I was the art director on the PS3 game Journey, formerly employed at ThatGameCompany.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

MARIOKART 64 2012: Epic Tournament!!!

Last year, I was invited to participate in an unofficial Mariokart 64 tournament held by a friend of a friend, Dan Longino. I had been bragging around the offices of thatgamecompany about my skills in the game - but it was finally time to put those words to the ultimate test. 

I had never met any of the racers - and honestly, it was a little intimidating. I was about to race against players whose skill was an unknown quantity. The contest was a 16 player, single-elimination tournament that culminated in the top two racers going head to head on the hardest courses on the hardest difficulty.

The night before the big day, I hit the track, determined to sharpen up my skills. I had been playing this game since the day it came out so many years ago in 1996, and I was feeling good about my lap times. But the anticipation gave me the shakes: were my times good enough???

On the day of the tournament, I headed over to the venue (Dan's one bedroom apartment) with my buddy Martin Middleton from thatgamecompany, prepared to give it my best shot. Since none of the racers knew me, I was known as
"The Mysterious Racer from the West: RACER X."

Racer X's chosen character DONKEY KONG  at 
Wario Stadium in 2011(image by Racer X).
The place was super crowded! I watched the racers practice, and they were very good. I witnessed some moves that I had never seen before. These people were on the same nerd wavelength as me!

When the real race started, I was all focus. I progressed through the rounds, narrowly claiming victory over the tough competition. In the semifinals, I went up against Dan himself in Wario Stadium. It was one of the closest races I have ever seen. Dan pulled off a jump over the wall in the second lap, securing a huge lead. Then, he used the lightning bolt and dropped me as I jumped the gap. In the final lap, I somehow managed to leap the wall myself, and the race ended in a photo- finish. The crowd went wild, shrieking and jumping up and down. It was quite a spectacle. Dan managed to place first, with me just tenths of a second behind. 

In the end, I was able to move to final round, challenging the previous year's winner, Daniella Pagan. She is a fierce competitor (but always with a smile) who races as the quick and light character Yoshi. In the final moments of the extremely difficult course Banshee's Boardwalk, I managed to eek out a win! As the points added up, It became apparent that RACER X was the 2011 Mariokart 64 Champion!!! I was ceremoniously awarded a trophy belt, under the oath that I would return next year to defend the prestigious title.

So a year went by, the belt a constant reminder of what was to come. And finally, on Sunday September 16th (Last weekend), it happened: MARIOKART 64 TOURNAMENT 2012!!!

Dan sent out the official rules to all participants, and I prepared myself to once again brave the track:

Every racer competes in two separate 4 player versus of an entire cup (mushroom, then flower). The top 14 finishers are entered into the tournament in that seeding order. The remaining pool of players compete in a "battle mode" play-in for the 15th and 16th spots. 

The Tournament is played in two player mode, Grand Prix with all the CPUs. There are 4 rounds of the tournament correlating to the 4 cups, culminating in the final match in special cup. We ascend in "cc" difficulty for each round. First round is 50cc, 2nd round is 100cc, the semifinals and finals are competed on 150cc difficulty. The racer with the most points at the end of each four-race cup moves on the the next round, and the other racer is eliminated.

The tying parties compete in a one on one battle mode at a random level to determine the winner. If there's a tie in the final round, the battle-mode tiebreaker is still used, resulting in the most intense battle mode ever played in the history of mario kart.

Throughout the tournament you can only play as one character. If two players want to race as the same person,  the higher seeded competitor gets to race as the character of their choice, and the lower seeded competitor has to temporarily race as a different character.

Koopa Beach tunnel, Wario Stadium wall, Rainbow Road leap of faith...

It's a race!


I arrived early, ready to go. I was greeted my Dan, who shook my hand with a smile and said, "Welcome back, RACER X." People remembered me, but no one knew my real name. I introduced myself several times: "Hi, I'm Matt Nava," to confused looks. Then, they would reply, "Oh, you are RACER X!!" I felt much more like a part of the gang this time around. All the participants and spectators are super nice people, with a great sense of sportsmanship and camaraderie. I think that's really why Rule # 7 is the most important one. However, that doesn't mean that when we hit the track, the competition isn't serious. Its a fierce battle where racers and onlookers alike feel their hearts pounding, knees shaking and adrenaline pumping!!!

Four competitors racing for the best
seeding position in pool play.
The tournament began at high noon with pool play to decide seeding order. I again chose the heavy-weight character DONKEY KONG this year. In four player versus mode, the frame rate is bad, the screen is small and the randomness is very high. I managed to place first in 7 out of 8 races of pool play, with one second place on Moo Moo Farm. This earned me the highest seed position.

The Rounds progressed, and I made it to the semi finals. It seemed that destiny would pit me against Dan again, making for an ultimate rematch in the star cup. In Wario stadium, We placed similarly to last year - Dan in first and me in close second. The real great race this time around though was in Bowser's Castle. Notoriously difficult, this level leads racers through treacherous hallways filled with stomping stone bad guys, and lava pits. One false move can take even the best player from first place to last in an instant. On the second lap, I was mercilessly squashed, losing my lead to Dan. The crowd was getting wild. Was this the end of RACER X??? But it seemed that fate had decided to give me another chance. In the final lap, Dan slipped and plunged headlong into the lava, And I was able to come out in front, for the win. I was again in the finals!!!

This year, I was pitted against another racer who is legendary amongst the competitors: Bill Benz. His chosen character was BOWSER, the heaviest of all the racers. By this time it was dark outside, and their was a sense of impending amazingness in the air. Dan queued up probably the most fitting and epic song for the final showdown: DUEL OF THE FATES.

And so the Final Special Cup round began. The first two races, DK's Jungle Falls and Yoshi's Canyon, were two of the closest photo- finish races I have ever seen. Our times were within a tenth of a second on both races. Bill claimed first in the jungle, I got first in Yoshi's Canyon. The crowd was crazy! But it only got really interesting in the last two races: Banshee Boardwalk and Rainbow Road.

Banshee's Boardwalk is one of the most feared courses in the game. It has almost no guardrails, is extremely slippery, and the visibility is low. When we raced it,  Bill made a slip in the first lap and fell into the water. I pulled ahead. I thought I had the race in the bag, but on the stretch just before the finish line, I slipped off the course! I instantly went from first to sixth, and Bill placed eighth! By the rules of the game, at least one player must finish in at least fourth place to move on. So we had to redo the course! 
The Final Round: SPECIAL CUP, 150cc.
This time around, Bill was on his game, and we both placed. It would all come down to the longest track in the game, Rainbow Road. It went back and forth. I was out in front, then was hit by a chain chomp. Bill was in the lead, but I hit him with red shells. But on the final lap, I came at the big slope at a bad angle, and fell off the course into space!!! I managed to come back, but ended up placing in third while Bill claimed first! The points tallied up, and everyone's jaw dropped. The final outcome was a TIE!!!

This could only be resolved by invoking Rule #3: The tying parties compete in a one on one battle mode at a random level to determine the winner. If there's a tie in the final round, the battle-mode tiebreaker is still used, resulting in the most intense battle mode ever played in the history of mario kart.

The scene of the most intense battle for
the championship ever: THE BLOCK FORT.
Anyone who has ever seriously played Mariokart 64 battle mode knows that the best level by far is the block fort. So when that level was randomly chosen, Everyone cheered. The crowd was on the edge of their seats. It was the two heavyweights, DONKEY KONG vs. BOWSER, with everything riding on this one match.

Every close encounter with a banana, every near miss of a green shell, and every star chase elicited swelling cheers and excitement from the crowd. I was literally shaking as I played. Mine was the first balloon to pop, a stray shell. Bill hit a fake item box. Eventually we were both down to our last balloons. It seemed to be a perpetual moment of unpredictable fate! But soon Bill's final balloon burst from I'm not sure what, and I was the winner! CHECK OUT THE INTENSE FINAL MOMENTS IN THE FOLLOWING VIDEO!!!

RACER X became the first competitor to win two tournaments- in a row!

Everyone immediately jumped in the air, cheering. Bill and I shook hands, smiling. It was a feeling of great satisfaction to again receive the prestigious trophy belt. But the best thing was experiencing the heart pumping intensity of the race. It was by far the most epic Mariokart 64 racing I have ever seen, and it would have been just as fun and worth it if I had not brought home gold. Congratulations to all the racers for bringing their skills to the track, but even more so for bringing such a great attitude of friendly (and silly) competition! And thanks to Dan for coordinating and hosting the entire event. I am very happy to have been a part of it.

The hard won Trophy Belt.
As the current holder of the title of Champion, I am again obligated to return next year to race and defend the belt. The rumor is that the next tournament will be held in Vegas... should be interesting! Until next time,


1 comment:

  1. Great belt, glad you are giving the great classic a well deserved play!