2189: Old Game Worlds

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Old Game Worlds
Ok, how many coins for a cinnamon roll?
Title text: Ok, how many coins for a cinnamon roll?


Randall sits at his computer looking at a menu of games which have been ordered into three sections, New, Old and Very old games (see List of games below). At the bottom of this list, 2nd to last, he chooses to click on Super Mario Bros. which then opens as shown in the next four panels.

This comic explores the difference between the real world, where artificial structures require constant upkeep and communities change with time, and the digital worlds of video games, where everything is static until the plot demands otherwise. Although online games do require server maintenance by the owners and sometimes receive major changes to their content, offline games are - and always have been - perpetual existences, unchanging so long as the data is intact. (This is later revisited in 2221: Emulation)

As the narration explores this incongruity, and theorizes about the idea of it not being so, the comic displays the alternative with the ubiquitous video game - Super Mario Bros. (1985) - as an example. Mario arrives in World 1-1 to find a Goomba expressing surprise that the plumber has deigned to return to the place where his first journey began. As he advances, he finds both signs of progress - a cellphone tower, an e-scooter, a drone - and signs of disrepair - damaged Warp Pipes, loose blocks. At World 1-4, he finds Toad - usually warning him that the Princess is being held elsewhere - informing him that the castle has been remodeled into a Panera bakery.

This reflects common experiences of a person returning to a place they once knew well, but haven't seen in a long time. The atmosphere of the place may be changed by modern elements that hadn't existed before. Buildings and other infrastructure may have decayed or fallen into disrepair. And areas that have not been neglected will often be redeveloped, meaning that landmarks you remember may be repurposed or demolished to make room for something new. This tends to stir up feelings of nostalgia and loss in real life, when the settings of your memory no longer exist in the form that you remember.

The title-text abruptly switches to Mario's acceptance of the changes to World 1, and deciding to make the most of it by purchasing a cinnamon roll. "Coins" are the omnipresent currency of the Mushroom Kingdom and most other locations Mario visits in the Mario series, taking the form of large nondescript golden circles, usually with a rectangular indent in the middle.

The concept of an old, dilapidated version of the world of the original Super Mario Bros. was explored by Nintendo themselves in the Mushroomy Kingdom stage featured in multiple Super Smash Bros. games.

List of games

The first panel shows a list of games in approximately reverse chronological order of their release:

  1. New games:
    1. Subnautica (2014)
    2. Russian Subway Dogs (2018)
    3. Kerbal Space Program (2015). (Has been mentioned several times in xkcd).
  2. Old games:
    1. Worms Armageddon (1999)
    2. Elasto Mania (2000)
    3. Katamari Damacy (2004) (A recurring theme)
    4. Mario Kart (It is not stated which Mario Kart is being referred to, see below. A recurring theme)
  3. Very old games:
    1. Link's Awakening (1993) (aka The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening)
    2. Escape Velocity (1996)
    3. SimCity (1989)
    4. Prince of Persia (1989). (This game was featured in 1608: Hoverboard).
    5. Super Mario Bros. (1985)
    6. MS Flight Simulator 3 (1988)

The first game in the Mario Kart series was Super Mario Kart from 1992. As can be seen that Mario Kart game would be older than Link's Awakening. So it seems likely Randall was referring to Mario Kart 64 from 1997, the first in the series to begin with Mario Kart leaving out the Super. With this in mind all the games in the two bottom sections are older than all those in the previous section. But they are not listed chronologically within the three sections.

Russian Subway Dogs is the newest game from 2018 (and at the time of this comic's release in August 2019, is the only one of the 13 games mentioned in this comic that does not currently have a Wikipedia entry).

Super Mario Bros., the game most prominently featured in the comic, is the oldest of the 13. The first version of Microsoft Flight Simulator, MS flight simulator 1.0, was from 1982, but the list this comic specifies the third version, released in 1988.

Although the games in this comic appear to be grouped by date of their release, the time span covered by these groupings is not uniform. The first three games mentioned are from 2014-2018. The next four date from between 1997-2004, and the last six from between 1985-1996. With the earliest games grouped as 1985-1996, uniform grouping could split the later games between a group released in 1997-2008 and a group of games released in 2009 or later. If grouped by decades, 1985-1995 would potentially place the Escape Velocity game in the Old Games section instead of the Very Old Games section. Although some of these games did have releases intended to run on a 'Personal Computer', the list in this comic seems to focus on games released for gaming consoles, with no mention of games released for first or second generation consoles which pre-dated the Nintendo Entertainment System (such as Pong published by Atari; Brain Wave, Haunted House, Interplanetary Voyage, & Wipeout for the Magnavox Odyssey; & Adventure for the Atari 2600).


[A light gray drop down menu is shown with three sections split up with three grays lines split up with section titles in the same gray font. Beneath each section title is 3, 4 and 6 lines of black text. An white arrow cursor hovers over the second last option, which is thus highlighted with a dark gray background and white text.]
New Games
Russian Subway Dogs
Kerbal Space Program
Old Games
Worms Armageddon
Elasto Mania
Katamari Damacy
Mario Kart
Very Old Games
Link's Awakening
Escape Velocity
Prince of Persia
Super Mario Bros
MS Flight Simulator 3
[A colorful scene is shown from the Super Mario Bros. side-scrolling game, the first level World 1-1. Mario with red hat and trousers is standing on the brown blocks beneath the blue sky. Another character in the game, Goomba, is standing in front of some green bushes. Above them is narration text:]
Narrator: It feels weird that you can go into old games and the whole world is still there.
Goomba: Mario?
Mario: It'sa me!
Goomba: What are you doing here?
[Mario stands between an e-scooter, a dismounted and broken Question Mark Box lying on its side and a cellphone tower. Narration continues above:]
Narrator: Part of me expects to find that everything's changed.
[Mario looks at a damaged green but rusty Warp Pipe and there is a quadcopter drone flying by over his head. Weeds are growing both from the pipe and from the blocks he is walking on. Narration continues above:]
Narrator: That pipes have rusted, walls have crumbled, bad guys have moved on.
[Mario has moved on to World 1-4, the castle has been replaced with a bakery. The blocks beneath his feet are now smaller and gray and above them is black background. The character Toad with the white hat with red circles is standing in front of a bakery disc with shelves of bread and cake behind it. There is a green sign on the front of the brown disk. Toad talks to Mario with white text in the black background. Above the black part of the image is more narration in a frame-less white section:]
Narrator: That even our game worlds can't escape the passage of time.
Toad: Thank you, Mario!
Toad: But this is a Panera now!
Sign: Panera

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Older games

Quote from explanation: "Some readers might wonder why there's no mention of even older games like Space Invaders (1978) and Pac-Man (1980), but these games were so abstracted, so pixelated; that there's never an expectation that anything in them would age or deteriorate. Likewise with older text games like the Zork series (1977–79) or their predecessor, Colossal Cave (1976–77). So they are sadly ignored on the timeline of games."

  • Nope, sorry, I completely disagree with this. Pacman always felt like a real world to me. Imagine a night club in the afternoon, cleaners mopping, a couple of ghosts sleeping in the corner, sick on a wall, another wall crumbled, muzak playing, the threadworn patterned carpet now visable, pellets scattered, a uniformed teen carefully placing new shiny pellets, another uniformed teen sneaking up on the sleeping ghosts with a net. Space Invaders: the aliens have gone, people have built house out of the ruins of the bunkers, the laser is crashed in a field missing vital parts, cows mill around eating the grass, a guy with an end-is-nigh sign babbles incessantly about aliens coming. Meanwhile Zork and Colossal Cave would also be perfect for this scenario - being text the only limit on then is the imagination of the author (and memory space etc, but shhh). Personally I feel the list just represents some of Randall's favourite games - he was born in 1984 so these games here are before his time and not really games he would gravitate towards when making a list of just 13 games. A74xhx (talk) 07:08, 14 August 2019 (UTC)
Yes, it is easy, with a bit of imagination (and at time of publishing of the games, limiting alternative experiences in video games), to really dive in deeply. But it wouldn't make a good comic, to do these "modern" adaptions to the simple layout of the actual user interface of e.g. pacman. Nevertheless i am not sure if that actually belongs to the explanation, as it is only speculation about something that is NOT in the comic. --Lupo (talk) 07:27, 14 August 2019 (UTC)
Not to mention that the list might just be incomplete and continue on below the visible space. 07:13, 14 August 2019 (UTC)
Ok, removed the paragraph A74xhx (talk) 9:30, 14 August 2019 (UTC)
I'm guessing whoever wrote that former paragraph never played Return To Zork. The very premise of that game is that hundreds of years have passed & the kingdom has fallen into a dystopic state of decay & darkness. Returning to a once-liberated land to find it changed or ravaged by time is a common theme far pre-dating high-detail videogame graphics, & is by no means limited to games with extravagantly detailed visuals. In fact I feel pity for anyone so lacking in imagination that they need advanced graphics just to feel immersed in the fictional settings presented... I guess they wouldn't enjoy books either?
ProphetZarquon (talk) 18:21, 14 August 2019 (UTC)
I disagree. Tunnels of Doom (TI 99/4A, 1982) literally had randomized worlds regenerated every time you went in- with a 3d maze several layers deep. Also Hunt the Wumpus and even nethack are older yet. Of course, Tunnels of Doom came pre-distressed, it was a dungeon crawl after all.Seebert (talk) 11:38, 14 August 2019 (UTC)
The first version of NetHack was released in 1987, so it's definitely not older than Tunnels of Doom. 15:27, 14 August 2019 (UTC)
Consider what is seen in the plot of Only You Can Save Mankind, an acknowledged persistence within the game-universe (except for the 'players' who come back again and again) and even at one point we are shown effectively the relics of Space Invader battles of times past... An interesting book from a philosophical standpoint (though I'm not sure I'd force Randall to read it, if he isn't already aware of it, except as an intro to the minor series that leads up to Johnny And The Bomb which he might find interesting for other reasons) if it isn't just dismissable as a fever-dream building upon mysteriously synchronised (without even RTCs, in the typical standalone game computers of the day!) self-sabotaging code. 03:44, 15 August 2019 (UTC)

"Mario kart" is a series, not a game. Its first title "Super Mario Kart" was released in 1992, which would be older than the "very old game" "Escape Velocity (1996)". Maybe Randall referred to "Mario kart 64", which was released in North America 1997 in, rendering it newer than "Escape Velocity". Stefan 08:51, 14 August 2019 (UTC)

Agree, that makes sense with both the title and the chronology. I will correct my own explanation.--Kynde (talk) 08:55, 14 August 2019 (UTC)

Somebody should make a Videogames subcategory for Kerbal Space Program and assign it to comics 1106, 1244, 1350 and 1356. Condor70 (talk) 10:09, 14 August 2019 (UTC)

And if so this one. But is 4-5 comics enough for a new category...? --Kynde (talk) 13:39, 14 August 2019 (UTC)

Hey folks, a Swede here: given that the final frame is depicting a Panera and the whole comic is about contrasting how things used to be with how they are nowadays, I must ask: Are cinnamon rolls in vogue right now? Cinnamon rolls have been the standard pastry here since before I was born, but between this strip and a recent SMBC-comic(http://www.smbc-comics.com/comic/cinnamon-buns) I wonder if cinnamon rolls is something of a trend in the US right now? Like how shawarma no doubt became trendy once The Avengers had a scene where the titular characters ate the dish, and fidget spinners were all the rage a few years ago. 15:35, 14 August 2019 (UTC)

I don't think it's a trend here, I think it's just the go-to bread when someone wants to refer to something extra sweet and extravagant. I think when they first published the calorie count of a Cinnabon, it was off the charts. -boB (talk) 19:21, 14 August 2019 (UTC)
When I make cinnamon rolls, 8 rolls call for 2 sticks (1 cup or 227g) of butter. I tried asking Wolfram about the average cinnamon roll, but it says 3 calories which seems wrong. Probably not Douglas Hofstadter (talk) 03:42, 15 August 2019 (UTC)

This belongs here: http://www.shikadi.net/keenwiki/Episode_58_-_The_Ruin_of_Roib Keenmaster486 (talk) 17:35, 14 August 2019 (UTC)

Considering SimCity obviously don't progress in real time, the fact it's paused if you leave it, even for years, is not that surprising ... Civilization (not on list) would make it even more apparent (also, it's turn-based, so ...) -- Hkmaly (talk) 22:11, 14 August 2019 (UTC)

For anyone now pining for the joys of Escape Velocity again, you can try the very good and still being expanded (and free!) Endless Sky on Steam. Strongly recommend enabling beta mode if you do.OhFFS (talk) 13:39, 15 August 2019 (UTC) 11:06, 4 October 2019 (UTC)If we consider "old" games to be from 1995 to 2005, Mario Kart 64, Super Circuit, Double Dash and DS fit. Out of these games, I think Double Dash is the most likely because Randall's talked about it before. (I think the comic is called 'Mario Kart: Tokyo Drift' or something)