Volume 0 Author Spotlight: Philip J Reed

This week sees the release of The Lost Worlds of Power, Volume 0 as a Groupees exclusive. It contains a total of five stories, unique to this collection, and each with its own illustration. For that reason, this week will be given over to spotlighting one of the featured authors every day. Today, me. Philip J Reed, author of “Tetris.”

It's a-me.I’ve talked a bit about how much of a fast-tracked labor of love Volume 0 was for everybody involved, so while I won’t rehash it too deeply here, I do want you to keep that fact in mind, so that you’ll understand how absolutely insane I was to also write a fresh story for it.

Some background. When James Lawless (eventual co-editor) first pitched me the idea of writing Worlds of Power books, he pretty much leapt right for Marble Madness, and I just as quickly grabbed Battletoads. Then we opened the idea of a collection up to many authors…and potentially opened ourselves up to failure, as well.

I can’t speak for James, but I was worried that we might not get enough usable content to justify a book. It’s not that I thought only myself and my co-editor would be uniquely qualified to write novelizations of long-forgotten NES games…I was just slightly afraid that the folks out there who could do the best work wouldn’t even know it existed.

TetrisFortunately we ended up with a massive swirl of coverage, and great authors (with great stories) found us just fine. But I didn’t know that that would happen, so I was already formulating a plan B. Maybe, I figured, if we get a few good stories, James and I can write a few more, and then we’d have a decent-sized volume.

I didn’t want to resort to that, but if push came to shove, I’d have to do something. So I started to brainstorm ideas. Something I could write in a relatively short time (since we wouldn’t know if we had enough usable material until the submission deadline passed), and something that would also be worth reading. That’s when I got an idea for novelizing Tetris.

See, I’d just finished writing Detective Fiction around that time…a much more serious kind of comic novel than anything I would have dreamed of writing for this collection. And because that story was a bit more “grounded,” I had a lot of silly detective jokes left over. Things that I thought were funny, but that I knew didn’t belong in that particular story.

I thought I’d write “Tetris” as a detective story in which the game doesn’t figure at all; the only connection is that the detective’s last name is Tetris.

Ha ha, right?

That was pretty much the entire joke, and I’m under no illusion that it was a great one. But I figured I could write a satisfying enough mystery that people would enjoy reading it, and, hopefully, the utterly po-faced commitment to the gag would be enough to carry a lame joke further than it strictly deserved to go.

TetrisOr, I guess, the joke was that Tetris obviously had no story and no characters whatsoever, and was therefore either impossible to novelize or extremely easy to novelize…either way because you didn’t have any mandatory touchpoints guiding your hand.

Or — or! — maybe the joke was that some hack writer was commissioned to novelize Tetris, and rather than do even cursory research into the damned game he changed the name of the protagonist in some dusty manuscript of his and cashed his check.

Potentially, there could have been a few levels to the humor, but, either way, I didn’t end up writing it. And I’m glad. Glad because I didn’t really want to, and even more glad because that meant we had so many good pieces, we were worried more about trimming down than beefing up.

When Volume 0 as an idea was floated, I wondered about “Tetris.” I still didn’t want to write it, but it surfaced in my mind. A few times. And one of those times, for better or for worse, it surfaced in tandem with Flatland.

TetrisFlatland is a favorite novella of mine, and I knew James was a fan as well. It’s a philosophical / mathematical / sociological / spiritual / cautionary hallucination of a book, about a sentient shape (A. Square) in a land of sentient shapes. To say more would detract from at least some of the incredible sense of discovery that comes with reading it, but when the idea of a world of living shapes came to mind alongside my basic idea for a noir-tinged “Tetris,” things snapped into place.

A plot filled itself out. Characters introduced themselves to me. Themes came flooding in. It was no longer a stupid joke I hoped I didn’t have to tell…it was a story I genuinely, and urgently, wanted to write.

I actually told James my idea in the hopes that he’d (rightly) slap me and say we’re already short on time, and can’t afford to add more work to the pile. Instead, he insisted I do it…even though it meant he was up in the wee small hours of the morning, copy-editing the stories that I couldn’t get to because I was too busy writing.

TetrisIn the end, I’m actually very happy with it. I was building toward something, and then, for whatever reason, I ended up feeling pulled in another direction. I scrapped most of what I’d written, and started again, because the new direction was a richer one, and I wanted to do it justice. That game with no characters or story was surprising me with how actively the characters and story pulled me along.

As a writer, that’s always the most pleasant kind of surprise, and I can safely say that Tetris was the most surprising place to find it.

It’s something that I hope you enjoy. I hope you enjoy the entire book, of course, but I came out of the writing experience feeling immensely satisfied. And I hope at least a few of you will be, too.

Thanks for sticking with this, and thank you — all of you — for your support.

Grab it while you can. I think you will like it.

Volume 0 Author Spotlight: Lucas Hale

This week sees the release of The Lost Worlds of Power, Volume 0 as a Groupees exclusive. It contains a total of five stories, unique to this collection, and each with its own illustration. For that reason, this week will be given over to spotlighting one of the featured authors every day. Today, Lucas Hale, author of “Balloon Fight.”

Lucas HaleI currently reside in California at the far east of the Bay Area with my wife and doggy daughter. I have a Ph.D. and came to California to pursue scientific research. While I have about a dozen published technical papers, I’m thrilled to announce that this is the first time that a creative work of mine is being printed.

A few years ago, I got the urge to do something creative to counteract the preciseness of scientific research and writing. My drawing is on par with a sixth grader and my wife has banned me from singing, so I took up writing.

Most things I write are not worth sharing, as I get distracted easily from my hobby by things such as work, family, reading and video games. Although work hasn’t been as much of an issue lately, in part due to congress failing to agree on a budget last year.

Balloon FightI’ve been addicted to surfing Nintendo Life for too many years now. It’s there where I first saw Philip’s review of the Castlevania 2 Worlds of Power book. Seeing it me inspired to write my own review of video game based novels. And as luck (or shame) would have it, I happen to have the entire set of twelve Nintendo Adventure Books which I purchased new way back in the day. For those who don’t know, those are choose your own adventure style books based on Mario and Zelda games.

If anyone is intrigued, I’ve posted the ones I’ve finished here. But don’t expect much. My rate so far for writing the reviews is on par with Philip’s rate on the Worlds of Power reviews (as in two).

Balloon FightIt was, of course, on Nintendo Life where I saw the announcement for this contest. The timing corresponded well with my sudden increase in free time. I was therefore tempted to write a tale or two. Then I forgot about the contest since people were telling me to apply for jobs and go on interviews and such. When I remembered again, I tracked down the information to make sure that I hadn’t missed the deadline, and turned out my story in a week of madness.

I wanted to take a nice, simple, innocent NES game and twist it into something wonderfully horrifying. I skimmed through an online list and the perfect selection popped out at me: Balloon Fight.

Balloon FightCute little kids floating through the air to pop each other’s bright balloons in an EPIC BATTLE TO THE DEATH! Mix in a little Hunger Games and Running Man, and I was set.

I did extensive (five minutes of) background research to ensure that my story was true to the source material. I even went so far as to watch Youtube videos of good players for both game modes. As such, one could call my story a historical fiction. If they had no concept of reality.

The story itself is dramatic, but I tried to not take it too seriously. In addition to game referential humor, there is some cruel, dark comedy associated with an announcer firing out cheesy 1980s action movie style one liners after violent events. This contrasted nicely with the emotional scarring of the characters following such events. Anyways, there’s not much more that I can say about a short story based on an even shorter video game without spoiling anything.

Balloon FightGo onto Groupees and buy the bundle. Make something useful come out of a fantasy story of kid-on-kid violence by having your money go to a good cause. Enjoy the content and support everyone who was part of this project. Call your mother and tell her you love her. Run through the streets naked screaming about killer moths.

Okay, maybe not that last one, but go do the rest right now!

Many, many thanks to Philip and everyone else working on this project for their dedication and commitment for creating something out of nothing in such a short time. It’s truly amazing to me that something I wrote is going to be part of such a professionally done publication, and so quickly! I’m sure all of the authors appreciate everything that was done in getting out stories out there. I can’t wait to get both volumes so that I can enjoy all of the stories and artwork.

–Lucas Hale

ALF Reviews: “Wedding Bell Blues” (season 2, episode 4)

There are a few different things a scripted television show can do to keep you tuning in. The most obvious — and one that’s gained significant favor in recent years — is serialization, the idea that anything that happens one week will potentially affect the next episode, and even episodes that won’t air until years later. Breaking Bad obviously was a high-profile example of this, and one that kept juggling as many looming tragedies as it could from the very start. Pretty much any prestige drama qualifies.

Another thing you can do is create a world, or a set of characters, that viewers want to spend time with. It’s not the storyline that keeps someone coming back so much as it is the chance to escape into that little universe. This is something Friends, Cheers, and similar shows did quite well. Very little of the appeal was due to longform story telling; it owed more to the chance to be part of that environment, even passively. Most sitcoms fit into this slot, with, of course, varying degrees of success.

Then you have the kind of show that cycles through a set of topics, with audiences tuning in weekly to see how the characters will deal with whatever compartmentalized conflict or development is explored next. This is an approach primarily suited to crime procedurals, such as CSI or Law & Order, medical dramas like ER or House, and high-concept sitcoms like Third Rock From the Sun or even Gilligan’s Island. The framework is a kind of machinery through which a piece of input is fed and processed, and the joy comes from watching the disparate moving pieces come together.

Of course, most shows are actually combinations of the above. Certainly all of the best ones are. Monk, for instance, had a huge amount of option three, but wouldn’t have been nearly the same show if not for its central character bringing along a lot of option two. The Venture Bros. is mainly option one, but also relies heavily, and increasingly, on option two. Futurama was one of the most natural combinations of two and three I’ve ever seen. M*A*S*H* combined all three, and is rightly remembered as one of the finest American programs period.

You get the idea. Shows that do one thing well are worth watching, usually. Shows that do two or more things well are relatively rare, but nearly always memorable for it.

ALF is entirely option three. This isn’t a bad thing. Not all shows need to grasp for several rings, and it’s by no means to anyone’s detriment if one decides, instead, to dig more deeply into a singular approach, and work on refining that. It can make the show feel a bit predictable, but it doesn’t have to feel any less fun.

The problem is that ALF doesn’t so much cycle through these different situations as it does pick them from a list, willy-nilly, with no care given to which topics have already been covered and should probably be scratched out. That’s why season one had three episodes (in a row) about ALF being in love. It had two episodes revolving around a Tanner birthday…with each of them implying that it was ALF’s first experience of how they’re celebrated on Earth.

And now we have another episode where ALF leaves a note and disappears into the outside world, with nobody knowing where he is. Originally, that was “Looking For Lucky.” Now it’s “Wedding Bell Blues.” I’d be perfectly happy to expunge the former from my memory in favor of the latter, but it’s really no better.

Yeah, I’m just babbling in general here, but you can’t blame me too much for that. This is probably the single blandest episode of ALF yet.

It opens with ALF being pissed off that nobody’s put him on a stamp, then he reveals that he ate Willie’s dinner and forged a bunch of checks. Willie makes the face above and the curtain is lifted on another masterpiece.

ALF, "Wedding Bell Blues"

When the episode proper begins, we see Brian being fitted for a Friar Tuck costume. He’s in another play, so I wonder if Willie’s going to be required by the school to write a song about Nottingham.

ALF says that there was a Robin Hood on Melmac, too…but it was just some guy who robbed the hoods off of people’s cars. Ho ho. It’s lame, but I guess it’s better than the Melmacian version of Don Quixote, who was identical for some reason to Earth’s Don Quixote.

Lynn is working on a family tree project for school, which is better suited to someone in Brian’s grade than in hers. Why would that be a high school project? Is she in special ed classes? I can’t wait for the episode in which she has to make a hand-print turkey before graduation.

This would actually be a great opportunity for the show to flesh out some detail about the Tanner family tree, what with everyone talking about the Tanner family tree. Shockingly — and yet, not — we learn nothing we don’t already know. The only member of the extended family mentioned by name is Dorothy…aka Kate Sr. ALF jokes that she should be represented by a nut instead of a branch, and that’s pretty much that.

Wouldn’t this have been a nice chance to learn something, such as anything, about Willie’s parents? Kate’s father? The kids’ aunts and uncles?

Kate suggests that ALF stop bothering everyone and go do his own family tree. He can’t remember much, though, apart from the fact that his father was always breaking things and his mother sat around all day eating. Kate replies, “It’s a miracle you turned out so well,” and I’m reminded of just how fortunate we are to have Anne Schedeen on this show. Honestly. Every so often the writers come up with a line that’s worth delivering, and I’m beyond glad that we have one member of the cast that’s capable of delivering it.

ALF, "Wedding Bell Blues"In the next scene Willie is carrying ALF’s luggage in from the space ship, and he makes a joke about ALF crashing because he exceeded the weight limit. If you think I’m exaggerating the value of Anne Schedeen’s line deliveries, just listen to Max Wright’s here.

And, yeah, you know what I’m about to say: they’re just now pulling the luggage out of the fucking space ship? How is this even possible?

Last season, the ship crashed. Fine. It was disassembled and stripped for parts in “Baby, You Can Drive My Car,” then reassembled at some point, I guess. In “The Gambler” it was loaned out to a film crew, and “La Cuckaracha” was built around the idea that ALF just cleaned out his ship and let a spaceroach loose in the house. Through all of that, the luggage was left inside? I know we’ve already established that serialization is not ALF‘s forte, but that’s beyond preposterous.

The worst part, though, is the question of just how ALF managed to take so much luggage with him. Didn’t Melmac explode unexpectedly? And wasn’t he in the Orbit Guard? Instead of assisting the rest of the Guard in handling the catastrophe and helping others evacuate, he just flew his ship back to his house and loaded up all his personal shit? What an asshole. All of the kids on Melmac are dead because ALF didn’t want to leave his snowglobes behind?

The fact that he hasn’t pulled any of the luggage out in over a year makes it pretty clear he didn’t really even want this stuff…and yet it was still more valuable to him than the lives of his family, girlfriend, neighbors, colleagues, fellow guardsmen, and friends.

The luggage even has ORBIT GUARD stenciled onto it. Nice attention to detail, I admit, but this means he used government property, while on duty, to haul away his own possessions instead of making any attempt to do his job.

Maybe Melmac exploded because ALF didn’t pitch in to help with the situation. I’m sure the show would never make that clear, but wouldn’t it be just perfect if the whole fucking civilization was blown apart because ALF’s a shittyass selfish dick?

ALF, "Wedding Bell Blues"

Willie pulls out the green fuzzy dice that ALF gave to Brian in “Help Me, Rhonda” and which we saw again in “The Gambler,” ALF having apparently slugged the kid in the balls and taken the gift back.

This is the third time we’re seeing them. I guess when the ALF crew pays the props department to dip some fuzzy dice in green dye, they make sure to get their money’s worth.

There are also some old photos that ALF flips through. We don’t get to see them, which is the second time this episode seems to go out of its way to have an organic reason to flesh out some backstory, and then provides absolutely none. One photo reveals an embarrassing truth to ALF, though: his parents were wed on the 12th of Twangle, but he wasn’t born until the 28th of Nathanganger. That means that, tragically, ALF was born in wedlock.

That’s actually a very cute twist on the situation, and I like it quite a lot. But I’m not sure a realization like this makes any sense the way it’s presented. Obviously ALF knows his own birthday, so does this imply that his parents never once mentioned the date on which they were married? How is he only putting this together now?

ALF, "Wedding Bell Blues"

Also, is that one of the mugs from the flashback in “Help Me, Rhonda”? Funny that they’d show us that and expect us to remember it as an authentic Melmacian drinking vessel (and totally not something they found on the shelf at Dollar General) but won’t show us a single picture of all the aliens ALF misses so much…who ALF could have saved if he wasn’t so busy saving pictures of them instead.

Anyway, ALF runs off crying, and Willie and Kate walk through the halls, following the sound to their own bedroom. The camera stays with them, navigating around corners and such, and that’s very uncommon for a sitcom with a basic, fixed set like this one. Unlike the nice visual work of the pilot and a few other episodes, all this sequence does is remind us of why cameras don’t do this in sitcoms. It looks, in a word, artless. And kind of shoddy. But I will absolutely give them credit for trying. That’s so much more than they usually do.

Kate and Willie enter their room and try to console the weeping alien, emphasizing that it’s pretty silly to be embarrassed about being born in wedlock. ALF makes a very welcome and valid point, chastising them for expecting that the entire universe would follow the same moral code.

That’s kind of a sharp observation, and one worthy of exploration, so of course it turns into a joke about Don Knotts.

Fucking fuck this.

They fail to cheer ALF up, so they decide to sleep on the sofa bed that night and let ALF have their room. If they have a sofa bed, why the hell didn’t they set it up for the Mexican kid in “Border Song”? Of course the fact that they also made him sleep in his clothes kind of answers that.

ALF, "Wedding Bell Blues"

They leave and then ALF goes over to the window to ponder his situation. He sees Mrs. Ochmonek getting undressed and the big joke, I guess, is that he had to look at an old lady’s flappy tits.

The next morning Willie and Kate go into the kitchen. The refrigerator is empty, so Kate says it looks like ALF had his breakfast. That’s a reasonable enough joke, but then Willie says, without a trace of humor, “At least he didn’t eat the tape recorder.”

What an effortless way of drawing the audience’s attention to a prop on the table, there, ALF.

ALF, "Wedding Bell Blues"

They find a note ALF left, which says that he’s gone and that they should play the tape for further information.

There’s absolutely no reason for there to be both a note and a tape, except to pad out the episode. Seriously, we’re halfway through this shit and this is the first thing that’s happened. Though I guess having a tape does mean Paul Fusco gets to have his voice in this scene, thereby taking more lines away from Max Wright.

Something tells me watching those two men interact for a half hour would be infinitely funnier than watching their characters do it.

Anyway, ALF’s gone and they have no idea where he is, so…

Oh. Oh fuck no.

Oh fuck no.

ALF, "Wedding Bell Blues"




He turns up at a monastery and says, “I hear you’re looking for a few good monks.”

God. Fucking. Christ.

ALF, "Wedding Bell Blues"

Willie keeps replaying the tape, trying to listen for clues as to where ALF might have gone. See why a note would have been better from a narrative perspective? That would have been much more natural for a character to pore over, and we wouldn’t have to listen to the tape over and over again along with him.

The tape is especially useless since the clues end up being in the words, and not in the background noise or anything. In The Life Aquatic, Team Zissou is able to identify the whereabouts of someone who’s been abducted by listening not to what he says, but to the sounds around him as he says them.

In that case, an audio recording made sense; a note wouldn’t have conveyed the important information. Here, the note could have conveyed the only important information, which is some vague phrasework that Lynn remembers from a brochure that came in the mail.

There are two decent moments in this scene, though. For starters, Brian asks Willie why ALF ran away, and Willie says he’ll understand when he’s older. When Brian asks how old, Willie replies, “Older than me. I’m still trying to figure it out.”

Talking of text vs. speech, this is a punchline that doesn’t play well in print, but works very well when spoken. It’s one of the few times that a line’s improved by having a naturally nervous, befuddled actor like Max Wright deliver it.

Then, after Lynn finds the brochure and they realize ALF’s gone to a monastery, Willie looks up and says, “I’m sorry.”

It’s funny, and I’m impressed that they didn’t ruin it by having someone ask, “Who are you talking to?” to which Willie would reply, “I am speaking to God, who lives up in the sky, so I’m looking upward, toward the sky, while I apologize to Him for ALF joining the monastery, because I don’t believe he would be a very good fit.”

ALF, "Wedding Bell Blues"

The monastery is full of blind retards.

Seriously, his hands aren’t even covered. Why did they bother setting up the Friar Tuck costume? It doesn’t make him look any more human at all. In fact it just draws attention to how clearly inhuman he is. His nose sticks out of the hood for shit’s sake.

The monks are a silent order, which of course leads to a lengthy and unfunny sequence with ALF babbling endlessly about how cool he is with the fact that he’s not allowed to talk.

The episode overtly suggests that this is why ALF is safe from having his secrets exposed: they can’t tell anyone they saw an alien.

But think about it…what’s to keep these monks from thinking he’s a demon or something? He’s clearly not human. What if they locked him up or hauled him off somewhere or started to worship him? Any of that would have made for a better story than this, in which everybody does nothing.

This whole setup really does only work if they’re blind.

ALF, "Wedding Bell Blues"

Willie shows up, of course, and he starts gushing to ALF about how smoking hot his mom was.

I’m not even kidding; Willie brags bizarrely about his own mother being a babe, and pulls out a picture to prove it.

Jesus Christ. That’s the last time I complain about wanting to hear more about Willie’s family.

Anyway, the point of the story is not that baby Willie thought his mom was good enough for a poke, but that he was very disappointed to discover that his mom wore a wig. So, maybe ALF’s parents hid their dirty little secret to protect him from feeling like that.

Then ALF makes a joke about the monks not being allowed to fuck women, and the monks leave.

So, who wants these DVDs when I’m done with them?

ALF, "Wedding Bell Blues"

ALF takes his hood off, and, yes, I know the monks left, and, yes, I know they can’t talk, but are ALF and Willie really comfortable enough for ALF to strip naked in public?

Who cares if they can’t talk? Can’t the monks still write a letter to somebody, saying that there’s a fucking alien in town? And, seriously, wouldn’t the simple fact of seeing this creature throw their entire worldviews into turmoil? Like Mrs. Ochomonek’s televised alien pow-wow from last week, this isn’t the sort of thing you witness first hand and then slip immediately back into a normal life in which you never mention it again.

Oh, who am I kidding. Something would actually have to happen in these episodes if the writers thought about any of this.

“Wedding Bell Blues” is just an endless series of circular conversations. The central conflict is a decent one with a funny twist, but it goes nowhere. It’s not terrible, but it’s wall to wall bland.

Of course, being only “bland” means this is easily within the ten best episodes of ALF ever made.

ALF is so moved by Willie’s speech of wanting to have wild sex with his bald mother that he decides to go back home, which he shouts to the monks in the next room. The monks all cheer.

Okay, that’s kind of funny, but then ALF says, “I thought this was a silent order!!!!!!” and fucking hell we really were lucky Willie’s apology to God wasn’t explained, weren’t we?

And if the monks are not silent anymore, shouldn’t there be some major panic on the parts of Willie and ALF that they made no effort to hide the fact that the new monk was an alien, and indeed spoke about it openly while the monks were fondling grapes or whatever the hell the writers think monks do?

ALF, "Wedding Bell Blues"

Whatever. Who cares. The episode’s over. Everyone fucks around and eats cookies.

The biggest disappointment is the fact that Mr. Ochmonek is listed in the end credits, but he wasn’t actually in the episode.

I guess his scene was cut before broadcast. That’s a shame, because the odds are pretty fucking good that he would have been the highlight of the entire episode.

MELMAC FACTS: On Melmac the worst stigma imaginable is being born in wedlock. Newlyweds feed each other a piece of the wedding cat. And all of the months are called hilarious things like Twangle and Nathanganger.

Volume 0 Author Spotlight: Chris Gomez

This week sees the release of The Lost Worlds of Power, Volume 0 as a Groupees exclusive. It contains a total of five stories, unique to this collection, and each with its own illustration. For that reason, this week will be given over to spotlighting one of the featured authors every day. Today, Chris Gomez, author of “Kirby’s Adventure.”

Chris GomezIn early January, two post-college friends, one having majored in Creative Writing, the other in Philosophy, convened at the latter’s house in San Francisco to declare a weekend-long “Writing Bunker.” They would not leave the house until Sunday night, in hopes that each would help motivate the other to finish his current project. With groceries stockpiled and a tight schedule typed up into Google Calendar, the two aspiring writers set themselves to the task at hand.

I am the philosophy student, and “Kirby’s Adventure” is the absurd monstrosity I finished writing that weekend. I have no real formal training in writing fiction, but I’ve always been terribly fascinated by stories, and every once in a while I feel like I have the makings of a fiction piece brewing in my head. Usually they never make it out on to paper or into a computer.

Kirby's AdventureIt’s time I start changing that. Few things are worse, professionally speaking, than being a 20-something writer who never writes.

The Lost Worlds of Power project appealed to me for two big reasons. First, I was having a hard time motivating myself to write, and having a deadline of some kind usually helps me. Second, I love every era of video game history, but I love few periods more than the early 90s of crap-shoot console game advertising.

I was born just a few years too late to be able to really appreciate the NES in its unchallenged kingly years, and while I’ve played and love a bunch of the system’s best games, I wanted to write something that was much more in my wheelhouse.

Kirby's AdventureIt’s a lucky thing then that Kirby’s Adventure came out in 1993, right in the thick of the sneering, in-your-face, bad-attitude tween years of console gaming, and what better way to totally misinterpret the most adorable, happy-go-lucky Nintendo hero than by tarring and feathering him with the essence of Vanilla Ice and grunge rock?

This joke isn’t a new one, though. There’s even a name for the fact that Kirby’s face tends to get photoshopped to have a scowling frown on American cover art: “Kirby is Hardcore.” So to spruce things up and add a few layers to the idea, I didn’t just want to use dated slang.

I wanted to fill the story’s chapters with out-of-left-field references to 90s kid/nerd culture, but also give it an undercurrent of sleazy insincerity. I tried to put myself in the mindset of an over-worked, underpaid ad-man at Nintendo of America, trying his best to figure out what those damn kids are all on about these days.

Kirby's AdventureAlright I’ve got seven ads to draft up for Nintendo Power this month, what I gonna do for this damn pink puff ball? Skateboards? Pogs – what the hell are those things anyway? Ahh, I got it. Ninjas! The kids love ninjas! And comic books! With that demon fella, Spawn! He’s got a skateboard, right?

So I invented awkward sounding slang and jammed obtrusive product placement in at key moments. I even looked up ad copy for old 90s action figures for inspiration if I felt like I was repeating myself or running out of words and phrases to slam together.

Kirby's AdventureAll of this was built off of a skeleton of plot-point notes I threw together as I re-played Kirby’s Adventure, trying to figure out which levels had the most dramatic potential. It was a surprisingly inspiring play-through, given that Kirby games are chock full of mini-bosses, which lend themselves to character conflict pretty easily.

I ultimately wanted to write something with no redeeming value beyond being ridiculous, stupid, and funny. Which is usually the opposite of the kinds of things I write, and I’m pretty happy with the results.

My sincerest hope is that when people read this thing, they react to it with a mixture of embarrassment and nostalgia, breaking down into uncontrollable, befuddled giggles.

At least, that’s what I do when I re-read it.

–Chris Gomez

Volume 0 Author Spotlight: R J Burgess

This week sees the release of The Lost Worlds of Power, Volume 0 as a Groupees exclusive. It contains a total of five stories, unique to this collection, and each with its own illustration. For that reason, this week will be given over to spotlighting one of the featured authors every day. Today, R J Burgess, author of “Mario is Missing!”

R J BurgessThe first magazine I remember buying with my own money was called Total, a Nintendo-focussed monthly that ran for a number of years in the mid-90s.

Overall, I have fond memories of it. It was funny and informative, packed full of content and with just the right ratio of images to text to keep my eight-year-old self entertained on many a long car journey.

It wasn’t without its flaws, however.

Take their review for Mario is Missing! Whatever schmuck reviewed that game ended up giving it a score of 92% out of 100. 92%!

Mario is Missing!That was only 1% less than the score they’d given to The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. It was 2% more than they’d given to SimCity and F-Zero, and they were two of my favourite games on the SNES.

The reviewer called it fun and educational. He said it was unlike anything else on the console. It’s Mario, he said, and we all know you can’t go wrong with Mario, right?

I was instantly sold.

So I saved up for it. I squirreled away my pocket money for half a year in order to buy a copy. I still own it to this day…

Mario is Missing!And I don’t think it would surprise anyone when I say that it was one of the most disappointing experiences of my entire life. I played it once, completed it in just a couple of hours, and never touched it again.

I learned two very valuable lessons that day. First, that not everything with the word “Mario” in the title is made of gold. And second, that opinions are like assholes — everyone has one, no one really cares what yours looks like, and trying to use a 100-point scale to define one is a retarded thing to do. Anyone who buys a game based solely on its review score deserves the sort of soul-crushing disappointment that my eight-year-old self went through.

Mario is Missing!Anyway, as soon as the Lost Worlds of Power contest was announced, I knew that this was one ghost from my past I was going to have a lot of fun exorcising. I had some serious bones to pick with this game and its quote-unquote “story.” I’ve always enjoyed over-analysing things and there were a lot of, shall we say, “character motivations” that I didn’t feel were clear in the original plot of the game.

Hopefully, these things will make a bit more sense now that I’m finished with them.

I hope you have as much fun reading this story as I did writing it. If you fancy checking out some more of my stories afterwards, feel free to visit my blog.

–R J Burgess