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11 Essential Talking Points on NBA Jam

For those of a certain generation, the thought of basketball players flipping thirty feet in the air and shooting literal fireballs into smoking hoops isn't odd—it's the most natural thing in the world. That's thanks to NBA Jam, which was originally released in 1993 and quickly became the most popular arcade game of all time.

Here are some little-known facts about the game that had you and all your friends screaming "Boomshakalaka!" until the arcade closed.

1. It Started Out As A Standard Sports Game

Based on Midway’s previous (non-NBA licensed) game Arch Rivals, NBA Jam began as a straightforward 2-on-2 basketball simulator. It wasn’t until creator Mark Turmell began fiddling with the slam dunk sequences that the game got its trademark, gravity-defying jams. “I didn't even intend to do anything over the top,” Turmell recalled to ESPN The Magazine. “I put in the velocity and the height, and it looked cool, then I kept going higher until it was clearly unrealistic but still entertaining. Once that happened, we completely shifted the focus of the game.”

2. It Was Designed Quickly

It took Turmell and his team of designers just 10 months to make the first version of the game. They finished two months ahead of schedule in order to secure a 20% royalty bonus.

3. It Was Supposed To Include Different Camera Angles

Midway made the above video in 1992 as part of their pitch to the NBA in order to secure licensing. In it, they tease two features that never made it into the actual arcade game. When players dunked, the camera angle was originally supposed to switch to a vantage point behind the action. Also, on breakaways, the perspective was going to assume the character’s point of view as they sprinted to the hoop.

4. The Bulls Were Programmed to Choke

Turmell, a Detroit Pistons fan, gave his team an advantage when they played the arch-rival Chicago Bulls in the original arcade version of the game. “When the Bulls played the Pistons [and] there was a close game and anyone on the Bulls took a last second shot, we wrote special code in the game so that they would average out to be bricks,” Turmell revealed.

5. The NBA Got $100 For Every Arcade Machine Sold

Midway had to work hard to obtain licensing from the NBA. The league was initially reluctant to associate its brand with arcades, which NBA executives viewed as seedy locales. When the game developers finally convinced the league to come aboard, the agreement included a $100-per-machine royalty.

6. It Made Almost $1 Billion In Quarters In Its First Year

Reports pegged its revenue at a little over $900 million. There were over 20,000 machines, and some machines made over $2,000 a week. (One unit holds the world record amount for money made over one week: $2,468.)

7. A Version Exists That Features Both Michael Jordan And Gary Payton (On The Same Team)

Ever protective of his brand, Jordan wouldn’t agree to licensing terms for NBA Jam and was absent from the game. Gary Payton also wasn’t a featured player, as programmers selected Shawn Kemp and Benoit Benjamin (and later Detlef Schrempf, for the console version) to represent the Seattle Supersonics. Mark Turmell recalls making a special version featuring both those players after Gary Payton asked him to:

“One day, I got a phone call from a distributor out on the west coast who told me that Gary Payton was willing to pay whatever it cost to get into the game. So we told him what to do in terms of taking photographs, so he sent in photographs of himself and Jordan, saying, ‘We want to be in the game, hook us up.’ So we actually did a special version of the game and gave both players all-star, superstar stats. There are only a handful of these machines, but Jordan and Payton did end up being in one version of the game.”

8. Shaquille O’Neal Took An 'NBA Jam' Unit With Him Wherever He Went

Shaq loved the game so much that he bought two full arcade units—one for home, and one that was shipped around the country as he traveled so he could play in his hotel rooms.

9. The Narration Was Rushed

NBA Jam's iconic commentary and catchphrases (written by composer Jon Hey) had to be read by first-time video game voice actor Tim Kitzerow as quickly as possible. ”There was such limited space on those machines,” Kitzerow told IGN, “that we literally had to go over, ten or fifteen times, something like ‘He's on fire!’ as fast as we could until it was ‘H’s o'fire!’...I think that it was, well, just not very good. But it was only because of the restrictions.”

These quick-fire reads didn’t prevent Kitzerow's exclamations from becoming some of the most repeated catchphrases of the '90s, eventually permeating pop culture and entering the traditional sportscaster’s lexicon.

10. The NBA Nixed A Gory Hidden Court

Twitter // @noobde

NBA Jam is famous for its hidden characters like Bill Clinton and Frank Thomas, but there was also supposed to be an unlockable court designed to look like a Mortal Kombat level (Mortal Kombat was also a Midway-designed game). The "Kourt," which had a hoop made of bones and featured a bloody skull as the ball, was vetoed by the NBA.

11. Its Creator Says The Game Has A Haunting Glitch

Croatian NBA star Dražen Petrović tragically died in a car accident in 1993. He was initially put in the game, but his likeness couldn't be removed in time before it shipped. Here, Mark Turmell told ESPN the Magazine about an eerie glitch that was discovered shortly thereafter:

"One night we were playing Mortal Kombat and there was a Jam machine next to it, and all of a sudden the game started calling out 'Petrovic!' 'Petrovic!' And this only happened after Petrovic had died. Everyone started freaking out. Something weird was going on with the software, and to this day, if you have an original 'NBA Jam' machine every once in a while it will just yell out 'Petrovic!'"

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Mario Kart Is Coming to Your Smartphone
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Nintendo had a lot to boast about during its quarterly financial reports this week. The company’s latest console/handheld hybrid, the Nintendo Switch, has already sold more units (14.86 million) in its first 10 months than its previous console, the Wii U, did (13.56 million) during its entire five-year lifespan. That news was bolstered by the company revealing its two heavy-hitters, Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey, were massive commercial successes, with 6.70 and 9.07 million copies sold, respectively.

That’s great if you’re a shareholder, but if you’re just a gamer, the real news came when Nintendo revealed that Mario Kart will soon make its way to smartphones. Titled Mario Kart Tour, this will be the company’s fifth mobile endeavor, following games like Super Mario Run, Fire Emblem Heroes, and Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp, as well as the soon-to-be-defunct Miitomo app.

Since debuting on the Super Nintendo in 1992, Mario Kart has been one of the company's most reliable franchises. Even on a system that flopped like the Wii U, Mario Kart 8 managed to sell 8 million units on its way to becoming the console's top-selling game. And when that same title was ported to the Nintendo Switch, it moved another 7 million units. For both Nintendo and its fans, the mobile version is a no-brainer.

So what’s actually known about Mario Kart Tour? Well, it’ll be out in the fiscal year, which ends in March 2019. Other than that, you’ll just have to wait for Nintendo to release its patented slow trickle of news over the next few months (though you can expect it on both iOS and Android, like the company's other mobile titles). Until then, you’ll have to dust off that old copy of Mario Kart: Double Dash or splurge on Mario Kart 8 Deluxe to get your fill of blue shells and errant banana peels.

[h/t The Verge]

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9 Things You Might Not Know About Defender

by Ryan Lambie

When Defender arrived in arcades back in 1980, nothing looked or sounded quite like it. The controls had a steep learning curve, and its shooting action was intense and relentlessly difficult. Yet Defender's boldness made it stand out in arcades full of Space Invaders clones, and gamers quickly fell in love with it.

Created by a designer pushing the boundaries of early '80s technology, Defender's development wasn't without its drama. Here's a look at Defender's making and its lasting effect on the games industry.

1. DEFENDER WAS WILLIAMS'S FIRST PROPER, ORIGINAL ARCADE GAME.

With its foundations tracing back to the 1940s, American company Williams specialized in making pinball machines. When Pong ushered in a new age of electronic games in the 1970s, Williams knew it had to break into the same market, but its first attempt was tentative, to say the least: 1973's Paddle Ball was, for the most part, a straight replica of Pong's bat-and-ball action. Fortunately, a young programmer named Eugene Jarvis had a more pioneering spirit.

2. IT WAS INSPIRED BY SPACE INVADERS AND CHESS.

Jarvis joined Williams in the late 1970s, where he initially worked on the software for the company's pinball machines—titles included Airborne Avenger, Gorgar, and Laser Ball. But even as those machines were making their way into arcades, they were being roundly upstaged by a new game on the block—the coin-guzzling shooter, Space Invaders. The game immediately inspired Jarvis to make his own sci-fi shooter, though one which also took in the vector graphics of the seminal Spacewar (a game he'd played while in college) and a hint of chess. He wanted his game, he later told WIRED, to be a "rich, tactical and strategic experience."

3. THE TITLE CAME FROM A 1960s TV SHOW.

As Jarvis's ideas for his game began to develop—and it moved further and further away from the straight "blast the aliens" scenario popularized by Space Invaders—he began to think about an objective that involved rescue and defense rather than straight-up shooting. And early on, he adopted the name Defender, derived from the '60s courtroom drama series, The Defenders.

"I kind of liked that show," Jarvis said in Steven Kent's book, The Ultimate History Of Video Games. "You know, if you're defending something, you're being attacked, and you can do whatever you want."

4. IT WAS ONE OF THE FIRST SIDE-SCROLLING GAMES.

Jarvis and his small team of programmers and designers, which included Larry DeMar and Sam Dicker, worked up a game design which, for its time, was hugely ambitious. Back then, most games took place on a single, static screen. What Jarvis proposed was a game which scrolled smoothly and rapidly along a map that was far larger than the display. At the top of the screen, a small mini map showed the player's current position. Both ideas were groundbreaking, and the mini map is a ubiquitous design feature in the games of today.

5. IT WAS COMPLETED JUST IN TIME FOR AN IMPORTANT TRADE SHOW.

As months of development passed, Jarvis was put under increasing pressure to get Defender finished in time for a trade show called the Amusement and Music Operators Association Expo. Jarvis worked feverishly to meet the deadline, but on the evening before the trade show, he had a horrifying realization: the game lacked an attract mode—the demo designed to show would-be customers how the game looks in action. An all-night coding session began, which, following another terror-inducing moment where the game refused to load up properly, the finished Defender was ready on the morning of the expo.

6. PLAYERS WERE INITIALLY INTIMIDATED.

Defender cut a strange and unnerving figure at the AMOA trade show. Where most games of the time had a joystick and one button, Defender had a joystick and five buttons—something which, Jarvis later suggested, left some people wary of even trying it. At first, though, Jarvis wasn't concerned, saying in an interview on the Williams Arcade's Greatest Hits game disc that the team was "proud that it intimidated everyone."

7. IT BECAME ONE OF THE HIGHEST-GROSSING GAMES OF THE GOLDEN AGE.

Everything changed when Defender appeared in arcades. Williams's first game of the '80s was also its biggest, selling 55,000 cabinets and reportedly making more than $1 billion in revenue. Players, it seems, couldn't get enough of Defender's speed, color, and sheer challenge.

8. A STRANGE BUG OCCURS WHEN YOU SCORE 990,000 POINTS

While Defender became famous for its vertical difficulty level, a certain breed of gamer rose to the challenge. The game's most dedicated players even discovered a bug: reach 990,000 points, and an error in the game's algorithm results in a sudden shower of extra lives and smart bombs. Yet even the bug added to Defender's absorbing challenge; as Jarvis told US Gamer, "Some of the richest elements of Defender [...] were bugs, things that I never even in my wildest imagination could have coded."

9. IT'S STILL INFLUENTIAL TODAY.

Defender's groundbreaking design paved the way for an entire generation of scrolling shooters, including Jarvis's 1981 sequel Stargate, Konami's Gradius series, and many more. Even today, Defender continues to inspire 21st-century game designers. Finnish developer Housemarque's side-scrolling shooter Resogun draws directly on the mechanics in Defender. In 2017, Jarvis teamed up with Housemarque to develop the game Nex Machina, which released to overwhelmingly positive reviews.

More than 30 years later, Defender's audacious design is still making an impact.

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