Submission #5893: c-square's DOS Mario Teaches Typing "maximum score" in 25:57.78

System DOS Emulator JPC-rr 11.2 Modified
Game Version unknown Frame Count 93467
ROM Filename MARIO.EXE Frame Rate 60
Branch maximum score Rerecord Count 300
PowerOn Authors c-square
Game Mario Teaches Typing
Submitted by c-square on 4/1/2018 2:41:46 AM

Submission Comments

Introduction

There are so many great Mario games with submissions here at TASVideos.
However, the collection has not been complete without the greatest Mario game of all time*.
Until now...
*Opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of TASVideos.org.

Game objectives

  • Full-completion (100%: Maximum points)
  • Plays on Hardest Difficulty
  • Emulator used: JPC-rr 11.2 (Modified for added mouse support)

What the heck is this?

Mario Teaches Typing is an MS-DOS game made in 1991, which finally brought Mario to the PC. Many parents bought this for their (soon-to-be disappointed) children. It consists of four levels:

Level 1

An overworld side-scroller, where players type letters to break bricks and stomp koopa troopas. This is most definitely the slowest-typing level in the game as you have to wait until the next letter appears on the screen before you can type it. The TAS ensures the most letters are typed by typing them on the first frame possible. You may notice there are some floating blocks with letters. Typing those plays a short animation of Mario collecting some coins, which gives human players a breather, but would only slow down a TAS.

Level 2

Mario dives into the water... and doesn't do much else. The limits are off on this level as the game lets you type up to six letters per frame. The typing here is done so fast, the game doesn't have time to animate Mario or update any of the statistics. The TAS uses the keyboard buffer to keep three typed-keys ahead of the current frame, ensuring the maximum number of keys are typed for this level.

Level 3

Heading underground, the player now types old and outdated sporting trivia. The typing speed here is capped, though not as badly as in level 1. What slows this level down are all the screen transitions. As in the first level, there are the "bonus" keys you can type for coin-collecting, which are summarily ignored. Once again, the TAS ensures the maximum number of keys are typed by typing them on the first possible frame.

Level 4

Coming to the final level, the game eschews any illusion of being a typical Mario game, and you face the ultimate boss: 10 minutes of typing gibberish. Luckily, we're back to typing six letters per frame, allowing the TAS to whip through the letters. The TAS exceeds 2,000 words-per-minute (WPM), and you can see the final digit appear every once-in-a-while at the very top-left of the screen. Eventually, the game craps out and decides it can't handle keeping track anymore.

Okay, but why?

Apart from the fact it's one of the few Mario games left without a TAS, I mainly did this to build my lua-scripting abilities, specifically memory searching and input injection while running. The rerecord count is accurate, as all four levels were entirely run using lua scripts.

Is it publishable?

Of course! Any TAS is publishable if it makes moons!

No, seriously, is it publishable?

Yeah, if you're actually still engaged after watching 26 minutes of typing, you're either super-amazing or need to seek professional help. So, the real question is, does this qualify for the Vault? I think that can be answered two different ways. If this game is considered an educational game, then it doesn't qualify. The reasons for that have already been hashed out at length, and I certainly don't want to reopen that can of worms. However, if this game is considered a game of manual dexterity and skill, similar to StepMania, then it stands a chance.

So, not likely, right?

I'm not holding my breath. Even if this isn't published, it was a great learning opportunity. I couldn't have finished the QFG2 TAS or helped out on the SQ1 TAS without what I learned here, so the time spent was well worth it. I don't think typing games are all automatically destined to be rejected, and I am really hoping someone does a Typing of the Dead TAS in the future.

Happy April Fools!


Rise from your grave!

Wow. I never expected to revisit this submission, but a recent change to the rules has removed the ban on educational games, giving this submission new life. Now, the only barrier to publication is a nice under-the-table 'contribution' to the judges' discretionary spending account is to show this TAS passes the 'triviality rule'. I will present my arguments below for why I believe this TAS is publishable under the rules, and leave it for the judges to decide if they agree.

Here's the triviality rule in its entirety:
The gameplay needs to stand out from unassisted play, and must not be seen as trivial. Note that a game is considered trivial until proven otherwise. If getting perfect times everywhere is challenging, such a game is considered acceptable. If a game was considered trivial but a technique is found later that makes TASing it challenging, that game becomes acceptable.


Starting with the first sentence, "The gameplay needs to stand out from unassisted play". I'm going to assume there's no argument that the gameplay in this TAS is markedly different from unassisted play, performing feats only achievable by tools. That said, I'm happy to add my reasons for believing this if there's any question on this point.

I'll circle back to the second half of the sentence, "and must not be seen as trivial" in a moment. Instead, the last sentence actually gives us a way around having to figure out if the gameplay is 'trivial'. "If a game was considered trivial but a technique is found later that makes TASing it challenging, that game becomes acceptable." In other words, any 'trivial' game is acceptable as long as TASing it is challenging. This is where I'll make my first point:

TASing this game was challenging

This TAS required over 224,000 frame perfect inputs. This was entirely unfeasible manually and could only be practically done by creating automated scripts. Furthermore, as the levels behave differently, each required unique strategies and scripts to ensure the typing was optimal.
  • Level 1 is as you might expect from a game like this. Look for the memory state to acknowledge the typing of the previous letter, and then type the next one.
  • Level 2 and 4 remove all limitations on the speed of input, meaning that multiple keys are accepted per frame. This means that the strategy used in Level 1 does not work here, and a completely different strategy is required to make sure the script is keeping the input flowing just ahead of what the system can accept. A further complication involves determining what text is coming next. The levels begin pointed to a random starting point in a random preset list of words/letters in memory, and steps through them. When it hits the end of the list, it sets the pointer to the beginning of the same list and goes through it again. TASing these levels requires determining where the starting point is and figuring out when to loop around to the beginning.
  • Level 3 throws in another curveball. In addition to tracking the location of the pointer and knowing when to loop back to the beginning, now the script also has to know when to stop typing because the game has hit a transition screen and then know to begin again on the first possible frame once the transition is complete. This requires additional research, development and testing to ensure optimal play entering or leaving any transition screen.
It took many hours over the course of three months to build, refine and validate each level's script to ensure the output was optimal. feos wrote in judging #6345: MarbleousDave's NES Duck Hunt "All levels" in 1:15:12.15, "It is not a superplay puzzle to look at a memory address and press the button the frame before it changes, once, a hundred times, or a billion times." If every level had the same simplistic logic as Level 1, then I would agree this would be a simple TAS to make. However, given all the additional logic required to TAS levels 2, 3 and 4, I am confident in saying this TAS falls outside those bounds, and that TASing this game is definitely 'challenging'.

What about the game being 'trivial'?

As I mentioned above, the fourth sentence in the rule states that if TASing the game is considered challenging, then even 'trivial' games are acceptable. If you agree with my reasoning above that this is a challenging game to TAS, then we needn't go any further.

However, in case you disagree with the above, and believe that TASing the game is not challenging, this TAS can still be accepted if the gameplay is not 'trivial', as per sentence #1. Unfortunately, there's no definition provided for what constitutes 'trivial' gameplay, so I looked at a few online dictionaries and the closest thing I can find for what I think was intended was 'Simple', perhaps overly so. (Judges, please let me know if this is incorrect and I'll update the submission accordingly.) In this case, I could certainly see an argument that the gameplay in this TAS is 'trivial'. There is only one way to get an optimal run, and that is by hitting the right buttons at the right time. There is one unique solution, and there is no other strategy that could be taken. And I would fully accept that this would keep a non-challenging TAS from being published to vault except that there are already precedents of such runs being accepted. This leads me to my second point:

Games of similar triviality are already in the vault tier

The most obvious examples I can find are [2852] PSX Bishi Bashi Special 3: Step Champ "Track & Field, best performance" by Spikestuff in 02:41.27 and [2377] PSX Salary Man Champ: Tatakau Salary Man "2 players" by Spikestuff in 16:52.47. Both movies consist of a series of mini-games where the player must press the correct buttons as fast as possible. Just like this TAS, there is only one path to the optimal run, and it consists of hitting the right buttons at the right time. Yes, these games are definitely more entertaining to play and watch, but in the vault tier, entertainment is irrelevant. Replace hitting buttons on a PlayStation controller with keys on a keyboard, and you have the exact same gameplay mechanic.

Now, the games mentioned above are multi-player as compared to this one which is single-player. While I don't think that factors into whether the gameplay is any less trivial (especially because I find the computer player actually detracts from the quality of the TAS), I'll address it here just in case. [3480] GB Boxxle by Jigwally in 4:58:50.20 and [3620] GB Boxxle II by Jigwally in 3:26:07.54 are single-player games where the number of moves for the optimal solution are widely known and are easily solved for. Optimal Boxxle gameplay, therefore, is no less trivial than a typing game. There is a known optimal solution to each level, and it is simply a matter of pushing the right buttons at the right time to achieve it. Again, the fact that it is more fun to play or watch Boxxle is irrelevant at this tier. The gameplay has one optimal path and one way to achieve it.

So, for the last time, is it publishable?

I strongly believe it is. Given that this TAS was impossible to do manually, and because of all the effort required to handle the different gameplay behaviors of each level, this was a suitably challenging TAS to create. And, as per the rules, as long as it is challenging to TAS, a game is publishable. However, even if you disagree about the challenge, the gameplay in this TAS clearly stands out from unassisted play, and it is no less trivial than other accepted vault runs. As such, it belongs in the vault alongside them.

What do you think your chances are?

I don't know. We'll have to wait and see. But I'm certainly feeling more confident than I did on April 1st, three years ago. I want to thank feos and all the judges for this opportunity to revisit this run. It's reminded me how much I enjoyed making it, and I'm looking forward to the day when I have enough free time again to pick up and do my next one.
Files:
HDD, 16 tracks, 63 sectors, 16 sides.
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19900101000000724d88e1196ff6ba721a0a6340219adc654/WATER.GSK
19900101000000c1f343090c939cf15aafbddc403fb1ff76112/WATER.GSO
19900101000000abc3e416bebe2d71a72e0949ed53356f13646/WCAS.BAN
199001010000005d6273b6f5b1d5bddac577afed8718d517077/WCAS0001.CRX
1990010100000016ff8c9d9b2b12b2391a688843235c3917293/WELCOME.RS
19900101000000532a03c013096b5e92212757dc40fae637718/WELCOME.VOC

Nach: This software doesn't provide much in the way of entertainment, and educational titles are not acceptable for the Vault. Rejecting.
feos: Unrejecting to test the limits of the current triviality rule.
feos: Changed the branch to "maximum score" since there's no pre-determined amount of points you get all of, and you can probably gain more if you play better.
c-square: Cancelling until score attack becomes an accepted category.
c-square: With Score Attack now an approved goal for Standard, and the triviality clause removed, I believe (hope!) all barriers to publication for this run are now gone. Un-cancelling for judging based on the latest acceptance criteria for Standard runs.

feos: Claiming for judging.
feos: Even though this run could be improved by ~10 seconds if RNG was manipulated better, the rest seems to be a valid record in score (first) and and time (second). Accepting.

despoa: Processing...

Last Edited by despoa 14 days ago
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