Tag Archives: Featured

Building the Lego Super Mario 64 Question Block

She won’t admit it, but I suspect my girlfriend’s slightly sick of the ornamental positions in our new house slowly being given over to Lego. There have been some phenomenal sets in recent years, as attested by the prominent positions of not family photos, but rather my UCS X-Wing, Saturn V and Old Fishing Shop.

The Mario 64 Question Block, though? For someone who spent their formative years obsessing over the N64, and who basically divides their childhood into Before Mario 64 and After Mario 64, this is just everything I ever wanted.

Lego Super Mario 64

It’s so full of Easter eggs and intricate details. Here’s a step-by-step walk through the build and some of my favourite touches.

The first couple of steps are focused on the structure and a couple of faces.

The cube under construction

The sheer number of glossy yellow tiles to apply is perhaps unavoidably tedious, but it doesn’t take long for the first secret to emerge…

A sliding panel reveals this cute little Bowser, seemingly comprising even fewer polygons than his in-game counterpart but nonetheless capturing Mario’s nemesis. The purple button in front of him hides another surprise, but more on that later.

Lethal Lava Land is the first stage to make an appearance.

Lethal Lava Land

Love the little custom printed piece for the sliding Bowser puzzle, and how few pieces the designers needed to represent the Big Bully and floating eyeball.

Next comes the game’s overworld, Peach’s Castle, which sits above the basement stage, appropriately enough.

Peach’s Castle

Up close you can see Mario, Peach and even Lakitu the cameraman — a relic of when 3D gaming was so new that we needed an in-universe explanation for the floating camera — and the front of the castle pops off to reveal the paintings leading to the featured stages. And who’s this hidden on the roof for those who find all 120 stars?

Polishing off the castle also involves some finishing touches for Lethal Lava Land, including a power star hidden behind the Big Bully and the spinning volcano (which actually rotates!), as well as an opportunity to show you the rubber bands that spring load the whole structure.

Lethal Lava Land

Next comes the game’s opening stage, which even outdoes what we’ve seen so far in terms of attention to detail.

Everything’s there, from the cannons to the floating island with its tree and red block, the rolling cannonballs to those little stakes that you can run around for coins. King Bob-omb and the Chain Chomp round it out with little custom-printed spheres.

The layout of Bob-omb Battlefield is seared into my memory and I loved finding details as throwaway as the little warp cave halfway up the mountain, barely even visible around the back.

That leaves only Cool Cool Mountain to slide (sorry) into the final berth around the castle.

The detailing is as impressive as Bob-omb Battlefield, representing the penguins, the snowmen, and even the rope lift, rendered in actual string. And, in a cute touch, you can pop the side off to reveal the stage’s iconic slide to relive your favourite GamesMaster moment. The scale of the baby penguin might be a bit off, though — wouldn’t dare chuck that beast off the stage. He’s bigger than the cottage!

The four stages can then be mounted atop the unfinished block and folded back into their hiding place. Finish the two remaining sides and the build is complete — all 2,064 (ha!) bricks of it. My Saturn V is only 1,969 (ha again!) pieces and that’s over a metre tall, showing how densely packed this set is.

One last secret reveals itself when you press down on that button in Bowser’s hidden alcove…

It’s Bowser in the Sky, complete with a little spinning turntable to accompany those debates about what exactly Mario says as he tosses Bowser.

Colour me thoroughly impressed with this set. It’s got superb attention to detail and piles of Easter eggs, showing what fans the team who designed this thing were, and makes a superb little ornament when finished. Straight into pride of place on my shelf as one of my favourite Lego sets ever made.

Jedi: Fallen Order is my favourite Souls game

While many complain about the dearth of PS5 software – not sure what they expected, given the way new consoles work – I’ve been using mine to partake of some of the best games of the last few years, many of which I skipped due to indifference or poor performance on my launch PS4.

Ratchet & Clank was OK (and free!), Titanfall 2 was superb (also free!), and now I come to another Respawn Entertainment game: the awkwardly punctuated Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order.

I’ve got so many screenshots that are just me in a high place, admiring a beautiful vista like this.

Fallen Order barely has an original bone in its body. The developers have borrowed freely from Metroid, Uncharted and the Souls series in particular – all classics, to be sure, but if originality is important to you, there’s not much of it here. Even Force powers don’t really do much more than The Force Unleashed did years ago, or any more recent action games with telekinetic heroes.

But, frankly, I’ve always been enough of a Star Wars fan that ‘something good but now it’s in the Star Wars universe’ is a winning formula for me, and none more so here. If I’m going to occasionally get spanked by random mooks, better a Scout Trooper or Nightbrother than some skeleton, I say. Mercifully, bonfires meditation circles are more liberally distributed here, though.

I spent the whole game with BD-1 in Gulf livery, because why wouldn’t you?

And think about those climbing sequences in Uncharted, but now it’s a crashed Venator-class Star Destroyer, and being spotted devolves into actually enjoyable combat rather than a Naughty Dog gunfight. There’s even that Shadow of the Colossus boss where you climb up his beard, only now for some reason it’s an AT-AT.

One moment where I’d choose Kow Otani’s score over John Williams’.

And you know how netting new abilities in Metroid unlocks new areas in previously explored zones? This does that, but new Force abilities are accompanied by flashbacks to Jedi training.

Plenty of Star Wars fan service, too, though not obnoxiously so. You get to play through a formative moment in Cal’s past and Star Wars lore, and it follows Rogue One and Rebels in its brilliantly terrifying treatment of an iconic villain. It even confirms a fan theory that links The Clone Wars and The Force Awakens.

Silly hair, slightly derpy face, but a good performance had me liking Cal Kestis by the end. Strong supporting cast too.

Nostalgia isn’t all it has to lean on, though – which, frankly, is more than can be said about a lot of post-Disney Star Wars. All of these pilfered ideas are executed with quality and the same eye for the cinematic that made Titanfall 2’s campaign so impressive.

There’s a next-gen update for Fallen Order coming in June, so if you’ve so far missed out and are desperate for something to play on that new hardware, it gets my hearty recommendation.

Shenmue: A pilgrimage to Yokosuka

On my recent trip, I fulfilled a long-held ambition by visiting Dobuita Street in Yokosuka, one of the primary locations in one of my favourite games ever, Shenmue.

It’s fairly out of the way for a day trip from Tokyo, but it’s only 20 minutes or so down the train line from Kamakura, which is a spectacular day out in its own right. Fortunately, we’d decided to go there, so I was able to abandon the group for an hour to pay a visit.

Found at the end of the conveniently named Yokosuka Line, Yokosuka is dominated by its harbour. It’s the home base for the US Navy in Japan and, as such, you don’t have to look very hard for sailors. Many were drunk, but they neither called me schoolboy nor tried to serve me milk. I couldn’t see any forklift racing going on in the harbour, but there was a trio of Japanese submarines lined up in rather photogenic fashion.

Dobuita isn’t far from the station, requiring only a short walk through a pleasant naval-themed park and crossing a footbridge outside a mall that you can’t really miss. It starts around here if you find yourself making the same trip.

Appropriately enough, the weather did turn to rain that day – the only bad weather of the trip, really. But before rejoining the collective for dinner back in Kamakura, my usual reticence to pose was overcome for a quick look for sailors outside Tom’s hot dog stand bar.

Mission accomplished.

Running classic PC games on a Mac with Wineskin

I’m in love with Good Old Games. They distribute classic PC titles, getting them running on modern operating systems, bundled with extras, and all without DRM.

What I like most about it, though, is that GOG is up there with Valve in its efforts to make Mac gaming less of a wasteland. When it comes to retro computer games, DOS isn’t too much of a hurdle because the hardware requirements are trivial and apps like Boxer make emulation simple, but the Windows ultra-dominance of the late 90s through late 2000s are a dark spot. If you have fond memories of a PC game of that era and it’s not from Blizzard or id, odds are it didn’t get a Mac release.

I recently noticed that GOG was offering Mac versions of PC-only Black Isle RPGs like Planescape: Torment. My curiosity over what witchcraft was enabling this led me to Wineskin, which now has me running stuff like RollerCoaster Tycoon natively in OS X. And it works with basically anything short of the latest and greatest. Here’s how it’s done.

You will need…
  • Your PC game
  • Wineskin Winery (download)
  • Enough hard drive space for the install plus about 150MB
A little background

I’m going to be doing this with the GOG version of RollerCoaster Tycoon. GOG makes it easier because the games are mostly a single installer and have no DRM to worry about, but disc-based games can be done too by copying the contents of the disc to a folder on your computer, so do that first. As long as the game doesn’t require anything newer than DirectX 9.0 or host particularly invasive DRM (e.g. StarForce), chances are it’ll work.

This all works using Wine, with Wineskin bundling the installed game and a Wine compatibility layer in one Mac app. It’s not emulation, strictly speaking, so what you’re getting is a Windows game running at native speed on OS X.

Wineskin WineryGetting started

Fire up Wineskin Winery. You’ll first need to download an appropriate engine for the game you’re running, but thankfully people will have done the legwork for you. The Wine Application Database is where users document their experiences of running software with different Wine engines, and its entry on Rollercoaster Tycoon notes that the GOG version runs with platinum compatibility (“flawlessly”) on 1.6.2. Therefore that’s the version I’m going to download.

With that downloaded and the latest wrapper downloaded, hit the ‘Create New Blank Wrapper’ button and give your new app a name. In this case, I creatively opt for ‘Rollercoaster Tycoon’.

Let the process run. It may ask you to download a version of Mono and/or the Gecko engine. Old games will almost certainly not need Mono but may use Gecko; use your own judgement, or just go ahead and install them since it’ll ensure a trouble-free conversion.

When it’s finished, click ‘Show Wrapper in Finder’ and you’ll be presented with a generic Wineskin app, ready to be turned into your chosen game.

Installation

Run this new app to be presented with the following window.

Wineskin

Click ‘Install Software’, then ‘Choose Setup Executable’, and point it at the installer from GOG. This is where things start to look interesting.

Wineskin installation

That looks suspiciously like a Windows installer on a Mac, doesn’t it?

Once the installation process is complete, resist the temptation to play the game for now and click ‘Exit’. You’ll see the following window, which lets you tell your Wineskin which executable it should run on launch. In this case it’s correct and I’ve never seen it need changing, so go ahead and click OK.

Wineskin executable

Wineskin iconThe Advanced menu that you can see mentioned can be accessed by right-clicking the newly created app in the Finder, clicking ‘Show Package Contents’, and then double-clicking the Wineskin icon in the resulting folder. Among other things, this allows you to change the app icon; find an appropriate ICNS file from a site like VeryIcon and select it in there to get things looking more official (see right).

Rollercoaster Tycoon on a Mac

Isn’t that a beautiful sight? You end up with a self-contained OS X app (by default located at ~/Applications/Wineskin), created through a process that works on basically any game. No fiddling with Boot Camp or Parallels to run an old favourite that hasn’t been ported, and none of the performance penalty that comes from emulation. Lovely.