March 4th, 2006


"It's not glamorous. It's not pretty. It's not exciting. It's REAL."

I spent some time today playing the Sega CD game, Penn & Teller's Smoke and Mirrors. This game was completed, but withdrawn from the market before it was released. I guess Sega thought it was too crazy. It is pretty crazy. It's one of the few commercial games I've encountered that qualifies as "conceptual art." We're talking about a game that contains a "DESERT BUS" minigame, in which the objective is to drive from Tuscon, Az. to Las Vegas, NV. The bus is empty. You can't go more than 45 mph. You have to keep steering or your bus veers into the grass. There's nothing else to the game. You can't save your progress, and the trip takes EIGHT HOURS in real time! If you make it all the way you get: 1 point.

Like Marcel Duchamp and Yoko Ono, Penn and Teller are artists with a peculiar sense of humor. Supposedly, whenever you pause Smoke and Mirrors, it cuts to an uninterruptable two minute video of Penn and Teller eating pizza in silence. Large parts of the game are essentially a "fuck you" to players. At first this struck me as without precedent, but it turns out that in Japan, they've already been there, done that. When it comes to conceptual video game art, the Japanese are always one step ahead.

For a detailed runthrough of Smoke and Mirrors, you can go here. It turns out that for almost any old video game system, there's a hardcore cadre of hobbyists who write emulators for these systems so you can still play the old games. Emulation has to be one of the most beautiful concepts in computer science. It's nice to know lost classics don't have to stay lost.