While some of the world has fallen prey to false conspiracy theories about human trafficking this year, in the land of video games, a much more playful collective delusion has been unfolding throughout 2020. Some fans swear they’ve been having nightmares about Super Mario 64, but the game they remember and distort while they sleep isn’t the same one you and I have played.
Versions of these supposed Super Mario 64 nightmares are popping up all over YouTube and social media this year, and millions of people are watching them. Pulling from the tradition of found footage films, these uploads appear with nothing more than a date in the title, which tells us when the original VHS tape was created. There is no VHS tape, of course. But you wouldn’t know that while watching — the videos have that chunky overlay display you’d expect from an old cassette tape, fuzzy digital artifacts and all. The footage is often out of focus, as if someone is recording their TV while it plays back the video.
Known for its bright, imaginative levels and robust jumping physics, Super Mario 64 is undoubtedly one of the most influential games in the entire medium. This might be why YouTuber Marionova64 says they’ve been having dreams about the platformer since they were a child, when they were first entranced by the digital playgrounds concocted by the minds at Nintendo. These very dreams ended up being the inspiration behind a series of videos on their channel that depict Super Mario 64 in a creepy light.
Intellectually, we can watch the video above and know it’s not real. Mario never enters a bloody red endless hallway like this, nor does he ever encounter a message warning him from going any farther. But it looks legitimate — these are, in fact, assets from the game, albeit modified for entertainment purposes. Marionova64 told Sports Grind Entertainment over Discord that the video above is a collaboration between them and content creator Greenio. Marionova64 built the ROM file that places Mario in a terrifying new reality, while Greenio did the editing to put it all together.
“A lot of what you see is actually in game, and not video editing magic,” Marionova64 told Sports Grind Entertainment, noting that it took about two days of work. Many of the content creators Sports Grind Entertainment spoke to for this story said they learned their tools on the fly, but that amateur aspect somehow only gives everything an air of authenticity.
Videos like the one above inspired other people to jump in on the trend, which might explain why there’s been such a notable resurgence of Super Mario 64 creepypasta over the last year. Some of it exists as video, but there’s also been a wave of photoshops and fan art that show ominous scenes from the game. One common image trope, for example, shows a floating Wario head terrorizing Mario across Peach’s castle.
All of these gave rise to a popular image known as the “Super Mario 64 iceberg,” a deep-fried graphic that puts all the conspiracy theories in a single place. Usually, any new creepypasta that emerges pulls from one of these threads depicted in the iceberg. The top of the iceberg lists popular, well-known conspiracy theories like “L is real,” which purports that Luigi is hiding somewhere within Super Mario 64. But the farther down you go on the iceberg, the more wild it gets.
A video explaining the iceberg on YouTube has racked up 2.2 million views as of this writing. Likely, a combination of the Nintendo gigaleak this year, along with the announcement of a Nintendo Switch port of Super Mario 64, have both contributed to the rising interest in the classic game, though the trend started well beyond either of those things.
One of the most popular tall tales posits that every single copy of Super Mario 64 is personalized — meaning that everyone played a slightly different version of the game. Likely, this idea took root because it helps sell the larger fantasy: after all, just because you didn’t play a grim version of Super Mario 64 doesn’t mean that someone else couldn’t have.
This creepypasta world is, in a way, almost a collective fiction experiment where everyone builds off each other’s ideas.
“Upon showing these hacks to a few people, I was greeted with ‘I swear I’ve dreamed of this before…’” Marionova64 told Sports Grind Entertainment.
According to Saltysoda, another Super Mario 64 horror machinima creator, we’re likely seeing this resurgence of nostalgia for the game because most of the folks who played it growing up are now adults, and hungry for something more complex than what the original game provided.
“Going back to the game as older people after not playing it for a while means we see the contents of it with a fresh pair of eyes, and the game definitely has a strange feeling that its hiding something, or something deeper is going on just below the surface,” Saltysoda said over Discord.
It likely also helps that, despite our fond memories of the game, it does genuinely contain some unsettling imagery, like that of the eel or the haunted piano.
“It’s a weird game — half Alice in Wonderland drug trip, half kid’s cartoon,” says game designer Sam Barlow, who once tried pitching an unfinished 90’s platformer that would slowly reveal itself to be cursed. The game was rejected at the time because, in his words, the business suits didn’t see the appeal of a “broken Mario game.”
According to Barlow, Super Mario 64 is “just weird enough that you might see malevolence out the corner of your eye. Gorgeous green fields above, demonic dungeons below. Chirpy dinosaurs one minutes, non Euclidean ghost houses the next … it’s full of fake walls and magical paintings, optical illusions we’d never seen before in 3D. It’s a game that really loves to poke at the fabric of its own illusion.”
The game that people remember, then, isn’t entirely a land of joy and star collecting — and that’s what the larger trend speaks to.
“Hazy Maze Cave, Wet Dry World and Dire Dire Docks are three examples of worlds that feel strangely empty and desolate at times,” Saltysoda said.
Above all, Super Mario 64 has given rise to a series of scary stories because it hails from an era in which there was still a palpable sense of the unknown. Unlike modern games, we don’t have patch notes listing out every single change and inclusion, nor do we have data miners who can tell us about every single file within a title. Cartridges, by contrast, are more of a mystery — and one that can get corrupted beyond repair. This might explain why there are so many impossible-to-verify rumors about old-school games, a quality that Super Mario 64 creepypasta-makers want to bring back.
“Glitching wasn’t something you saw on Youtube … it was something you heard about on the playground,” Barlow said.
“That era of tech was full of evocative oddities — the fidelity was low enough that you could read into it something that wasn’t there,” he continued. Sure enough, even before Super Mario 64’s resurgence (and eventual re-release) in 2020, fans already got obsessed with things that might not be true, like a sign that supposedly teases the inclusion of a secret character.
“When we look back at childhood favorites, it’s easy to tweak them towards horror and gain energy from how much more believing and innocent and fearful we were when we loved them,” Barlow said. “There was a secret world much darker than we knew hiding behind everything served up to us as kids, revisiting that as an adult can be powerful.”
You can save $580 off a refurbished Samsung Galaxy Z Flip at Back Market
Samsung’s Galaxy Z Flip usually costs $1,380 if you buy it new, but Back Market is selling refurbished units for $799. If you’ve wanted to own one of these but couldn’t justify spending the equivalent of two Xbox Series X consoles and a PS5 digital edition on a phone, now’s your chance to jump in.
This version of the Z Flip is compatible with GSM carriers, including AT&T and T-Mobile. This isn’t the Z Flip 5G that was announced more recently; it’s the one that supports LTE. In the review, which you can watch above or read here, The Sports Grind Entertainment’s Dieter Bohn lauds its performance and battery life, as well as its “solid-feeling, smooth hinge” design. Keep in mind, though, that its foldable glass is still fragile to scratches, and its cameras aren’t much to write home about.
Back Market lists this model in “mint” condition, which means each phone has “no scratches and have exteriors that look brand new. For smartphones and tablets: the screen is completely intact and without scratches.” Per the company that actually performed the refurbishment, it says: “This device is in Mint condition and 100% fully functional. This device works with any GSM network worldwide and includes a generic charger. All of our devices are professionally tested and inspected by our expert technicians.”
Each phone is covered by a one-year warranty, so if you encounter any problem during that period, Back Market will handle the shipping to and from to fix the Z Flip. If a fix isn’t possible, you can get your device exchanged for free. It also has a 30-day money-back guarantee, so no pressure if you decide to return it.
Sega’s Football Manager heads back to Xbox this fall
When it comes out on November 24th, Football Manager 2021 will the first entry in the popular simulation series to make its way to Xbox consoles in more than a decade. Sega plans to release the game on Xbox One, Xbox Series S and Xbox Series X, with a single purchase getting you access to both the current and next-generation versions of the game. You’ll also have to chance to buy Football Manager 2021 on PC and Mac, where they’ll be available through Steam and the Epic Games Store.
Sega says the Xbox release of Football Manager 2021 builds on the Touch version of the series — which the company has typically released on iOS and Android devices, as well as Nintendo Switch. But don’t worry, Sega says it’s fully optimized the game for Xbox controllers. The Xbox version will also support Microsoft’s Play Anywhere feature, allowing you to transfer your saves between an Xbox console and Windows PC. If you pre-order the game now through Steam or the Epic Games Store, you can get a 10 percent discount and early access to the game two weeks before its official release date.
Amazon’s Luna cloud gaming service sounds like the cable of video games
Amazon revealed its new cloud gaming service, officially called Luna, at its annual Alexa hardware event today. That makes it an immediate competitor to Google’s Stadia, Microsoft’s xCloud, Sony’s PlayStation Now, and a number of other services from major game publishers all eager to try the code on how to stream video games over the internet.
But in a revealing interview with Protocol published after the event, Amazon’s Marc Whitten, the company’s vice president of entertainment devices and services, clarified one of the most vital questions around Luna that wasn’t answered during the reveal: what’s the business model? And from what we can glean from the interview, it’s looking a whole lot like the cable of video games, for better and for worse.
Whitten tells Protocol that Luna won’t follow the Stadia model, which is free but requires users to pay for individual games to stream on the platform. (You can also pay for Stadia Pro to get 4K streaming, access to a small but growing library of free titles, and other perks.) It’s also not following the xCloud model, which is bundled into Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass subscription as a free add-on for the Ultimate tier. That arrangement lets you stream any of the 100-plus games on the Game Pass platform but only to an Android device right now.
Instead, Luna will offer individual “channels” for partner publishers, modeled similarly to the Amazon Channels platform, which lets Prime subscribers add individual TV streaming service subscriptions as add-ons all bundled into one monthly payment managed by Amazon. These channels will be priced differently and will seemingly come with differences in perks and restrictions, although details are slim at the moment. The service will launch sometime soon in early access for a small number of users with just two channels to start.
The first channel will be an Amazon-branded one called Luna Plus, which sounds a bit like Stadia Pro in that it offers 4K streaming and “unlimited hours of play,” but it goes further by offering access to dozens of games all for $5.99 a month. It’s not clear what that game list looks like beyond the early slate of confirmed titles, including Resident Evil 7 and Control, but the model already gives Luna a slight edge over Stadia by not requiring subscribers to pay for most of the titles they want to play. In fact, it doesn’t appear that Luna will let users pay for any games at all; right now, it looks like you’ll have to subscribe to a channel to access anything on the platform.
The second channel will belong to major game publisher Ubisoft, which is offering the same perks as Luna Plus (although Ubisoft is restricting users to one stream per account instead of the two allowed on Amazon’s channel) and presumably access to most, if not all, of the company’s vast library. Amazon won’t say what the Ubisoft channel will cost, but it may be priced higher than Luna Plus and more in line with UPlay Plus, the $14.99 subscription service Ubisoft introduced last year.
“You’ll see other channels over time,” Whitten told Protocol. He added that game publishers “are pretty excited about the idea.” It’s unclear how, say, indie games or titles from midsized publishers that may not be able to support a full-fledged Luna channel will be added, or if that’s why Luna Plus exists. It’s also unclear how companies with competing cloud priorities, like Microsoft and Sony, will be treated. That said, Electronic Arts, which is working on its own cloud gaming platform, did earlier this month partner with Microsoft for Xbox Game Pass, which suggests we could see EA’s Play subscription arrive on Luna.
But more generally, why wouldn’t publishers be excited? Luna’s format sounds like a lucrative format for cloud gaming, mostly because it’s structured similarly to the current streaming TV landscape. Just like how Amazon Prime gives you access to Prime Video for free with your monthly or annual payment, Luna Plus will give you access to whatever games Amazon can acquire the cloud gaming rights to in exchange for its monthly fee, which it may raise after the early access period.
Meanwhile, if you want to pay for additional games from other publishers, you’ll buy access to that publisher’s Luna channel, just as you would subscribe to HBO or Netflix separately through the Amazon Channels platform. Amazon will handle all the billing and subscription logistics, and presumably Amazon gets a cut of all monthly subscription revenue in exchange for managing account sign-ups and, more importantly, powering the entire Luna service on its AWS cloud computing platform. The whole thing feels a lot like a basic cable package with add-ons you pay for separately or the cord-cutter equivalent of paying for a half-dozen streaming services alongside a Sling TV or YouTube TV subscription for your cable access.
This all seems great for the game publishers eager to monetize a new distribution channel, but it may be a bit of bad news for gaming fans hoping models more like Nvidia’s GeForce Now would become the norm. Nvidia’s model lets you play games you already own via Valve’s Steam marketplace on a number of screens, including a Mac or Android phone.
But the service was initially met with fierce opposition from game publishers when it exited beta and Nvidia began charging for it earlier this year, mostly because some publishers didn’t appear to give express permission to Nvidia to stream their intellectual property from a cloud server. Many publishers have since opted back into Nvidia’s platform, following some high-profile departures like Activision Blizzard and Take-Two Interactive. But the GeForce Now situation illustrated how the biggest game makers in the industry see the benefit of cloud gaming as primarily a way to sell games to new customers (or access to games via a subscription), and less of a way to give existing ones more ways to play the titles they already own.
Cloud gaming is still in its infancy, of course, and every major player is experimenting with the business model to find out what sticks. With the introduction of Luna and Amazon’s channel-based approach, we’re seeing yet another gamble on how the future of game distribution will be structured. Although this time, Amazon is following a successful template in how much of television is bundled and sold on the internet today. Whether that’s a savvy move will depend on whether consumers see enough benefit in Luna and what it has to offer to add yet more fees to the ever-growing list of monthly subscriptions.
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