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19 Bizarre Video Games That Actually Happened

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EA

It's no surprise that some video games are strange—like, say, the one about a boy dressed like a chicken who rolls eggs into enemies. But where some games are strange, others are downright bizarre. Sometimes you have to take a step back and ask yourself, "...why?"

1. Shaq-Fu (1994)

Shaq-Fu was released in 1994 for SNES and Genesis. The game centers on basketball legend Shaquille O’Neal after he is transported to an alternate dimension where he must save a young boy from an evil mummy. Unsurprisingly, it has been widely regarded as one of the worst video games of all time. There is even a website with the sole purpose of wiping the game out of existence.

The game was so horrible that it became legendary, and some people felt it was necessary to make a sequel. After a successful crowdfunding campaign, we can look forward to seeing the new game, Shaq-Fu: Legend Reborn, launched on a variety on consoles. Lovers of so-bad-it's-good video games rejoice!

2. Michael Jordan: Chaos in the Windy City (1994)

Here’s another basketball star-themed video game courtesy of EA Sports. In this one, Michael Jordan discovers that the Chicago Bulls have been kidnapped by an evil scientist. You play as Jordan and roam the streets of Chicago, collecting keys in order to find them. Naturally, there are monsters you need to defeat, and, because you’re Michael Jordan, you defeat them with basketballs. These balls vary from ice balls to grenade balls.

The game was an overwhelming failure. It made it onto the 100th issue of Nintendo Power’s top 10 worst games of all-time list (Shaq-Fu is on there too).

3. Home Improvement: Power Tool Pursuit! (1994)

This game is (very loosely) based on the Tim Allen sitcom. You play as Tim "The Toolman" Taylor and defeat dinosaurs and mummies with power tools. This video game is (or attempts to be) an ode to masculinity. The instruction manual simply states, “Real men don’t need instructions.” It ultimately was a failure, probably because it had almost nothing to do with Home Improvement.

4. *NSYNC: Get to the Show (2001)

After popping this game in, Player 1 has the honor of being named *NSYNC's biggest fan. This entails driving the boy band around and doing menial tasks for them. After completing all the mini games/slave labor, the player is rewarded with a "live performance" from the band. 

5. Michael Jackson's Moonwalker (1990)

This SEGA effort is based on the movie of the same name. Mr. Big, an evil drug dealer, is up to his usual antics and is stealing children. It's up to Michael Jackson to save the day... with dance. Jackson can also throw his hat at enemies, and if he saves the correct child, he can turn into a robot that shoots lasers from his eyes. Just like in the movie!

6. Kool-Aid Man Video Game (1983)

This game, for the Atari 2600 and Intellivision, had very little to do with busting through walls and disturbingly revolved around drinking from a swimming pool full of Kool Aid that also served as Sir Punch's life bar. The object of the game was to quench the thirst of thirty "Thirsties" using the pool of life matter. Confused? So was everyone who ever played it.

7. Coca-Cola Kid (1994)

This one never actually made it past Japan. You play as the mascot Coca-Cola Kid, who was the very embodiment of all that is cool in the '90s (check out that backwards hat and skateboard). The game is a transparent advertisement for soda, but you may recognize the plot: someone (his teacher) is kidnapped and you have to defeat enemies (by kicking them) and rescue her. Oh, and health is restored by reaching for a refreshing bottle of Coca-Cola. I assume that all mascots are fueled exclusively by the item they are shilling, so no objections here.

8. March of the Penguins (2007)

While a surprise hit in theaters, you'd never expect March of the Penguins — a documentary about the bleak lives of emperor penguins — to translate into a fun video game. They tried, however, and in the game, you place objects in front of penguins to assist their march to the breeding ground. 

9. & 10. McDonald's Treasure Island Adventure (1993) // Ronald McDonald in the Magical World (1994)

McDonald's has a surprisingly large collection of video games that you probably don't want to play. McDonald's Treasure Island Adventure is unapologetically capitalistic. Ronald McDonald goes around beating up tomatoes and penguins until they give up their pieces of the treasure map. This game is ruthless.

In Ronald McDonald in the Magical World, Birdie, Grimace, and the Hamburglar are sucked into a — you guessed it — magical world. It is up to Ronald McDonald and his magic umbrella to save them. Aside from clobbering small animals and collecting keys, the player also has access to two fast-food themed mini games

11. Razor Freestyle Scooter (2000)

"They're not just for transportation anymore," the game declares. An evil robot has kidnapped your friends and it's up to the player and his or her choice of Razor™ scooter to save them. UFC fighter Tito Ortiz is a playable character, for some unknown reason. It plays somewhat like one of the popular Tony Hawk games, but with a decidedly less cool sport.

12. Grey's Anatomy: The Video Game (2009)

Who exactly is the demographic for this video game? Moms with kids who don't use their Wii anymore? The game is set up like a five-episode story arc and focuses on working in the hospital while trying to manage interpersonal relationships. The actual writers of Grey's Anatomy collaborated on the game to give it a similar feel to the show.

13. Alf (1989)

Alf had every possible form of memorabilia, from trading cards to slippers, so naturally they made a video game. In it, Alf makes half-baked jokes while searching for fuel for his spaceship. At the end of the game, Alf parks his space scooter on the moon's face and repairs his ship.

14. Wayne's World (1993)

Like many of titles on this list, the Wayne's World video game did not feel obligated to use its source material's plot in any way — it's much easier to just transport the characters to another universe with monsters that need to be defeated. Garth is kidnapped by a purple blob and now a bobble-headed Wayne has to fight evil bagpipes and Robo Elvis to save him with a guitar that shoots sound waves. Halfway through the game, the player is treated to the 16-bit version of the headbanging scene with a chiptune version of "Bohemian Rhapsody."

15. Playboy: The Mansion (2005)

Moby Games

The Playboy video game offers a voyeuristic look into the life of Hugh Hefner. It's like the Sims, just with more naked women. In the game, Hefner is just starting his magazine business and it's up to the player to build it into the pornographic empire we know today. The idea is to balance friends, romance, and business. Hef needs to hire writers, direct photo shoots, and — most importantly — throw parties. Soirées can be thrown at any time and the player needs to only specify the attire (usually lingerie).

16. Bible Adventures (1991)

The Bible comes alive as you play as David, Noah, and Miriam in this religious adventure. The game is separated into three games: Noah's collection of animals for a mandatory spin on his boat, David's exciting world of shepherding, and Miriam's dangerous trip to the Nile. Cracked named Bible Adventures the 19th worst NES game of all time.

17. Square's Tom Sawyer (1989)

This game was named the fourth most racist video game of all time by UGO, and it was banned from the United States. The character of Jim is portrayed with large lips and skin the same color as the black screen. And besides all that, the game mechanics were awful.

18. Yo! Noid (1990)

Though the 1989 DOS and Commodore 64 game Avoid The Noid had players delivering pizzas and dodging the annoying Domino's Pizza mascot, this 1990 game for NES let the player act as the monstrosity. Noid traversed through New York using a yo-yo to battle his evil duplicate, Mr. Green. Yo! Noid was essentially a modified duplication of another Capcom game from Japan called Kamen no Ninja Hanamaru. In case the pizza-eating contests at the end of the levels didn't make the player hungry, the game came with a whopping dollar-off coupon for Domino's. Though back in the early '90s that was, like, a dollar fifty.

19. Seaman (1999)

Truly the most disturbing video game on this list, Seaman is a virtual pet simulator for Dreamcast. Leonard Nimoy narrates, and the game's producer, Yoot Saito, lends his likeness for the face of Seaman, a talking fish-man hybrid. Seaman starts as an egg and the player can raise him to eventually become "Frogman." Other stages include: Gillman, Podfish, and Tadman. The mutating fish needs constant reassurance or it will die. Despite being dependent on the player, it does not stop him from insulting his caretaker. The game boasted state of the art voice-recognition and had a lot of hype and success in Japan.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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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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Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
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