Monday, May 5, 2008

An Interview: Carl

Memory Speedometers

I don't remember exactly how I met Carl Pinard (a.k.a.NJzFinest) a Karter from New Jersey age 19. Perhaps this is due to the fact that I've never met him in person. It was on the tracks that I met this racer via Mario Kart DS online play. Back then I considered him to be my rival. Needless to say, we were both pretty good at the game. And for us, in the world of Mario Kart, 1st place was expected. They say for members of a band, it all comes out on the road. This is a phrase that takes on new meaning in a Mario Kart race. So when we both sat there at the starting line with out engines humming, waiting for the Lakitu to start us off, I knew it would soon be all behind us.

I kept Carl in my contacts long after I stopped playing Mario Kart DS competitively and after Carl's copy of Mario Kart DS was stolen. In my interview I found out that he has a lot of experience with the Mario Kart series. Here's what he had to say.


KirbyKid: How many mario kart games do you have experience with?
Carl: All of them but Mario Kart Wii

KirbyKid: Which is your favorite? And why?
Carl: My favorite one is Mario Kart: Super Circuit for the GBA. It took some of the new elements presented in Mario Kart 64 with Super Mario Kart. Unlike MK64, it had many more courses, given the fact it had every course from Super Mario Kart. It was basically 2 games in one.

KirbyKid: What about the racing mechanics in Super Circuit?
Carl: Well, it brought back the oldschool controls from the SNES one, such as the different method of drifting were you simply hold ’R’ until the mini boost comes, instead of turning left and right as in mk64. It just felt a little tighter. Also, every kart had more of a completely different feel. Sure, in MK64, there were different weight classes and such, but in MK for the GBA, there was more of a difference between each character; completely different turning for example. Some were extremely hard to turn into sharp angles. Some were much easier. This element started what was later presented into MKDS, MKDD, and I’m assuming also MK for the Wii.

KirbyKid: How do you feel about snaking?
Carl: Snaking, I both love and hate it. I did it a lot in Mario Kart Double Dash and Mario Kart DS. In Mario Kart 64, it wasn't too bad since it barely existed (given the fact it was nearly impossible to continually drift on a straightaway). I recently won a Mario Kart DD tournament where I basically snaked my entire way through. Many people gave me negative remarks about it, but I didn't mind too much. I like how it defines more experienced players compared to lesser, but I hate how it's simply too easy to abuse. Like, in MK64 (where it wasn’t as bad), people wouldn't call you a cheater since it wasn't something you could simply do all match. In MKDD and MKDS, I just felt like it was a contest of who can mash left/right and R better, rather then an actual race. Advanced techniques in videogames should be situational, not something you should always do no matter what. Such as l-canceling in Melee. There was no reason to not ever do it. That was "fixed" in brawl where most characters "automatically" cancel their lag.

KirbyKid: How would you rank the Mario Kart games?
Carl: Super Circuit, MK64, MKDD, MKDS, SMK

KirbyKid: So, I take it you really like MKDD?
Carl: Yeah, it's a lot of fun. It was the first one to introduce different karts and all.

KirbyKid: Do you think the level design of MKDD started to depart from racing tracks?
Carl: What do you mean by that?

KirbyKid: Like... in MKDD you're racing on a cruise ship. That's not really a racing track. That level has parts where tables are sliding around, and there's the hole that drops to the lower level. How do you feel about such elements?

Carl: I didn’t really mind them actually. I loved that course, almost got a world record. It's actually my favorite. If it wanted a more serious type of racing, there was always F-zero GX for me. But courses like Daisy's cruise was something I’d expect playing a Mario game.

KirbyKid: Do you miss not having coins in MKDS or MKDD?
Carl: I didn't really mind actually. The coins seemed pretty weird to have in the game. Then again, snaking in DS/DD kinda replaced the aspect of collecting coins to speed up to for me.

KirbyKid: How do you feel about items in Mario kart? Do you think MKDD pushed things a bit too far?
Carl: Definitely. However, the option of changing it, was very nice. In the tournament I won not to long ago they put the items on "basic." So the best item you can get was a 3x mushroom and simple items were very popular. It was based way more on actual skill. It relates to no items in smash. In the MK64 and MKDS tourneys I’ve been to however... items ruined them mainly because of the fact that you couldn’t control them.

KirbyKid: So that little bit of control in MKDD made a big difference?
Carl: Definitely. Getting hit by a green shell or banana was nothing compared to getting hit by a barely avoidable blue shell of doom. Even red shells spawned rarely.

KirbyKid: Which Mario Kart would you say is best suited for a variety of competitive play?
Carl: I would have to say Mario Kart Double Dash. It seems to involve the most amount of skill in it.

KirbyKid: Do you play MKDD with 2 people in a single kart ever?
Carl: Nope. I tried it on the first day I bought the game. Then I saw how lame it was. My partner didn’t even let me switch in.

KirbyKid: [laughs] That's my favorite part of MKDD.
Carl: [laughs] Well, attacking people is cool, definitely, but it didn’t feel "Mario Kart-ish" Still, the thing about MKDD is that better players win consistently. Those who should win will win. MK64 did have a lot of skill in it, but…those items. 3 red shells...come on now! That's why I only did time trials for that game. I had the most fun doing time trials for that game actually.

KirbyKid: Did you get a chance to play battle mode on GBA?
Carl: Yes, it was pretty great. It was just as fun as the N64 one, but handheld. Battle mode in MKDD was terrible. The courses were extremely small. I only enjoyed Luigi's mansion. MKDS had it right, but there was no online battlemode if I recall.

KirbyKid: Do you think the item boxes on the floor like in SMK should come back?
Carl: Nah, they looked pretty weird looking to me. [laughs]

KirbyKid: What about being able to use up an item box to where it won't respawn?
Carl: That's pretty good. Since that box wont respawn, you'll have to focus more on actually racing rather then relying on a handicap.

KirbyKid: Other than mkdd with items on basic, do you think items in Mario Kart need to be tweaked more.... so that a player in 2nd won't get a blue shell?
Carl: Yes, I really dislike how they have the 2nd player treated as a 4th player in a 1v1. The 2nd place player can be inches away then bam, star power, or blue shell. He keeps it, and then just keeps racing along, barely in back.

I had a match online in MKDS were it started and neither of us moved. Since we both wanted to be in 2nd, we stood still for about 10 seconds. Then my opponent drove backwards, and I tried to catch up. Racing games shouldn’t be about camping items at all.

KirbyKid: True that. How do you feel about the spinning roulette in Mario Kart and random items in general?
Carl: It seems very unnecessary to have gameplay wise but it's pretty cool looking and makes the game more "Nintendo like." It's like, character entrances in Smash64 and Brawl. It’s just a little thing to make players a little more entertained with flashing colors and funny sounds.

KirbyKid: I was trying to come up with ways around the roulette part. And I was considering if players could pick up items from the level naturally like in a Mario game. If they see a Koopa crossing the road, they can hop on it and then get a shell item, or something like that.
Carl: ooohh. That would be amazing. Kind of like how you kill a Goomba or you run into a mushroom kart to get mushrooms to spawn in MKDD?

KirbyKid: Yeah!
Carl: Or how in rainbow road sometimes a star comes out of nowhere onto the stage?

KirbyKid: Exactly! I'm thinking, Mario Kart could use a new vision, and things like that would be cool.
Carl: yeah, nintendo should do more with that. It would make people work for items.

KirbyKid: [laughs] It was good talking to you. Thanks.
Carl: Yup, no problem.


I don't know if Carl remembered that the legendary match he described where both players didn't race at the beginning and one started driving backwards, was between me and him. I can't blame him. It has been a while, and I didn't have KirbyKid as my racing name. For that match, it was a race for second, an odd side effect of the way item boxes were treated in Mario Kart DS. Perhaps it's comforting to some that the Mario Kart games change with every iteration. If you don't like the way something works in one Mario Kart, you can expect the next one to change it at least slightly. This makes every race different, and every encounter something unique. Even waiting at the starting line, I knew from that point forward, nothing would be the same. After the light turns green, racers like us are gone forever with only our memories to remind us how fast we were going.

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