Sister Squares Title


An "Oujeupo" experiment following Raymond Queneau’s Exercises in Style, 99 Exercises in Play features World 1-1 from the original Super Mario Bros. and Mario’s genre-defining mechanics as constraints for producing ninety-nine meta-games.

Play the Game

Click to activate, use arrow keys to navigate and the z, x, c, and v keys to control. (640x480px, ~2.37MB)

Download the Software

Project Abstract

In "Cybernetics and Ghosts" Italo Calvino notes the similarities between Raymond Queneau's Hundred Thousand Billion Poems, the game of chess, and the "electronic brain," writing, "[j]ust as no chess player will ever live long enough to exhaust all the combinations of possible moves for the thirty-two pieces on the chessboard, so we know (given the fact that our minds are chessboards with hundreds of billions of pieces) that not even in a lifetime lasting as long as the universe would one ever manage to make all possible plays." Encountering every poetic, programmatic, or neural combination is impossible, and yet it is exactly those hidden patterns and unconscious repetitions that Calvino and the Oulipo explore in their writings–and those same patterns that most computer games seek to obfuscate in their software design.

Despite the fact that most games are marketed via genres that reflect algorithmic rather than stylistic or narrative content (e.g. First Person Shooters, Run Jump Platformers, etc.), for the past twenty-five years the mainstream industry, as indicated by the best-selling games, has been invested in the pursuit of the fantasies of immediacy, filmic realism, and immersivity that are inspired by the language of Hollywood film. In doing so, most contemporary game design attempts to hide those repetitive, procedural, discrete elements–what Ian Bogost calls "unit operations"–that drive computational media. Echoing Calvino, Bogost writes "[t]he Internet, the brain, human genetics, and social fads are examples of complex, unit-driven networks." Thus, like readers, computer game enthusiasts engage in vast networks of patterns that make up the aggregate histories of virtual worlds.

Following Mary Flanagan’s approach to game criticism, Stephanie Boluk and I examine two categories of meta-gaming practices which "critically play" the serial logics intrinsic to games in our essay "Hundred Thousand Billion Fingers." Focusing our analysis via an eclectic collection of player-created modifications of Nintendo’s Super Mario franchise, from remakes of romhacks to speedruns of sequencers we see Mario manipulated, mutated, duplicated, and aggregated across digital landscapes. When reading Queneau’s book or playing computer games, the constraints of the poem or program produce a range of repetitions, but rather than remaining subject to the mechanisms of control as defined by the rules of the game, the player performances we examine successfully "meta-game" the serial constructs they are working within and against to model the movements of a hundred thousand billion fingers.

Based this genealogy of meta play-styles I am interested in developing new types of software that imagine an alternative history of the game industry dedicated to these curiosities. Rather than pursuing advanced forms of visual representation, I propose building serial software based on the mass, invisible repetitions governing player performance. My "Oujeupo" project, 99 Exercises in Play, titled after Queneau’s Exercises in Style, begins with the idea of replaying the a single game ad infinitum. Over the past twenty-five years thousands of thumbs have piloted herds of Marios over goombas and green pipes before sending the plumbers to their collective doom down the first pit of Super Mario Bros. What kinds of meta-games evolve when constrained to the first level of this game? 99 Exercises in Play first translates World 1-1 from the original Super Mario Bros. into the Unity game development engine and then uses Mario’s genre-defining mechanics as a constraint for producing ninety-nine meta-games.

Download the paper presented at SLSA 2011 and MLA 2012: LeMieux-99_Exercises_010512.pdf.

99 Constraints

  • 1. Null

  • 2. Camera Rotation 90°
  • 3. Camera Rotation 180°
  • 4. Camera Rotation 270°
  • 5. Camera Rotation, discrete progression
  • 6. Camera Rotation, smooth rotation
  • 7. Camera Rotation, randomly changing
  • 8. Camera Rotation based on running
  • 9. Camera Rotation based on jumping
  • 10. Camera Rotation based on progress

  • 11. Camera Translation Up, in the sky)
  • 12. Camera Translation Down, underground)
  • 13. Camera Translation Left, foresight)
  • 14. Camera Translation Right, hindsight)
  • 15. Camera Translation, based on running
  • 16. Camera Translation, based on jumping
  • 17. Camera Translation, based on progress

  • 18. Camera Zoom Out, showing the entire level
  • 19. Camera Zoom In, showing none of the level
  • 20. Camera Zoom, based on running
  • 21. Camera Zoom, based on jumping
  • 22. Camera Zoom, based on progress

  • 23. Camera Perspective Stretch Horizontal
  • 24. Camera Perspective Stretch Vertical
  • 25. Camera Perspective Smush Horizontal
  • 26. Camera Perspective Smush Vertical
  • 27. Camera Perspective, based on running
  • 28. Camera Perspective, based on jumping
  • 29. Camera Perspective, based on progress

  • 30. Temporal Scale, slow down
  • 31. Temporal Scale, speed up
  • 32. Temporal Scale, based on running
  • 33. Temporal Scale, based on jumping
  • 34. Temporal Scale, based on progress

  • 35. Temporal Displacement, halves, second then first
  • 36. Temporal Displacement, fourths, 4th, 1st, 3rd, 2nd
  • 37. Temporal Displacement, random eighths
  • 38. Temporal Displacement, random sixteenths
  • 39. Temporal Displacement, based on jumping

  • 40. Perceptual Distortion, no refresh
  • 41. Perceptual Distortion, motion blur
  • 42. Perceptual Distortion, pixilated
  • 43. Perceptual Distortion, noise
  • 44. Perceptual Distortion, twisted
  • 45. Perceptual Distortion, mirrored
  • 46. Perceptual Distortion, polar coordinates

  • 47. Sonic Distortion, mismatched clips
  • 48. Sonic Distortion, everything plays backwards
  • 49. Sonic Distortion, visual delay
  • 50. Sonic Distortion, reverb based on progress
  • 51. Sonic Distortion, Mario as Instrument

  • 52. Withheld Information, Invisible Level
  • 53. Withheld Information, Invisible Enemies
  • 54. Withheld Information, Invisible Mario
  • 55. Withheld Information, based on jumping
  • 56. Withheld Information, based on running
  • 57. Withheld Information, only sonic representation
  • 58. Withheld Information, only textual representation

  • 59. Pathfinding, guided by new obstacles
  • 60. Pathfinding, drawing or writing
  • 61. Pathfinding, follow the leader
  • 62. Pathfinding, forge brand new path
  • 63. Pathfinding, don’t cross old paths

  • 64. Networked, influenced by other players
  • 65. Networked, influencing other players
  • 66. Networked, collage of all player histories
  • 67. Networked, data visualizations

  • 68. Enemies, additional enemies
  • 69. Enemies, large enemies
  • 70. Enemies, enhanced artificial intelligence
  • 71. Enemies, unexpected enememies

  • 72. Collecting, coins
  • 73. Collecting, powerups
  • 74. Collecting, enemies
  • 75. Collecting, paths
  • 76. Collecting, statistics

  • 77. Speed, fastest possible
  • 78. Speed, slowest possible

  • 79. Rhythm, player jump to the beat
  • 80. Rhythm, auto jump to the beat
  • 81. Rhythm, player walk to the beat
  • 82. Rhythm, auto walk to the beat

  • 83. Game Idioms, Mario as Pong
  • 84. Game Idioms, Mario as Pac-Man
  • 85. Game Idioms, Mario as Role Playing Game
  • 86. Game Idioms, Mario as Text Adventure
  • 87. Game Idioms, Mario as FPS

  • 88. Zeno's paradox
  • 89. Reverse Playthrough

  • 90. Multi-game, play multiple instances
  • 91. Multi-game, play multiple instances offset by a delay
  • 92. Multi-game, play two different games simultaneously
  • 93. Multi-game, play other game only

  • 94. Controller, disable run button
  • 95. Controller, disable back button
  • 96. Controller, constantly run forward
  • 97. Controller, constantly jump

  • 98. Playback All Previous Paths
  • 99. Null