Comics and Video Games - it just might work.

*Oh drat, I don’t have a lot of time today…

*Really, I’m still fascinated by this Steve Bissette/Alan Moore thread on the Comics Journal board. Now Eddie Campbell’s jumped in, and there’s lots of details surrounding the publication of From Hell, the legal troubles that buried From Hell: The Compleat Scripts, and Grant Morrison’s role in prompting the creation of Moore’s endnotes for the series. Utterly fascinating.

*Misspent Youth Dept: Johanna Draper Carlson led me to this lovely site featuring full scans of assorted Atari 2600 pack-in comics, including that for the extremely rare Swordquest: Waterworld, the only one of these comics that I didn’t own when I was a little kid. Of course little kids are idiots and I managed to ruin or lose all of these books, so it’s good to see them again here.

Swordquest, by the way, was quite the ambitious multimedia project for its time, an intended four-game series with a big contest attached; you’d need to utilize clues hidden in the comic while playing the game in order to unlock all the secrets and win big prizes. And I’m talking big winnings: the grand prize was a $50,000 bejeweled sword, with a quartet of ‘smaller’ prizes valued at $25,000 a pop. Unfortunately, the project stalled with the third title, Waterworld, which was barely released; I certainly never found a copy at the time. Then again, I only ever got to playing this stuff after the '84 market crash and the rise of the NES - I was only two years old when the actual contest was going on. Really, one of the big problems with Swordquest was that the contest was hardwired into the game’s reason for being; you see, most of the actual gameplay centered around moving objects from room to room, occasionally with a repetitious action scene dropped in, all for the purposes of uncovering numbers that correspond to words in the comic. Once you collect all the numbers, the ‘game’ is basically over, and you then turn off your Atari and move on to puzzling all the clues out by yourself to win the contest. So without the contest involved, the games were pretty fucking boring (or at least they would have been had I been old enough to even understand what was going on at the time - I could never figure out Atari’s E.T. at that age either). Good nostalgia though.

Pretty much everything regarding the Swordquest series a human can stomach is to be found here, in case I’ve caught your interest. A while ago my younger brother and I were throwing around ideas for a screenplay centered around the (fictional) conspiratorial secrets that kept the Swordquest series from completion; when we last left off it involved rival alien races infiltrating the US government and comics creators engaging in time travel. Nothing I could write would ever match the energy of those gilded days of early video gaming, however (I mean, they were giving away literal crowns and chalices for promotional prizes - YOW!!).

*But why let the Atari hog the spotlight today? Here’s a link to a very interesting hack of the NES classic Super Mario Brothers by Cory Arcangel of BEIGE (a programming and art ensemble/record label) and Paper Rad (whose new book Paper Rad, B.J., and da Dogs is pretty amazing), transforming the game into a 15 short film, in which Mario embarks on a journey of personal evolution through a decaying world of data. It’s playable on any NES emulator. Certainly beats the Mario hacks I used to run into in high school, replacing the ‘MARIO’ on top of the screen with ‘BOTCH’ and turning the mushrooms into penises. I think at one point someone created a porno version of Dragon Warrior. It was time well spent, I expect.

It's no surprise that SMB1 has been one of the most hacked games around; it's really one of the most perfect, simple games I can imagine, yet varied and difficult enough to avoid monotony (which is the #1 problem with pulling out any of those old Atari 2600 carts these days). I think the first Mario, the first Contra, and Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! (not the later version where they turned Tyson into some white guy - it's the same game but I oppose it on principle) are the three most flawless NES games of them all. But Mario represents something greater to people of that age; it's not his personality (in the game he has none) but the movement of the screen, the music and the color. It's coded into the brains of a certain group of people, its simplicity and effectiveness like a virus. Mario - what have you done to our heads?!