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Mario Kart Wii - Sep 18 12 B

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Published on Sep 21, 2012

I've split this essay because this essay runs over 5000 characters long, approximately the character length limit for YouTube video descriptions.

Also, it has little to do with the video at hand.

A Defense of the Blue Shell
Chapter I: A Positive Feedback Loop

Mario Kart was the inventor of the kart racer, and it's since been the leader and by far the best well-known in the genre. You walk up to people on the street, and you can expect them to have at least a vague idea of what Mario Kart is. Many companies have attempted to situate themselves in the kart racer genre. With a few exceptions, they try once and disappear.

Why is that? Mario Kart has lasting appeal. Because of the item system, you could play with your friends on the same track fifty times, and you'll get fifty very different series of events throughout the races. Over the years, Nintendo has carefully observed how people play this game and have modified the item system to make sure everything stays fair. This is why the series is still the master of its genre.

The Spiny Shell, commonly known as the Blue Shell (not to be confused with the Blue Shell from Super Mario World), came about in the second Mario Kart game, Mario Kart 64. The first game, Super Mario Kart, only had one Item Box cluster per lap, and the items themselves were rather weak. This shows how pressing the issue was that, even with a minor item system with largely ineffective items, it was already creating a problem the Blue Shell would be designed for.

Before I begin explaining the Blue Shell's purpose, we need to understand two concepts in control theory: Positive feedback and negative feedback. Despite what they sound like, they're both completely neutral terms, as control theory is used predominantly in engineering.

A system with positive feedback is one where its output is directly linked with its input and helps make it larger. The positive feedback itself is how the output increases the quantity or scale of the input. An atomic bomb is an example of a positive feedback system: Flying protons and neutrons hit a nucleus, causing them to break up into more flying protons and neutrons, which hit more nuclei, and so forth, until there's so much energy released that it causes a huge explosion. Each cycle creates a chain reaction of ever increasing numbers of breaking nuclei.

Items in a kart racer produce a positive feedback system, though one somewhat more complicated. The input here are the items: The game provides racers with items to use against other racers. It's a staple of all kart racers, though there are many different ways this can be done. The output, of course, is getting ahead in the race, either by speeding oneself up or, more commonly, slowing someone else down. The source of the positive feedback, however, are three traits that are present in nearly all kart racers: Under normal circumstances, you can only target the racer one spot in front of you with projectiles; you can use items meant for offense for defense as well; and the player in the lead gets at least as many opportunities to receive items as any other player.

Let's look at the first of those traits. Most items in kart racers are designed to slow down the racer one position in front of you. However, when you're in the lead, there's no one in front of you. Getting these items would be totally pointless, and you'd just throw them away for something you CAN use if it weren't for the second attribute: Most kart racers, Mario Kart included, allow you to take these items meant to hit someone in front and instead use them as shields against oncoming attacks. Thus, a logical choice for the player in the lead is to use all of the items he or she receives defensively. (Yes, there is a way to do that with Fake Item Boxes as well, which can't block attacks, but that's besides the point. If you'd like me to write an essay explaining the Fake Item Box and its usefulness, just let me know.) Even if we took away the ability to defend oneself with items, there is still the fact that the lead racer can get a new item from every Item Box cluster he or she reaches, meaning he or she can replenish his or her stock as quickly as anyone else.

What this means is that the lead racer, with the same number of items, can use them all to defend oneself, but all other racers, because there are people in front of them, have to use that same number of items to attack AND defend. When a racer attacks, he or she becomes vulnerable. Since the lead racer is always defending, he or she is rarely vulnerable while everyone else is getting hit by items over the course of a race. This causes the lead to get further and further away, and the further away the lead racer gets, the easier it is to defend because items take longer to reach that racer, or attacks may even get stopped by walls or obstacles.

This is where the Blue Shell comes in.

(continued in Chapter II)

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