One night last february, Ben Allen and a group of electrical-engineering students at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands needed some help testing their 20-inch-long prototype of the classic 1980s Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) controller. The group was in the early stages of designing an absurdly enlarged version of the device—one as long and wide as a compact car—in an attempt to break the world controller-size record. In honor of the quest, they enticed some fellow geeks to join them at a campus pub by offering free Guinness.
Nintendo just announced their successor to the revolutionary Wii, to be called the Wii U, at this year's E3 conference in Los Angeles. We've only gotten snippets and tidbits of information, but we do know that the--as in the original Wii--the most important part of the Wii U will be the controller. This time, it's a giant, tablet-like, touchscreened beast that packs an accelerometer, camera, gyroscope, and a full array of Wii buttons.
You didn't think the enthusiasm for hacking the Kinect to make it do variously useful and silly things was going to end after two weeks, did you? It's just going to get better, so let's recap with two of the coolest new hacks. One makes you invisible, and one gives you the power of a certain mustachioed plumber.
Nintendo's Mario has long been beloved by geeks and scientists everywhere, as evidenced by a fluorescent bacterial version (seizure warning!) and a Mario "multiverse" that acts as a better guide to parallel universes than "Lost." Now a Carnegie Mellon University student has concocted a playable pixel tribute on an 8x8 LED matrix.
Nintendo's Mario has taught us science and even encouraged the development of better artificial intelligence. So it's only appropriate that Japanese researchers paid homage to everyone's favorite video game character, by recreating his likeness in a petri dish with genetically engineered glow-in-the-dark bacteria. Warning: we reveal a seizure-inducing Mario animation after the story jump.
Robots, alcohol and video games make one tantalizing combination to put on distant-future Christmas lists. Now geek boozers are in luck: the one-man Nonpolynomial Labs has developed interactive versions of Mario and Tetris that incorporate a robotic bartender to mix up drinks during real-time play.
You're unique. Aren't you? One of the more creative hypotheses surrounding quantum mechanics posits the exact opposite. Though we can readily see only one world, quantum mechanics says that when were not observing the particles that make up that world, those particles exist in multiple places at once. There are many theories that attempt to grasp what this means, but one of the most tantalizing is Hugh Everett's multiverse concept.
Nintendo this week released Super Mario Galaxy–the long-awaited debut of the world's cutest plumber on the Wii. The reviews, as expected, have been particularly stellar, and for good reason: the game combines a tried-and-true character, a wholly unique outer-space world (complete with gravity fluctuations) that feels more 3D than anything to come before it, a truly killer soundtrack and the unique control structure of the Wii, resulting in an overall gameplay experience that's among the most addictive Mario's had yet—and that's saying something.
The thing with Mario games, especially Galaxy, is this: sure, it's fairly easy for most gamers to tear through and complete the game—even finishing with all of the hidden bonus goals discovered is an attainable goal for even casual players. But what separates Mario from the rest is just how entertaining it is simply to exist in his world. Beating a level in a Mario game isn't just about getting to the end, it's about getting to the end with style—careening through tiny openings while flipping shells and deftly vaulting off stomped enemies, all at incredible speed and without leaving any coins behind. Or in Mario Galaxy's case, back flipping and long jumping through different gravitational fields, triple-axle-ing over frozen ponds on ice skates, surfing on the back of a manta ray...and so on. Galaxy takes the potential for players to gracefully freestyle through the game into the stratosphere.
Put simply, Mario Galaxy gives us couch dwellers a taste of what it must feel like to do parkour...in outer space. I would not be surprised if David Belle, parkour's grand-père, was a Mario player in his early days; the little acrobatic Italian was truly the first traceur (tracciante?), vaulting and plunging through the Mushroom Kingdom at top speed long before Belle began dancing his way around Paris in the late 1980s. But it's clear the two have a lot in common—both live for the freedom to innovatively propel themselves through interesting environments, and both do it to save the oft-imperiled woman they love from the clutches of a sinister dino/lizard/turtle. Right?
Take a look here at David in action:
Amazing. But can he do this:
For more videos of Mario's Parkour moves from Super Mario Galaxy, click the jump below. —John Mahoney
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.