Most Recent: SPBVGOAT

The Scientifically Proven Best Video Games of All Time #78: The Secret of Monkey Island

Did you miss The Scientifically Proven Best Video Games of All Time’s Introduction? Catch up on how we decided to sort the games and the rest of the Top 100.

Game publishers have been concerned with digital pirates illegally copying their games since the very beginning of the medium. Some have even gone so far as to include booby traps in their code for these would-be thieves. But when it comes to depicting actual pirates, gamemakers (along with major Hollywood players and one of the most celebrated fantasy authors of the last few decades) are content to pillage, plunder, and steal all the best ideas from each other.

It all began in 1967 when Walt Disney himself oversaw the construction of the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction at Disneyland. Over the years, the ride would go on to be recreated at Disney World, Tokyo Disneyland, and Disneyland Park in Paris. Borrowing a bit from Treasure Island, the ride’s exciting ship-to-ship battle, raid on a coastal outpost, group of prisoners trying to bribe a dog for a key, and the frothy ditty “Yo Ho (A Pirate’s Life For Me)” created the quintessential image of a pirate that was shared by kids the world over.

Tim Powers was not one of these kids. Already a teenager by the late 60s, Powers rose to prominence as one of the earliest authors of steampunk (and he, along with K.W. Jeter and James Blaylock, helped coin the phrase). In 1987, he published one of his most famous novels, On Stranger Tides. The novel tells the tale of John Chandagnac, an inexperienced youth who becomes the debonair pirate “Jack Shandy” and rescues the girl after he has a run-in with several undead buccaneers. (more…)

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The Scientifically Proven Best Video Games of All Time #38: Tomb Raider

Did you miss The Scientifically Proven Best Video Games of All Time’s Introduction? Catch up on how we decided to sort the games and the rest of the Top 100.

For better or worse, Lara Croft is the most famous woman in all of gaming. But all her fame might be a fluke, because the developers behind her creation claim it was all an accident.

Formed in the late 80s, Core Design was an unlikely candidate to be creating a wide open 3D title like Tomb Raider. The developer’s biggest claim to fame at the time was Rick Dangerous, a game that could charitably be called an “homage” to Indiana Jones. Other gamers might remember Chuck Rock, a platformer created by Core that starred a dimwitted caveman. But like many British developers of the time, they didn’t think about their limitations and just went for it. This definitely applied to Toby Gard, the artist behind Lara Croft’s original look.

Like Rick Dangerous, Lara began life as a man with no name that bore a striking resemblance to Harrison Ford. Fearing a lawsuit, Gard redrew the character as a woman and began tinkering with a number of different personalities. The artist told IGN in 2008 that the proto-Tomb Raider began life as a “sociopathic blonde” before morphing into a muscle woman, a “flat topped hip hopster,” and a “Nazi-like militant in a baseball cap.” None of these looks fit the game that Core envisioned, but Gard’s final pass at it proved to be the winner. Laura Cruz, “a tough South American woman in a long braid and hot pants,” was born. (more…)

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The Scientifically Proven Best Video Games of All Time #56: Ms. Pac-Man

Did you miss The Scientifically Proven Best Video Games of All Time’s Introduction? Catch up on how we decided to sort the games and the rest of the Top 100.

It’s easy to forget nowadays, but Ms. Pac-Man was actually created by accident. Like Doc Brown’s invention of time travel after a tumble from the toilet, Ms. Pac-Man was created when a group of game developers from MIT attempted to release an unauthorized sequel to Pac-Man known as “Crazy Otto.”

Before turning their sights on the biggest arcade game of the day, the development team, General Computer, first used their programming skills to create an “enhancement kit” for Atari’s Missile Command. Instead of creating their own game from scratch, the enhancement kit hooked into Atari’s code and altered it to provide a new gameplay experience. Essentially, General Computer created the first expansion pack.

Even though the enhancement kit required an original Missile Command cabinet, Atari later attempted to sue General Computer for copyright infringement. But rather than become mired in a protracted court case, the arcade giant and the enterprising college students reached a settlement. Atari would hire General Computer to design original arcade games so long as they agreed not to create any additional enhancement kits without the permission of the original game publisher. The developers quickly signed on, but first they took a nearly complete version of “Crazy Otto” to Midway, the North American distributor of Pac-Man. (more…)

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The Scientifically Proven Best Video Games of All Time #3: Super Mario 64

Did you miss The Scientifically Proven Best Video Games of All Time’s Introduction? Catch up on how we decided to sort the games and the rest of the Top 100.

For Mario’s first foray into “The Third Dimension,” Nintendo wanted to ensure that everything was perfect. In fact, the Nintendo 64, its unique three-pronged controller, and the controller’s analog stick designed to better simulate 3D movement were all created with the needs of Super Mario 64 in mind.

Nintendo had good reason to be worried about getting all of the details just right, as most video gamers had never even seen a 3D platformer before Super Mario 64. Aside from a few experimental titles from the late 80s and early 90s, 3D movement was only found in a handful of titles on the market at the time, the most famous of which was probably EA’s Fade To Black. Naughty Dog’s Crash Bandicoot, which included pseudo-3D movement, beat Super Mario 64 to store shelves by about five weeks, but a majority of the game took place on a 2D plane.

So Nintendo used Super Mario 64 as an opportunity to introduce players to what was, in their mind, an entirely new genre. Shigeru Miyamoto’s exacting attention to detail helped mold every part of the game. The first interaction players had with the game was the appearance of an actual cameraman (Lakitu the Cloud), and instructions on how to control the camera’s angle with the diamond-shaped set of C-Buttons on the right side of the Nintendo 64 controller. Actually, let me back up… the very first thing most players experienced after booting up Super Mario 64 was the interactive Mario face on the Title Screen. Miyamoto saw fit to even offer players a primer on polygons as the squares, rectangles, and rhombi that made up Mario’s face could be grabbed and manipulated in dozens of different ways. In a way, “It’s-a me, Mario! Hello!” was a coded message that encouraged players to jump right into this new 3D world. (more…)

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The Scientifically Proven Best Video Games of All Time #16: Halo: Combat Evolved

Did you miss The Scientifically Proven Best Video Games of All Time’s Introduction? Catch up on how we decided to sort the games and the rest of the Top 100.

Microsoft is usually portrayed as the stodgy suit in contrast to Apple’s hip turtleneck, but would you believe that the first Xbox prototype was built on a whim by a quartet of guys from the company’s engineering department?

Kevin Bachus, Otto Berkes, Seamus Blackley, and Ted Hase first took their “DirectX Box” to Ed Fries, the head of Microsoft’s video game division, in 1998. Even though everyone in the world had played a dozen hands (or more) of Windows Solitaire, Microsoft wasn’t a big player in the game development arena at the time. Similar to today’s line of console-like PCs, the original “DirectX Box” was an off-the-shelf Windows PC with a video card and a hard drive that hid the Windows-ness of the system from the player.

Before the “DirectX Box” could move forward, Fries and his team had to fight off a challenge from a separate team within Microsoft that had worked with Sega to produce some of the system software for the Dreamcast. They were pushing for the company to create a more traditional console (no Windows, no hard drive), and Bill Gates himself ultimately stepped in to give his blessing to Fries and his “DirectX Box.” (more…)

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The Scientifically Proven Best Video Games of All Time #90: Space Invaders

Did you miss The Scientifically Proven Best Video Games of All Time’s Introduction? Catch up on how we decided to sort the games and the rest of the Top 100.

“Drop down, increase speed, and reverse direction!”

Somehow, the writers of Futurama found a way to sum up the essence of Space Invaders (in 2002’s “Anthology of Interest II”) with a single succinct sentence. And yet, in the days and years after its release in 1978, the game was considered something of a phenomenon. Even today, an oft-repeated urban legend claims that obsessive Space Invaders fans caused a shortage of the 100 yen coin in Japan.

Obviously, dropping a coin into an arcade slot will keep it in circulation, so it would have been impossible for Space Invaders to be the cause of any shortage. Though one thing those obsessive fans did do was raise the profile of the game’s titular aliens so that now they’re something of a mascot for all video games.

But it all started with, “Drop down, increase speed, and reverse direction!” Which as a formula was later refined and improved upon by Namco when they created Galaxian and Galaga. (more…)

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The Scientifically Proven Best Video Games of All Time #65: Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island

Did you miss The Scientifically Proven Best Video Games of All Time’s Introduction? Catch up on how we decided to sort the games and the rest of the Top 100.

I’m just guessing here, but I’d imagine that many Mario fans have no idea a sequel to Super Mario World even exists. Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island was released for the Super NES in 1995 and starred the titular dinosaur in his first solo adventure. Most fans refer to the game as just “Yoshi’s Island,” because it’s such a departure from the rest of the franchise to that point, and because the “Super Mario World 2” print on the game’s box is almost invisible.

Serving as a prequel to the entire Super Mario franchise, Yoshi’s Island introduced Baby Mario to the world and tasked Yoshi with protecting the infant from Baby Bowser. While it’s Fall 1995 release was overshadowed by the launch of the Sega Saturn and the Sony PlayStation, a dedicated cult following has built up around the game over the years.

Though they might not have known exactly which game it was promoting, I guarantee that everyone remembers the commercial Nintendo used to sell Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island in America. (more…)

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The Scientifically Proven Best Video Games of All Time #91: Madden NFL Football (Series)

Did you miss The Scientifically Proven Best Video Games of All Time’s Introduction? Catch up on how we decided to sort the games and the rest of the Top 100.

A gambler will tell you that they believe Lady Luck will reward them for respecting a streak, and a professional football player will tell you that he doesn’t believe in the Madden Curse. The former is a wishful thinker, and the latter is a liar.

The sports world is filled with superstitions. As a Little Leaguer growing up, I could show you what a “rally cap” was and explain the importance of never touching the baselines. I understood completely why retired Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland refused to change his underwear during a 12-game winning streak in 2011. I’ve even got strong opinions on what you say to a pitcher in the middle of a perfect game. The answer is you don’t say anything, because talking to him at all is bad luck.

For decades, the Sports Illustrated Cover Jinx served as a well-known precursor to the Madden Curse. Those who believe in the Jinx are convinced that any player who appears on the cover of Sports Illustrated will experience some form of terrible luck, even though a handful of high-profile hits have obscured the long list of players who avoided the Jinx over the years. If the sheer number of cover subjects doesn’t dissuade you (more than 3,000 issues have been produced since the magazine’s launch in 1954), the illustrious career of Michael Jordan should. The basketball great has appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated a record 50 times, and he’s had the kind of career that other athletes dream about… not counting his detour through Minor League Baseball and Space Jam.

But what of the Madden Curse? Although you’ll find a few executives at Electronic Arts who enjoy hyping up the current year’s game with talk of the Curse, most of them like to downplay it. In 2008, the then-President of EA Sports, Peter Moore, said, “I guess when you look back there’s a grain of truth to the Madden Curse.” At the time, he wasn’t wrong. Five of the last six offensive players on the cover succumbed to some horrible calamity. The publishing giant even considered producing a movie based on the Madden Curse in 2010, though that project seems to have fallen off the radar in the years since.

And that’s probably because the Madden Curse is as mythical as a wild turducken. (more…)

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