Leveling-up at the Smithsonian
Images from "Super Mario Brothers 3" are part of the Smithsonian American Art Museum's "The Art of Video Games" installation.
March 16th, 2012
10:36 PM ET

Leveling-up at the Smithsonian

"The goal is not for us to put a stake in the ground and say ART!" said former Sun Microsystems chief gaming officer and Past Pixels founder Chris Melissinos.

And yet, Melissinos is the guest curator for the Smithsonian American Museum of Art's newest exhibit, "The Art of Video Games." That's right. Video games are now included in the leading art museum in the nation. What else could this mean but ART?

How about legitimacy for an entire generation of gamers who grew up playing 8bit games and weren't taken seriously by the rest of mainstream culture?

"It was intentional," Melissinos said. The medium of video games, after 40 years, is "worthy of examination as an art form," he said. It is also the first reflection of nerd culture within a museum that, Melissinos said, is arguably one of the arbiters of what is art  in the world.  The weight of the Smithsonian's stamp of approval not only starts a cultural dialogue about whether "Pitfall!" is art, but also what devotion to video games actually means. FULL POST

'Journey' and the rewards of contemplative gaming
A scene from "Journey."
March 9th, 2012
11:55 AM ET

'Journey' and the rewards of contemplative gaming

When it comes to the words "video games," most people think about a fast-paced, action-oriented setting, possibly with lots of shooting and maybe even some splashes of blood for good measure. But gamers don't only crave that type of experience - in fact, both gamers and critics alike give rave reviews to titles that cultivate intellectual and even spiritual gaming leanings.

March 13 marks the official launch of the fourth game from indie studio thatgamecompany, known for their interesting and beautiful titles that defy conventional standards. Called "Journey," this "interactive parable to experience a person's life passage," as it is described on the official website, places the player in the role of a silent robed figure standing alone in a sea of glimmering sand dunes.

In the distance, a great mountain is silhouetted against the sky with a glow of light at the peak. Your destination is to reach that place, and learn what it may contain. The metaphor is clear: This is our life journey, and we will walk it to pursue whatever may lie at its end.

Unlike most current games, "Journey" is a very pared down, simplistic experience. In fact, the game only contains one word of text: The opening title. Beyond that, there is no dialogue, only the sound of your character's feet slicing through the sand as it presses forward. From start to finish, everything about this mysterious and beautiful experience is entirely open to interpretation, and the overall feeling of playing is one of serenity and peace. FULL POST

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'Super Mario Bros. 3' airship gets LEGO-fied
February 28th, 2012
05:05 PM ET

'Super Mario Bros. 3' airship gets LEGO-fied

Ever since the 1988 release of "Super Mario Bros. 3," gamers have obsessed over its intricacy, its difficulty, and the fact that it's one of the most fun, memorable video games ever created.

In 2007, it was even named alongside such classics as "Zork" and "Tetris" in the Game Canon, a Library of Congress-inspired list of games that ought to be preserved because of their lasting impact and importance to the medium.

One big addition to the world of "Super Mario Bros." in this third Nintendo Entertainment System game about the two adventurous plumbers (fourth if you count the original "Mario Bros.," of course) was the creation of the airship levels. The continuous scrolling and the need to move quickly, at times, from one side of the screen to the complete opposite side – all while dodging bullets fired from cannons, of course – made for one of the most challenging video game experiences yet, at that time.

Now, Julius von Brunk, of New York, New York – who calls "Super Mario Bros. 3" the "Cadillac of games" – has captured one of the famous airships, complete with Mario and Luigi, in a format most appropriate for video games: Lego blocks (just the latest geeky creation with Legos, mind you).

CNN Geek Out spoke to von Brunk about his creation.

CNN Geek Out: So what is it about "Super Mario" that captures the imagination, anyway?

Von Brunk: When I was 6 years old, the original "Super Mario Bros." game was the first game I had for NES - and since then, I've been true to the franchise up until the era of 3-D Mario games. I still played some of the GameCube titles when they were launched (in fact, Dr. Mario was my chosen Super Smash Bros. Melee fighter), but frankly, nothing can compare to the thrill and replay value of the primary series for NES and SNES!

"Super Mario Bros." was an early platform game with dozens of levels, power-ups, enemies and depth, which made it an ideal universe for me to latch-on to and create many tributes to in my artistic media. The series itself is like nothing else the world has seen previously, with so many original themes and elements - from the music to the game synopsis. Sure, at the end of the day, the games boil down to a standard "hero saves the princess" cliche, but it's the deliverance and originality of the worlds and characters which makes it unique on its own; let's not forget the Lewis Carroll-inspired ideas which went into the original game's creation - which of course is an endless stream of imagination in its own respect!
FULL POST

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The migratory patterns of MMO gamers
Nikki Rau-Baker's "Star Wars: The Old Republic" character, Talie, a Sith sorcerer, shows off her lightsaber on Nar Shaddaa.
January 31st, 2012
10:51 AM ET

The migratory patterns of MMO gamers

Darnassus is a little quieter these days, as are Silverwood and Galtrev. The virtual watering holes are changing once again.

The latest and greatest massively multiplayer online role-playing game (abbreviated as MMORPG or MMO) on the block is "Star Wars: The Old Republic."  And according to unscientific numbers based on crowdsourcing from gamers, even since the beta of  this much anticipated game was released, some of the other major MMOs - including "World of Warcraft," ("WoW") "Rift" and "Lord of the Rings Online" ("LOTRO") - have seen a steady decline in player activity.

In December, people from my guild in "LOTRO" excitedly discussed what kinds of "Star Wars" characters they’d like to play as the "Star Wars: The Old Republic" launch date loomed. Soon after, several of them left "LOTRO" to play the new game full-time, even some of the officers and the guild founder.

I watched my “logged in friends” panel get smaller and smaller and wondered if they would come back or if they had moved on for good.

Players switching games isn’t uncommon - as trends come and go, so do the crowds of adoring fans. But any record of their movement from game to game is still something of a secret. FULL POST

Master User week in review
Lolth of the Underdark (this evil half-lady, half-spider god) is the big baddy in D&D Online's Forgotten Realms expansion.
January 20th, 2012
02:29 PM ET

Master User week in review

Here's a look at some of the stories that had master gamers and other computer-loving nerds geeking out this week:

Fez-O-Rama announced pre-orders for the D20 Fez. Embroidered in deep red on an even deeper red velvet background with the namesake number in gold. This elegant fez is the perfect topper for those times when you know luck is on your side and you want to be sure everyone else in the room is aware of it too. (via Major Spoilers)

Wizkids added two new photos of ships, Federation ship USS Defiant and the Klingon Bird of Prey Regency 1, from their upcoming "Star Trek HeroClix:Tactics" game. (via WizKids)

Wizards of the Coast released the "Haunted Temples" map pack including three foldout battle maps for D&D. This pack contains three full-color, double-sided, 21” x 30” battle maps with 1-inch scale grids. One map features two exciting, never-before-seen encounter locations: a crumbling cathedral and a haunted chapel with adjoining cemetery. All three maps provide attractive, reusable terrain suitable for any D&D campaign. (via Wizards of the Coast)

Dave Graffam Models released Crane House, a new paper "print and build" model for tabletop gaming that fits into the Rakes Corner line of tabletop printable scenery. (via Daves Games)

Fantasy Flight Games announced that hand-painted Arkham Horror Monster Figures are now available. The figures are designed to work with Fantasy Flight Games' Lovecraftian board game. Each monster's base is designed with a slot to accommodate a monster token from the "Arkham Horror" or "Mansions of Madness" board games. (via Fantasy Flight Games)

Open Design released the "Complete Kobold Guide to Game Design," a 240-page book of in-depth essays on what makes RPGs tick. The book gives time-tested advice from the top designers in the industry. This compilation includes all three volumes of the "Kobold Guide to Game Design" series — now with new material by Wolfgang Baur, Mike Stackpole, and others. (via Kobold Quarterly)

Wizards of the Coast announced the April release of limited-edition reprints of the original core rulebooks for the "Monster Manual," "Player's Handbook," and "Dungeon Master's Guide." These premium versions of original D&D rulebooks feature new cover designs. Available in limited quantities as a hobby channel exclusive in North America, proceeds from the books will help support the Gygax Memorial Fund—established to immortalize the “Father of Roleplaying Games” with a memorial statue in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.

Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment and Wizards of the Coast announced the first ever expansion pack to "Dungeons & Dragons Online" (DDO). Developed by Turbine, "Menace of the Underdark," will launch in this summer and will allow players to adventure within the Forgotten Realms setting and the vast subterranean world of the Underdark. The digital expansion will feature new additions like an increased level cap and a new Druid class. (via G4tv)

Wizkids announced the June release of their second major set of Pathfinder Battles miniatures. Pathfinder Battles: Rise of the Runelords Part I will include a range of new figures. The release of the pre-painted Pathfinder Battles: Rise of the Runelords miniatures will support the release of Paizo’s 420-page "Rise of the Runelords" hardcover, which collects and updates six "Pathfinder: Adventure Path" publications (via iCV2)

Did we miss something? Let us know if you come across news you think your fellow geeks need to know about in the comments or on twitter @CNNGeekOut

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