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16 Fast Facts About Homestar Runner

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Homestarrunner.com

While the general public didn’t know about the charming Flash cartoons until 2000, Homestar Runner first came into being in 1996. Since his debut, Homestar has captured the adoration of millions and helped influence aspiring animators to create their own cartoons. Celebrate Free Country, USA and all its citizens with a quick rundown of Homestar trivia.

1. IT ALL STARTED AS A CHILDREN’S BOOK.

Before Homestarrunner.com, Homestar was a static character in a picture book created by Mike Chapman and Craig Zobel in 1996. The book is about Homestar who, along with Strong Bad and Pom Pom, enters a strongest man competition. Halfway through the contest, Homestar notices that Strong Bad is cheating with the help of the aptly named character The Cheat. He exposes the cheaters and helps Pom Pom win the contest. It’s a simple story with a happy ending. “Craig and I wanted the original kids' book to feel like it was from another country or poorly translated from Japanese maybe,” Chapman told Adventure Gamers.

The books were Xeroxed and bound at Kinkos in the '90s. All the characters were blocky and simplistic, making them easy to replicate.

Chapman and Zobel—along with younger brother Matt Chapman—gave the characters new life that Christmas when the animated gang was cast in a video made on the SNES game Mario Paint. The video was given to the eldest brother, Donnie Chapman, for Christmas. “[…] it was just by luck that half the characters don't have mouths or hands and stuff, so they're easy to animate,” Chapman told IGN. By 2000, Matt and Mike decided to get into the Flash animation game and brought their characters on to a new medium. In 2000, Homestarrunner.com was born.

2. THE PROCESS IS NOT VERY HIGH TECH.

As you can tell by watching the videos, the Chapman brothers were all about simplicity. Their characters had limited movement and the backdrops were often static. Generally the videos don’t go over five minutes.

"Originally, we sort of wanted to create the feel of Saturday mornings in the '70s and '80s of waking up early with a bowl of cereal and sitting in front of the TV watching cartoons, which I don't feel like really exists anymore,” Mike Chapman told NPR.

All the animation was done on Flash, while sound was created in Adobe Audition. Most of the music came from “old Casio keyboards or worse.”

3. MATT CHAPMAN DID MOST OF THE VOICES.

When it comes to voices, Matt is the master behind the wide array of characters, from the upbeat but goofy Homestar to the deranged Coach Z. The only voice Matt didn’t cover was Marzipan, who was played by Mike’s wife, Melissa “Missy” Palmer. According to the Chapmans, there was only one female character in Free Country, USA because Palmer could only do the one voice. Mike would also jump in and do the voices in The Cheat’s cartoons.

4. STRONG BAD WAS INSPIRED BY AN NES GAME.

Homestar Runner is littered with obscure ‘80s references, particularly nods to NES games that the brothers used to play. Strong Bad and the rest of the Strong family were originally created to be tag team wrestlers and were based off a team called the Strong Bads from the NES game Tag Team Wrestling. One of the Strong Bads, Mascross, wore a wrestling mask similar to the one on Strong Bad.

5. STRONG BAD (SORT OF) MADE IT ON TO TELEVISION.

Back in 2011, Matt Chapman started to work for the television show, The Aquabats! Super Show! The show has a character named Carl, who bears a striking resemblance to Strong Bad, thanks to his red luchador mask. Chapman co-directed and acted in an episode called "Cobraman!" in 2012 that featured Carl, who was of course, a villain. Chapman played this Strong Bad look-alike and even used the same distinctive voice.

A puppet version of Strong Bad also made an appearance on stage with The Aquabats in Atlanta. He volunteered some fashion tips and helped The Aquabats sing "Pink Pants!" Strong Bad’s voice is featured on the album version of the song (with a quick Homestar cameo at the end). Bizarrely, that’s not the only time Strong Bad’s voice comes up in the music world. You can also hear him on the Shellac track, “Genuine Lulabelle.”

6. THEY AIMED TO MAKE SIMPLE BUT ADDICTING GAMES.

Homestarrunner.com has a ton of mini-games that attempt (and arguably succeed) to capture the magic of early console games from the late '80s. The Chapman brothers created their own fictitious gaming company called Videlectrix. The retro looking title screen comes up when visitors play any of the titles on the website’s game page. (Its employees are Matt and Mike wearing mustaches.) Videlectrix put out classic games like Trogdor, Awesome Cross, Peasant Quest, and even made some Wii compatible games.

According to the Chapman brothers, they wanted to create simple games that could be played for hours. They were inspired by Palmer’s love of the Nintendo game Animal Crossing. In it, the only objective is to build a town and run errands. There are no cinematic cut scenes, no plot, and definitely no sex appeal.

7. THE BROTHERS MADE A FULL-LENGTH GAME.

In 2008, Videlectrix entered the console business. They teamed up with Telltale Games to create Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People. While Videlectrix is not technically a real company, they still appeared as a partner in the game’s press release. (This detailed confused and concerned some shareholders).

Telltale understood the vibe of the Homestar world and wanted to accurately portray it in the game. They worked closely with the Chapman brothers, who wrote a good portion of the script. “We really wanted to make a game that felt like it came right from their minds,” Telltale Games's executive producer Kevin Brunner told G4.

Matt ended up doing all of the voices, which took a heavy toll on his vocals. “Early on, we had to look for herbal remedies," Matt told College Humor. “We figure by the end of this five-episode series we will have recorded as much as we did in eight years of doing the site.”

8. ONE PIZZA CHAIN ENLISTED THEIR EXPERTISE.

In 2005, pizza chain Mellow Mushroom asked the Chapman brothers to help them design their own pizza-themed version of Homestarrunner.com. The fully functional website included a similar menu page, with options like “toons,” “games,” “characters,” and more. Visitors could even switch the theme of the menu animation and make the animated mushroom float on a lazy river or stand in a kitchen. Other fun features included downloadable wallpapers, e-cards, and merchandise.

9. LIMOZEEN OPENED FOR OF MONTREAL .

Strong Bad’s favorite hair metal band was, in some way, actually real. While many Flash videos portrayed the band as various Chapman brothers in wigs (sometimes just Matt playing all the band members), they finally agreed on a band lineup and hit the stage. In March 27, 2008, they played a show that was shared on YouTube. November of that same year, the band actually opened for Of Montreal at The Tabernacle in Atlanta. The band played some of Limozeen’s greatest hits as well as some Homestar Runner songs like “Everbody to the Limit” and the Trogdor theme song.

It’s also worth noting that Limozeen had a coloring book way before the adult coloring craze took off. The "Ladies, We're Staying in Room 302 at the Ramada" Tour coloring book has 12 pages of the band rocking out and can be printed out for personal use right here.

10. JAMES HUGGINS THOUGHT OF THE NAME HOMESTAR RUNNER.

The name Homestar Runner comes from a joke from James Huggins III, a family friend of the Chapman brothers. (He now goes by James Husband and plays the drums for the indie band Of Montreal.)

“[James] knows nothing about sports, and so he would always do his old-timey radio impression of this guy, and not knowing any positions in baseball or whatever, he would just be like, ‘homestar runner for the Braves.’ And we were just like, 'Homestar Runner? That’s the best thing we’ve ever heard!'” Matt Chapman explained in a Kevin Scott interview.

11. THE CHAPMAN BROTHERS’ PARENTS HELPED THEM OUT.

Once the Homestar Runner brand really starting picking up, the Chapman brothers began to feel a little overwhelmed by their expanding business. By 2002, they were updating the site every Monday and fans were clamoring for merchandise. The various branded shirts, figurines, and messenger bags being sold were first kept in the creators' parents' home in Atlanta. The retired parents were happy to help store and organize items as a fun, post-retirement activity. It started in one spare bedroom and a closet but quickly expanded to fill multiple bedrooms, closets, the basement, and garage. Finally a warehouse had to be rented out to reduce some clutter (and give the parents a place to park their car again).

Don Chapman, the father of the family (formerly the chief financial officer at an insurance company) helped the brothers set up copyrights for their characters after they noticed bootleg merchandise was competing with the authentic products. "We've had to chase people all over, from eBay to little boutique shops," Don Chapman told The Eugene Register-Guard in 2003. "I said at the beginning this was going to be the Peanuts of the 21st century. I'm now starting to believe that now."

12. HOMESTAR DOESN’T HAVE ARMS BECAUSE HE DOESN’T NEED THEM.

After all, his name is Homestar Runner. The athlete only needs to run, so the idea of arms seemed superfluous. "I guess maybe, I don't know, since he’s just Homestar Runner and runner is in his name. It's like, 'well what does this guy needs arms for?'" Mike explained in an interview. "It's in his name. You know what he does."

13. BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER GIVES IT A NOD.

Homestar Runner definitely had some reach in its fan base, but did you know it extended all the way to Buffy the Vampire Slayer? In the final episode of the popular television show, Giles can be seen playing a game of Dungeons and Dragons with Xander, Andrew, and Amanda. Strong Bad’s character, Trogdor the Burninator, is mentioned as a beast in the game that badly wounds Giles. Andrew can also be seen on Buffy's sister show, Angel, wearing a Strong Bad t-shirt.

14. ALL THE STRONG BAD EMAILS WERE REAL.

For the most part, you could tell that the emails coming into Strong Bad’s computer were authentic. They were nonsensical, littered with typos, and quite often rude. Not even the Brothers Chap could come up with Fhqwhgads. All the emails read were generously submitted by fans. The only one that wasn’t from a viewer was Mile, which was craftily created by The Cheat. It was apparently not too hard to find usable questions, because the fan emails were plentiful. In 2003, the Chapman brothers estimated that Strong Bad received about 7000 emails a day.

15. YOU CAN SEE MORE WORK FROM THE CHAPMAN BROTHERS ON DISNEY.

There hasn’t been a Homestar Runner update since April (save for some Strong Bad tweets), but that doesn’t mean the brothers are just sitting around twiddling their thumbs. They have been dabbling in the television world and have even started making shorts for Disney XD. Their short series, Two More Eggs, is a nonsensical cartoon that retains a lot of the charm of Homestar Runner.

Disney Television Animation reached out to the Brothers Chap because members of the team were so enchanted with Homestar Runner. At first, the brothers tried to create a traditional television show with longer episodes.

“That version of our show would have consisted of two 11-minute-long shorts per episode,” Matt told The Huffington Post. “There would have been consistent characters and a plot. But in the end, I think that Mike and I—along with the team at Disney Television Animation—realized that that wasn’t really playing to our strengths.”

In the end, they settled on shorts that are almost all under two minutes. This gave the creators a chance to churn the videos out quickly and further explore the world they were creating. Since animated shorts are the Chapman brothers' bread and butter, they flourished.

16. BUT THE NEW MEDIUM COMES WITH CHALLENGES.

The Chapman brothers have been enjoying a relative amount of freedom with Disney while working on the shorts, but it’s not all easy. They admit the thing they have the most trouble with is the character bible—an extensive guide to the personalities of different characters.

“It's hard to nail that stuff down arbitrarily early on and just decide these things. You put the character in situations, and then that stuff happens naturally,” Matt told Vox. The brothers explained that the best way to hash out characters was to stick them all in the back of a police car and see how they interact.

“I still don't think I could write a decent character bible or bio for Homestar, and we did that for a decade. It's like an open beta. Our cartoons are an open beta, and we're slowly evolving it, and we're making you watch it.”

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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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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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