8-23-2010 Nintendo's new Metroid: Other M is quite popular among the purchasing crowd, although a surprisingly large number of you out there aren't planning to play the game at all.  I know the reviews have been mixed (I haven't read any detailed takes on the game since I'm still slated to write the review for Kombo if my copy ever arrives; there was a shipping mix-up on Nintendo's part), but I'm still cautiously optimistic and open-minded.  The series has been reinvented before and it's survived.  I'm sure that history will repeat.

Changing gears, let's talk about downloadable content.  Purchasing new material through the Internet directly to your game console or computer has taken off like wild fire this generation, be it through Microsoft's Xbox Live Marketplace, Sony's PlayStation Store, or Valve's Steam.  What sort of downloadable content do you buy the most (if at all)?  Full games?  Add-on content?  Avatars or virtual clothing or some sort?  Let's hear about your habits.

Whatever Happened To Mario's V-Sign?


Remember how when Mario would exit a stage in Super Mario World, he'd turn toward you, the player, and flash a V-for-Victory sign?  That was the plumber's near-trademark gesture for quite a while, showing up again in not only Super Mario 64, Super Mario RPG, various portions of Super Mario All-Stars, and Super Mario Kart, but also lots of promotional character artwork produced around the same time.  Over the last decade, Mario stopping using the sign, and while some would think that this is nothing notable, others like Kombo's Lucas DeWoody sense a politically correct conspiracy in the works.

Some of Mario's earliest and most T-shirt friendly artwork depicts him flashing his famous “V for victory” sign. While that artwork was used as early as 1989, the symbol made its in-game debut with 1991's Super Mario World and would go on to be featured in tons of Mario titles all through the rest of the decade. Everything from Super Mario Kart to Super Mario RPG featured the sign. Seems harmless enough? Well, that famous “V” sign also stands for something else in popular culture. Just ask Ringo Starr if you need to know. While in Japan the “V” symbol means “victory”, it became known in America as a common expression of peace during the 1960s flower power era. To this day, a lot of Americans still immediately recall the thought of peace protesters when the symbol makes an appearance.

As you (should) well know, America's population is currently deeply divided over the opinion of our status as a warring nation in the midst of our Middle East battles. Regardless of your personal opinion on American foreign policy, there are a lot of people out there who believe we should be at war, and their feathers get ruffled when they see sign of a peace protester. Is it for that reason that Mario – an icon more widely loved that Mickey Mouse – has conspicuously stopped flashing his famous sign? Driving the point home, Nintendo of America recently redrew and reissued some of that familiar old-school 2D Mario artwork, likely for use in retro memorabilia. While the artwork is true to the classic style, something is obviously missing.  Nintendo also seems determined to do what they can to scrub the classic Mario victory pose from their history. When Mario Kart 64's Mario Raceway made a return appearance in Mario Kart Wii, Nintendo very obviously removed the artwork depicting the familiar Mario stance with something less “controversial”.

The V-sign had faded away so gradually that I hadn't noticed until Lucas raised the issue, and at first I'd just assumed the sign's retirement was just the latest in a long, ongoing reinvention of the character.  After all, the Mario from the Super NES and Nintendo 64 years is stylistically different than the original Mario from the arcade and Nintendo Entertainment System generations.  Why shouldn't he change further as time goes on?  Then Lucas brought up that when games from the V era are re-released, the V-sign is painstakingly removed.  Now I'm wondering if there isn't something to his theory.

I don't believe that Nintendo is pandering to any one political side out there, but is instead trying to keep their beloved and profitable character neutral in any such potential discussion.  This is nothing new in recent years.  While popular characters of the time were part of World War II, today's modern corporations typically do not want their creations taking a side in any conflict beyond corporate rivalries (Mario versus Sonic the Hedgehog, etc.) lest they offend a portion of the marketplace (particularly in an era where any perceived political undertone is blown up endlessly on twenty-four cable news and, of course, the Internet itself).  As much of a Mario fan as I am, I can't say that the loss of the V-sign impacts me or my view of the character in any way.  Mario is defined by many elements, but what he does with his hand when he completes an objective is not one of them.

Power Button - Episode 20: Promising Titles From Gamescom

Power ButtonWhile Brad Hilderbrand, Joey Davidson, and I love our annual E3 experience, it's only proper that our European counterparts also get to enjoy a massive video game expo on their own home turf. Enter Gamescom in Germany with its own press conferences and product announcements. On this episode of Power Button we take a look at the new titles revealed at Gamescom that excite us and make us wish we had the time to jet off to Europe for a week just to see games such as Portal 2, BioShock Infinite, and Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One. That leads us into a discussion on why it's important that Europe hosts its own version of E3. It's forty-five minutes of humorously insightful conversation with the occasional hilarious derail. Download this week's episode directly from PTB, listen with the player below, or subscribe via iTunes, and be sure to catch up on past episodes if you're joining us late. Remember that you can reach all three of us via  and you can even follow on Twitter at @PressTheButtons or for just podcast updates, @ThePowerButton. Finally, next time after weeks of unintended teasing our old pal Garth Chouteau of PopCap Games returns to talk about the new versions of Plants vs Zombies for the Microsoft Xbox 360 and Nintendo DS as well as Zuma Blitz and a new PopCap project about which you know nothing, plus Joey and I engage in a deep discussion about diegetic elements in gaming. Casual and core gamers alike will not want to miss our next episode.

Power Button - Episode 20: Promising Titles From Gamescom