I've been speculating for some time that the next logical entry into the portable gaming market would be from Apple (particularly in an editorial response to Gamasutra about six months back) and it looks like other industry analysts are starting to catch wind of the idea as well, for instance in this piece from GameDaily BIZ Newsletter, here.
Apparently, just for registering your free copy of Microsoft's Visual Studio Express at this Website enters you into an interesting drawing for a full-size Namco Ms. Pac-Man/Galaga anniversary arcade machine, t-shirt or Atari TV game. The intent seems to be to spur "arcade game" development.
According to the Website:
These guys make and distribute some of the most exciting new products for the classic Commodore computer lines. I'm a particular fan of the MMC64, which is an invaluable flash memory card adapter for the C-64/128. Here is their latest news, direct from the source:
30.05.2006: New C64 cartridge cases, special prices for clockport-hardware
New C64 cartridge cases
Our cartridge cases for Retro Replay, MMC64 and other standard C64 cartridges enjoy great popularity, therefore we have made a new production run with a few improvements. The cases that we delivered previously were made out of the fairly soft plastic polystyrene.
Our friends at Old-Computers.com have updated their wonderful worldwide computer, videogame and Pong resource with the following:
Anyone who has read my past writings knows that I'm a big collector and a huge fan of playing original games (or code) on original hardware. There are countless solutions for various computer and videogame systems for doing this, and one of the systems that has become particularly robust in its offering of late is the Apple II-series of computers. Between compact flash adpaters, disk drive adapters and countless other often manual and complicated transfer methods, it looks like Brendan Robert has created one of the easiest and cheapest systems to date. While I highly recommend both the Apple II compact flash adapter (dreher.net/CFforAppleII/) and the SVD (www.thesvd.com/ - which is particularly good for multi-system collectors), Brendan's solution seems particularly elegant, though I have yet to try it for myself.
Author: Bill Loguidice
Editing: Buck Feris and Matt Barton
Online Layout: Bill Loguidice
Scans: All images come from the authorâ€™s private collection
Special Notes: This first series of five short essays has been inspired both by the authorâ€™s recurring thoughts and interactions with others on popular newsgroups and forums over the years. In relation to Armchair Arcade, the author would like to thank the other editors and regular forum goers such as Fractalus!, crcasey, majortom, Rowdy Rob, Mark1970, Dragon57, mrCustard, davyK, PoloPlayr, ryuhayabusa, PearlJammer, OldSchoolGamer, joe_jet and classic gamer for making discussions on the Website so interesting and informative. The author encourages everyone looking for a mature and stimulating discussion environment to check out Armchair Arcadeâ€™s forum.
ESSAY 01 - Exploring Emotions and Sophisticated Themes in Videogames
In 1983, magazine ads for the newly formed Electronic Arts asked, â€œCan a Computer Make you Cry?â€ In 1984, magazine ads for Infocomâ€™s Planetfall, offered, â€œHow to Make Friends on Other Planets.â€ What do these two early advertisements have in common?
Both ads make the assumption that computer and videogames then and in the future would have the ability to make us think, care and feel. Based on whatâ€™s been made available then and now, Iâ€™d say for the most part, this assumption was wrong.
Think of this as a call to arms to game designers everywhere. Letâ€™s cast aside for a moment the business or profiteering aspect of the industry, which often dictates what gets made. Letâ€™s assume that even if a developerâ€™s hands are tied â€“ for instance theyâ€™re asked to make yet another first person shooter â€“ (wait for it) set in space â€“ where the player kills zombie mutants (Iâ€™m giving this idea away for FREE), the designer has enough creativity to make it the best damned first person zombie shooting game set in space ever. How could this be accomplished? One answer lies in Planetfall.
Planetfall was a text adventure (Interactive Fiction or IF) that made you laugh, made you think, and yes, made you cry. I think 20 years after the fact I can give away the surprise. Floyd, your mischievous robot buddy and faithful in-game companion, dies. This made many players cry because the game made you take an interest in that character. He wasnâ€™t just a generic character programmed to spew canned responses. He was programmed to simulate a personality, and it worked within the context of the well-designed game world. While some will argue that being a type of interactive book, such a game has an advantage over graphical adventures. I say nonsense. When was the last time one of your favorite television shows made you cry, made you identify with a character, made you feel for a character? How about a movie? Visuals or lack thereof are obviously no indicator of a creatorâ€™s ability to tug at the heartstrings or make you relate to a characterâ€™s angst. Even the right type of music can make us feel happy or sad. Since a modern game can incorporate some of the best elements from books, music, movies and television, and mix it all in with compelling gameplay, shouldnâ€™t videogames then logically be at the forefront of thoughtful art in media?
This emotional advancement cannot be accomplished through non-interactive cut-scenes either. Gaming should not be about watching, it should be about doing. Newer games like Rockstarâ€™s Grand Theft Auto 3, show there is as much doing and flexibility as ever, but do these games also evoke emotions or explore sophisticated themes? Not necessarily. Itâ€™s a problem that should be addressed by at least a few mainstream games if we ever want to get more out of our favorite entertainment experience than we have for the past 25 years.
There are the proponents of Japanese-created role-playing games, like the latest Final Fantasy titles, who will contend that these embody a lot of what I seek. I agree that if you can stomach the Final Fantasy world you will find an exploration of some of the themes I speak of, but titles like these are so stylized that its overall message is often lost on people like me, and key story elements still take place through non-interactive cut-scenes. I canâ€™t help but think thereâ€™s a better way.
Finally, I leave you with something perhaps a bit unusual. By my casual count, from 1983 to the end of this month, there will have been at least five different Rocky games produced for systems like the ColecoVision, Sega Master System, GameBoy Advance, Sony PlayStation 2, Nintendo GameCube and Microsoft Xbox. All of these games over the past 20 years have only been about boxing. Was the original Rocky movie, the 1976 Academy Award winner for Best Picture, about boxing? Yes, it had wonderfully choreographed boxing in it, but it also had wonderful characters and an interesting story. You cared about the good natured, but deeply flawed boxer, Rocky Balboa. You cared about the cripplingly shy love interest, Adrienne. You disliked but understood Adrienneâ€™s loser brother, Paulie. You were fascinated by but rooted against the arrogant champion, Apollo Creed. The list goes on. By the time the fight takes place at the end of the movie, you have an emotional interest in the eventâ€™s finale. Itâ€™s telling that in the final scene of the movie, the announcement of the fightâ€™s outcome is downplayed (muted) in order to focus on the embrace and words between the battered Rocky and the hatless Adrienne. So again, was Rocky really just about boxing? Since weâ€™ve had at least five Rocky boxing games, maybe the designers of the next one will try to tap into what the movie was really about.
For our industry to truly advance and be taken seriously, the production of at least a few games that explore sophisticated and emotionally charged themes is the least we should expect. Maybe then, other popular media like movies will start to be compared to games, rather than the other way around.
ESSAY 02 - Defining Videogame Eras
With the System Ranking Matrix, I rate the relative capabilities of the various computer and videogame systems released through the years in the United States. While I feel it does its job well (and will get even better over time with feedback), a lot is made in casual discussion of eras, or time periods when certain systems or types of technology ruled. What is lacking when these discussions take place is an agreed upon definition of what these eras encompass. Here is one attempt. Separate definitions of computer, arcade and handheld eras will be topics for another day as I will now focus solely on defining videogame (console) eras, as follows:
PONG ERA (1972 â€“ 1977, Paddle and Ball Games) â€“ This era began in 1972 with the original Odyssey and lasted right through the introduction of the first programmable (removable cartridge) consoles in the late 1970â€™s. These pong systems were self-contained devices that played a pre-set number of games. There was little that could be done with bars and moving blocks (â€œballsâ€) and most games were of the "deflect and donâ€™t miss" variety.
ATARI/CARTRIDGE ERA (1976 â€“ 1986, Shooting Games) â€“ This era began in 1976 with the release of the first cartridge-based system, the Fairchild Channel F. However, the system that defined the era and videogames in general was Atariâ€™s Video Computer System or VCS, which later came to be known as the 2600. In the beginning, these systems were barely more promising than the Pong systems before them, but by the end of 1984, the potential of these systems was made clear, with many of the game genres we know today first introduced, like shooting, racing, flying, maze, adventure and first person. In fact, technology that never saw the light of day because of the arcade and console industry crash of 1984, like save game battery backup on the ColecoVision or cartridges with eight times the typical capacity for the Atari 2600, only became evident years later. The first arcade-to-home translation, Taitoâ€™s Space Invaders (Atari), classified as a shooting game, set the tone for this era and was among the most often released type.
NES ERA (1987 â€“ 1990, Side-scrolling Platform Games) â€“ This era, post-crash, began in late 1985 with the return of console videogames to the US following the release of the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). In the beginning, these systems would feature nothing more than better arcade translations, but ultimately would lead the way for modern consoles. Examples include requiring a license to publish games, releasing console-style role-playing games (RPGâ€™s) that introduced Japanese cultural influence in design, battery backups and large cartridge capacities. With Nintendoâ€™s Super Mario Bros., the influx of 2D scrolling platform games began, and is what ultimately set the tone for this era.
GENESIS ERA (1989 â€“ 1993, 2D Refinement) â€“ This era began in 1989, with the introduction of the Sega Genesis, and to a lesser degree, the NEC Turbo-Grafx 16. This was the era of moreâ€”more action buttons, more graphics and sound, and larger cartridge capacities, building heavily on the advancements of the previous era. When Nintendo began releasing its last few games for the Super Nintendo (SNES), such as Rareâ€™s Donkey Kong Country, it is clear in hindsight that this was to be the peak of sprite-based 2D gaming.
CD ERA (1992 â€“ 1995, Vast storage and FMV) â€“ This era began in 1992 with the introduction of CD add-on units for the Genesis and Turbo-Grafx 16, right through to systems like the 3DO Multiplayer, and stopped right around the release of the Sega Saturn. The defining characteristic of this era was, in comparison to cartridges, the virtually limitless storage capacity of the CD media that was often underutilized for actual gameplay. Instead, developers mostly used the extra space for things like CD-quality sound within the same type of games available on cartridge and the ever controversial Full-Motion Video (FMV). Nevertheless, as with the introduction of removable cartridges, the release of a new type of media into gaming would have important repercussions for future eras.
PS1/POLYGON ERA (1994 â€“ 2000, 3D Gaming) â€“ This era began in 1994 with the introduction of the Sega Saturn, but really took off with the introduction of Sonyâ€™s PlayStation (PS1) in 1995. As with the NES ERA, rather than simply introduce new technology, this era introduced a new type of gaming: 3D. All the usual genres that were in 2D and used sprites, eventually found their way to 3D polygonal versions. This was still early technology with several problems like low resolution and poor in-game cameras, but it caught on in a major way with the buying public at the expense of 2D.
PS2 ERA (1999 â€“ PRESENT, 3D Refinement) â€“ This era began in 1999 with the introduction of the Sega Dreamcast, but is defined by the success of Sonyâ€™s PlayStation 2 (PS2). As the GENESIS ERA brought additional polish and sophistication to what was established by the NES ERA, the PS2 ERA does the same for the PS1/POLYGON ERA.
Frankly, when this was first announced, I thought it was a hoax, though a hoax directly from Rockstar. After all, a table tennis game from the creators of "Grand Theft Auto" and "State of Emergency"? Sure enough, it turned out to be true and is actually looking very interesting. Rockstar's basic premise was to make the best possible playing game and put all their effort into great character models and animation. Essentially, take a simple game, make it a pleasure to control, and as beautiful as possible. Sounds good to me and something of a nod to earlier days of development. Hopefully such a high profile developer like Rockstar doing this and - fingers crossed - has a big success with this, will start to inspire other developers and publishers to take a chance. After all, this is the first stand alone table tennis game in ages and the basic design principle is a very positive one.
After having purchased Meteor Blaster DX Signature Edition for the NEC Turbo Duo/PC Engine (it's in Super CD format) many months back, I was presented with the opportunity to review it for an upcoming issue of Video Game Collector magazine. Of course, me being me, I volunteered to both review the product, provide photos and interview the author, who was quite agreeable.
After returning from our "last hurrah before baby number 2 cruise", my wife and I went to see if we could get new cell phones, since our Nokia 6820's just weren't cutting it anymore. Luckily, even though we were originally AT&T Wireless customers, they were bought out by Cingular, so we were in reality Cingular customers now, and they finally had a mechanism in place to transfer customers to new phones and plans without penalty (and of course keeping the same phone number). Also, now was a good time since the company I work for, Volt, has a corporate deal with them for minor discounts.