Brandon Dillon modifies The Legend of Zelda's code as he is playing it

(It’s Video Game Week on the Iceberg! New posts every day this week with in-depth niche topics relating to video games!)

This is an eye opening video for anyone who wants to know more about how video games actually work. In Part 4 of this series (parts 1, 2, and 3 are spent taking apart the physical cartridge), Brandon Dillon (developer of Hack n Slash) loads the software of Legend of Zelda into an emulator and picks apart the game code, modifying it as he’s playing to do things like give himself infinite health or skip around the level.

Now, the goal isn’t just to cheat at the game — it’s to learn something about how it’s put together by reverse engineering it. And untangling that mystery is a captivating adventure in and of itself.

Jason Killingsworth details what goes through his head as he plays Drop7 in its most difficult mode

(It’s Video Game Week on the Iceberg! New posts every day this week with in-depth niche topics relating to video games!)

Drop7 is a deceptively simple mobile game. You drop numbered discs into a 7×7 grid, and the discs disappear (earning you points) if the number on the disc matches the number of contiguous discs in its row or its column. (There are also blank discs that need to be “hit” by other discs twice before they turn into numbered discs).

It’s great fun to watch a strategy video of a highly competitive game like chess, to get a play-by-play of the players’ moves and to hear the reason why they are making those decisions. It’s even wilder to do the same for a game most people just pull out of their pocket and kill time with on the subway. If you’ve never thought about how deep even the most minimal-seeming games can get, this video is seriously impressive.

For more videos of people voicing their strategies while playing video games, hit up the awesome blog playing-out-loud.tumblr.com.

A collection of resources for creating realistic grass, trees, and flowers in video games

(It’s Video Game Week on the Iceberg! New posts every day this week with in-depth niche topics relating to video games!)

This is more of a collection of things than any one thing, mainly because I couldn’t find a single link that would summarize this topic’s true depth. But while you’re checking this page out, make sure to hit up these standouts: This tutorial, which takes you through the process of creating some grass from start to finish, this art dump from an artist responsible for vegetation in the game Battlefield 4, this tutorial for creating a low-poly oak tree, and this guide to making ivy.

There’s a lot of technical terms being flung about, but even if you don’t understand what’s going on you can still appreciate the impressive levels of consideration that go into something that seems so incidental. Futurepoly’s grass tutorial sums it up nicely: “Initially, grass might not seem like a high priority asset, but when you think about how often it’ll be used, and the portion of the screen that it covers, it makes sense to treat it with the same importance you would a character or a piece of architecture.”

Oh also, there’s way more to this topic than included in this link. If you want to stay updated on things in the video game foliage community, check out the amazing blog video-game-foliage.tumblr.com.

Itay Keren goes through the various techniques used to control the camera in 2D games since the 80s.

(It’s Video Game Week on the Iceberg! New posts every day this week with in-depth niche topics relating to video games!)

This talk is just an amazing showcase of how many different ways there are to solve one problem. Itay Keren goes wide as well as deep, exploring different techniques for camera movement in a bunch of different genres of games with examples from games dating from 1980 (when computer graphics was in its infancy) to the present day, each one solving the problem in a slightly different way, depending on that game’s specific needs and gameplay. And oh, did I mention his amazing visualizations?

For an article-ized version of the talk, check out the Gamasutra article.

pannenkoek2012 beats a Super Mario 64 level by pressing the A button...0.5 times?

(It’s Video Game Week on the Iceberg! New posts every day this week with in-depth niche topics relating to video games!)

If you’re new to the world of speedrunning, prepare for a wild ride. Videogame speedrunners are people who make it their goal to beat a game in the fastest way possible, typically by some combination of incredible dexterity and clever exploitation of the game’s systems and glitches. Though this particular video doesn’t have the goal of beating it the fastest, instead its goal is to beat the game with the fewest amount of button presses.

And oh boy does it exploit the game’s systems and glitches.

I can’t explain anything as well as pannenkoek2012 does, with his incredibly detailed and clear diagrams and commentary, so I’m not going to try. But be prepared for a whirlwind tour of just how deep you can go when you decide you’re going to take a game and push it to its absolute limits. Highlight: Parallel Universes. I’ll leave it at that.

Martin Enthed talks shop about the process for rendering hyper-realistic images of furniture

I don’t know if you’ve looked at an IKEA catalog recently, but if you have, you might be surprised to learn that 75% of those images are computer generated. Probably more at this point (this article is from two years ago). Martin Enthed explains how he and his team create computer graphics that look real enough to stand up to scrutiny next to photographs. While he discusses some technical things (including how each and every computer is used for rendering power as soon as its user goes home at night), illuminating for me was how he got the traditional-minded higher-ups of IKEA communications to accept using CG in their catalog — and the one time that people complained that the CG looked awful by pointing out 200 terrible product images, those turned out to be photographs (while the 2 or 3 they said were good turned out to be CG).

Oh also: the second image on the page — the one of an office with white cabinets and a desk and a chair? That’s a gif. Wait for it.

Garson Hampfield, preeminent crossword inker, details the ins and outs of an overlooked trade

If you know me you know I’m obsessed with crosswords. I’ve tried making them in the past, and boy are they difficult. But one of the aspects of professionally constructed crosswords that is often underappreciated is the process of inking and gridding them — mostly painstakingly and by hand! It’s a time-honored tradition that doesn’t get a lot of press in today’s digital era, but Garson Hampfield will tell you about the amazing process and history behind the field. Highlight: Hampfield compares two puzzles by two different inkers to show just how influential different styles can be.

Carolina Eyck goes over methods for playing and composing for an inscrutable instrument

Y’all know what a theremin is? It’s an early electronic instrument invented in the 1900s. You play it without touching it. It’s really popular for horror and sci-fi music sound effects (think alien spaceships), but people also play them beautifully as musical instruments, as Carolina Eyck demonstrates here. Highlights include Carolina’s own technique for hand movements that allow easy playing of a scale (since it’s hard on the instrument to pluck a note out of thin air), and a demonstration of some effects pedals that allow her to overcome the instrument’s monophony (it can only play one note at a time).

Michael Heilemann takes us from concept to production of a single, eminent vehicle

There’s not much I love more than deep dives into creative processes, and this particular piece is especially iceberg-y because it’s essentially a double whammy: not only is it the story of how George Lucas and his early collaborators (Colin Cantwell, Ralph McQuarrie) developed the concept of The Millennium Falcon and the stages it went through along the way, it’s also a story of how Michael Heilemann pieced together that history. There are some missing puzzle pieces and some conjectures, but to me that makes this all the more interesting. This is, without a doubt, a real legend. Highlight: Something that I sort of realized but never really considered was that 2001: A Space Odyssey really revolutionized spaceship design. Heilemann touches upon this, showing examples of pre-1960s sci-fi — all the ships are smooth, shiny and chrome. 2001 ushered in the era of greebled surfaces.

(Shoutout to Lian Chang for bringing this one to my attention!)

Michelle Erickson recreates an agate teapot using centuries old methods

I love seeing videos of people who work at museums because they do the most obscure and specific and obsessive things. Like in this video, about Michelle Erickson making a teapot (the historically accurate way). Watch when she folds in all the different colors of clay to create that agate pattern. It’s one of the most innately satisfying things you can experience in your life (along with skillful use of a pottery wheel). Honestly though, the whole thing is great insight into centuries old practices in ceramics, and presented so clearly and concisely you’re going to feel like you can try it out tomorrow.