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Mortal Kombat Wiki

The Diabolical Motivations of 11 Video Game Villains

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Mortal Kombat Wiki

We all know the drill: drop in a quarter or hit “start” on your controller and suddenly you’re the world’s only hope. For some reason, every violent gang and alien race in the known universe (this one and parallel) cannot stand human civilization, and when they’re not trying to enslave us, they’re trying to slaughter us. Have you ever wondered why, though? Here are the motivations of 11 video game villains.

1. The Red Falcon Organization

Contra Wiki

The villains of Contra had a pretty straightforward goal, which was to try and take over the world. You would be forgiven, then, for wondering if Pinky and the Brain were behind the entire affair. In fact, the original version of the game (released in Japan) involved a terrorist cell called the Red Falcon Organization, which was based on the Galuga archipelago of New Zealand. As no such archipelago actually exists, we should assume that a.) the game really happened and Mad Dog and Scorpion destroyed it; b.) the Red Falcon Organization actually created an artificial archipelago, not unlike Dubai created the Palm Islands; or c.) the game is a work of fiction and we should stop asking so many questions. For what it’s worth, in the American version of the game, you’re fighting space aliens in South America.

2. Mother Brain

Metroid Wiki

Let’s start by pretending that Captain N: The Game Master never happened. Concerning the video game Metroid, everyone gets so caught up in the revelation that Samus Aran is a woman that they forget about the game’s more impressive female: a one-eyed brain in a jar called Mother Brain. What does this hermetically sealed villain want? Biological weapons. To acquire them, she needs only to accumulate metroids, which are space jellyfish that can be weaponized through exposure to beta rays. Mother Brain uses an army of space pirates to build her jellyfish collection, and to repel our green-haired, yellow-armored adventurer.

3. Shang Tsung

Mortal Kombat Wiki

In the original Mortal Kombat, there is an elderly grandmaster that observes each fight and offers such commentary as “Excellent!” or “Flawless victory!”, as well as such instructions as “Finish him!” This villain is called Shang Tsung, and he is also the final boss in the game. So what’s with all the fighting, anyway? Turns out Shang Tsung was the first Mortal Kombat champion from centuries ago, and is cursed to consume the souls of his vanquished foes in order to maintain his power and youth. He ends up taking control of the tournament with the goal of destroying Earthrealm. Anyway, it’s no more outlandish than a giant WMD-collecting brain in a jar.

4. The Mad Gear Gang

Capcom Wiki

In Final Fight, Mike Haggar is a former professional wrestler who is elected mayor of Metro City. It seems the city has a crime problem, and who better to clean up the streets than a guy who knows the difference between an arm-bar leg-sweep and an axe handle elbow drop. The Mad Gear Gang, fearful of this, kidnaps Mike’s daughter in hopes that the mayor will bend to their will. They really should have guessed how this would all play out.

5. Shub-Niggurath

Quake Wiki

In the video game Quake, scientists experimenting with teleportation technology accidentally open a gateway to another dimension. Monsters begin to flood our military bases, and only a lone, gun-toting human stands between them and the annihilation of our species. (This is also the plot of the video game Doom.) The leader of—in the game’s words—the “hundreds of ugly changelings and monsters” is Shub-Niggurath. She (yes, Shub is a she) is probably better known from the works of H.P. Lovecraft, where she is also known as “The Black Ram of The Forest with a Thousand Ewes.” Derivatives of the original work describe her as either an outer god or a Great Old One. In any event, you don’t need to read the book to figure out that she’s trouble.

6. Mezmaron

Pac-Man Wiki

Why do the ghosts keep chasing Pac-Man? What do they want? As we eventually learn from the Pac-Man cartoon, which I watched religiously as a child, Blinky, Inky, Pinky, and Clyde are on a quest for Pac-Land’s power pellets. An evil villain named Mezmaron, who looks like a cross between Destro, Dracula, and Optimus Prime, leads them. This was an actual TV series.

7. Ganon

Zelda Wiki

In the original Legend of Zelda (the one with the gold cartridge!), an evil wizard named Ganon has stolen the Triforce of Power, which is a magical triangle in the land of Hyrule. He needs only the Triforce of Wisdom to consolidate his rule. Princess Zelda, in an attempt to slow Ganon, breaks the Triforce of Wisdom into eight pieces and (somehow) hides them in really dangerous monster-infested dungeons. Ganon eventually finds and kidnaps her, presumably to torture the locations of the Triforce out of her. An elf boy named Link eventually rescues her. They really ought to make a sequel to this one.

8. The Master

Fallout Wiki

A century after total global thermonuclear war, a new order arises from the fallout of civilization. While the mighty, mighty men of vaults scattered around the country go on with their jolly days, human survivors, mutant hordes, robot armies, and giant scorpions fight it out in the wasteland. One man calling himself the Master goes so far as to create a super mutant army and launches a movement called “the Unity.” His goal is to bring peace to the world by removing the divisions between creatures. The easiest way to do this, of course, is to mutate all of humanity. His plan makes great headway, but alas, into each life some rain must fall, and a lone vault dweller talks the Master into suicide. Humanity’s troubles are not over, however. There will always be another war. Because war? War never changes.

9. The Nihilanth

Half-Life Wiki

At the Black Mesa Research Facility, scientists are experimenting with portals when they discover an alien dimension called Xen. I probably don’t need to say that things don’t go as planned, because the Xen soon launch a full-scale invasion of Earth. (And, in fact, conquer Earth, as we learn in Half-Life 2.) At any rate, the Nihilanth is the Xen mastermind leading the aliens. He (it?) is the creature responsible for holding open the portals through which the monsters travel. It is insinuated that Earth is targeted not because monsters explicitly hate humans, but because there’s an ongoing Xen civil war, and we’re just an unfortunate part of the conflict’s expansion.

10. The Kilrathi

WC News

Wing Commander took the best elements of every book, film, and television series ever made in the space war genre, synthesized them, and somehow created something even better. (Twenty-three years later, I still can’t watch an episode of Battlestar Galactica or Star Wars without thinking, “I remember doing that in Wing Commander. That was a great mission.”) In those games, the enemy comes in the form of the Kilrathi, a feline empire governed by an apparent monarchy. They’ve been locked in a devastating war with humanity for decades, with neither side giving an inch or offering an olive branch. (How bad does it get? At the end of Wing Commander III, humanity commits genocide, obliterating the entire Kilrathi homeworld.) The whys of the war are a bit unclear. Indeed, to the participants maybe they’re not that important. All that matters is the mission—to win one sector at a time, one sortie at a time.

11. Dragonlord

Bitmob

In Dragon Warrior, the kingdom of Alefgard lies in darkness and ruin under the dominion of an evil sorcerer called the Dragonlord. Where did he come from and how did he take over the world? Good question. During a self-imposed exile years before, a young wizard entered a cave and encountered a dragon. He expected the next few minutes to involve flame and the crunching of bones—the usual script for dragon encounters. To his astonishment, however, the dragon knelt before him and would soon carry out his will. So here’s a question: All the dragons in the world will obey your command. Do you smile and go about your business, or do you take out that list of people who’ve wronged you and strike down upon them with great vengeance and furious anger? AND YOU WILL KNOW HIS NAME IS THE DRAGONLORD—and so on.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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technology
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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© Nintendo
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fun
Nintendo Will Release an $80 Mini SNES in September
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© Nintendo

Retro gamers rejoice: Nintendo just announced that it will be launching a revamped version of its beloved Super Nintendo Classic console, which will allow kids and grown-ups alike to play classic 16-bit games in high-definition.

The new SNES Classic Edition, a miniature version of the original console, comes with an HDMI cable to make it compatible with modern televisions. It also comes pre-loaded with a roster of 21 games, including Super Mario Kart, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Donkey Kong Country, and Star Fox 2, an unreleased sequel to the 1993 original.

“While many people from around the world consider the Super NES to be one of the greatest video game systems ever made, many of our younger fans never had a chance to play it,” Doug Bowser, Nintendo's senior vice president of sales and marketing, said in a statement. “With the Super NES Classic Edition, new fans will be introduced to some of the best Nintendo games of all time, while longtime fans can relive some of their favorite retro classics with family and friends.”

The SNES Classic Edition will go on sale on September 29 and retail for $79.99. Nintendo reportedly only plans to manufacture the console “until the end of calendar year 2017,” which means that the competition to get your hands on one will likely be stiff, as anyone who tried to purchase an NES Classic last year will well remember.

In November 2016, Nintendo released a miniature version of its original NES system, which sold out pretty much instantly. After selling 2.3 million units, Nintendo discontinued the NES Classic in April. In a statement to Polygon, the company has pledged to “produce significantly more units of Super NES Classic Edition than we did of NES Classic Edition.”

Nintendo has not yet released information about where gamers will be able to buy the new console, but you may want to start planning to get in line soon.

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