The Final Day at Westfield Arcade

The highs and lows of video arcades of the 20th century impacted many. The darkened rooms with the flashing images and hot shot arcade champs are one thing that has yet to be duplicated by modern day video game consoles and mobile devices.

The Final Day at Westfield Arcade

For Chicago author Andy Hunt, these two golden ages of coin-operated bliss also served as the backdrop for his new novel The Final Day at Westfield Arcade.

“Like many people, I lived and breathed video games when I was growing up,” Hunt recalled. “I’ve always loved writing as well, so writing a novel with a very video game heavy slant to it only seemed natural. One bit of writing advice that is always given to writers is that you should ‘Write what you know.’ Well, I know classic video games, so writing a novel with a heavy video game angle to it seemed far more exciting to me than writing a novel about Ancient Egypt or bloodsucking vampires or some other weird topic that I have little interest in.”

The fiction novel brings readers to the final day of business for a shopping mall video arcade where main character Mike Mayberry has worked for nearly two decades. As the coin-op behemoths are rolled out of the retail space, Mayberry thinks back to both his personal and video gaming based memories.

The Wonder Years is my favorite television show of all-time, and I basically envisioned the novel as ‘The Wonder Years but set in the 1980s as opposed to the 1960s,'” he said. “In my novel, a once-popular arcade is closing, and on the final day of business at the arcade, the owner reflects back on the decades of memories he’s had at the arcade. There’s a girl who’s a Winnie-Cooper-type character, and, through his flashbacks to the arcade’s earlier years, he tells the story of the ups and downs in their relationship, as well as chronicling the experiences that he and his friends have as they grow up.”

While attempting to combine real-life arcade nostalgia with a fictional ride through a man’s life, Hunt hopes readers will find enjoyment within it’s pages.

“I honestly just hope people are entertained,” Hunt added. “Hopefully, those who were fortunate enough to be around during the height of the arcade scene will be able to re-live the memories of screwing around with friends in the local arcade, and those who weren’t around during the heyday of the arcade scene will be able to experience what the era was like through the book. I think nostalgia is a really powerful emotion to tap into, and I’m sure there are plenty of people who are nostalgic for those times when there was an arcade on every street corner and in every shopping mall, so hopefully the novel will rekindle that nostalgia that people feel for the classic arcade gaming scene.”

The book can be purchased at Amazon.com in paperback form for $9.89 and for the Kindle reader for only $6.99.

Indie developer Tiffany Nickel

Tiffany Nickel

The first two boom periods for the video game industry referred to the games as a fad or trends. Today, entire generations have grown up in a world that never knew life without them. Among them is 21-year old Tiffany Nickel of Tinley Park, Illinois.

“I am a fan, a gamer and an indie developer,” Nickel said. “I’m pretty well entrenched in gaming to the point where it’s hobby, interest and career. It would be hard to describe myself outside of the gaming world as that seems to be my only world.”

Nickel recalls her passion for video gaming was sparked by a now-iconic game character.

“The first game I can recall playing on my own was Tomb Raider II for the PlayStation,” she recalled. “I know I played some Super Nintendo games before that but I was so young I can barely remember it. I was about five years old when I first played Tomb Raider II, the first level is so ingrained in my memory because I had to play it so many times to get past it…and I wasn’t savvy on the whole ‘saving your game’ yet. I played Crash Bandicoot and Resident Evil 2 around that time as well.”

While these early Sony titles are the ones Nickel recalls as introducing her to video gaming, she quickly recalled the single game title that later hooked her for good and made her think of games from a different point of view.

Final Fantasy X for the Playstation 2 was the game that hooked me. Not only was it the game that hooked me, it was the first game I started taking notes on,” she recalled. “These notes consisted of ideas that I thought would make the game better for whatever reason to questions such as ‘why do all the characters walk the same?’ I was only ten years old at the time and didn’t know much about 3D models and animation, so I’d sit and contemplate these things.”

Almost a decade later, Tiffany would be introduced to a person who she says helped her take her from contemplating about the inner workings of a video game and into the world of developing them herself.

“For me things really became more clear when I turned 18 and met Doc Mack and the people at Galloping Ghost Productions,” said Nickel. “A friend of his and my brothers talked and set up for Doc and I to meet so he could show me what it’s like to be an indie developer and develop your own game. Since meeting him over three years ago it has quite honestly changed the way I look at games and play them.”

Nickel’s new outlook on video gaming has lead her to begin development on Endless Mark III, a deep role playing game title.

“Even though I was thoroughly enjoying playing RPGs, I would often find myself thinking of other elements that I thought would make them better,” she said. “Even games that were so influential to me like Final Fantasy X still had things I would have wanted to see. After a while, the amount of ideas I had, left me thinking that it would be great to see all these ideas come together in an actual game.”

With the freedom of indie development, Nickel says she is taking her time to pay attention to the fine details of Endless Mark III, aiming to connect the players with the characters while keeping the game at a fun pace.

“We are still early in development, the story itself is still being written and developed. It’s a fairly large story and its seems every time we are working on one element of the game, we come up with new elements to incorporate to it,” Tiffany stated. “A lot of attention to detail is being put into the game and I really hope to develop characters people will connect with and grow attached to as they play through their journey. We’ve been especially working hard on creating a unique and innovative leveling system for players to get involved with. I feel in RPGs, most of the time you’re just grinding away trying to gain some levels. With that in mind we’re trying to make the battle system fresh and innovative so those ‘RPG grinds’ won’t feel old and boring. There really isn’t anything that’s not important to us during development.”

With indie game development at an all-time high, Nickel also offered some words of encouragement to others who might dream of taking their ideas into an on-screen gaming experience.

“You can’t just talk about making a game. Start writing out your ideas and drawing and just push forward no matter what,” she said. “I didn’t have much experience when I started and now I able to do graphic work, web design and have such a better understanding of just how a game is made. There are some great people out there with lots of knowledge who are looking to help with projects. Communicating and finding other people to help get you to your goal is key.”

Gamers can follow Tiffany Nickel’s progress on development of Endless Mark III on the game’s official website at www.EndlessMarkIII.com and on Facebook atwww.Facebook.com/EndlessMarkIII.

The Stinky Footboard Review

The Stinky Footboard

The days of video games that can be controlled with a joystick and two buttons are long past. Today’s hits seem to require more fingers than a human being has, especially on the PC.

Enter the Stinky Footboard from SteLuLu Technologies. This PC-based controller is plastic and metal pad that allows users to use their foot to control up to four different key functions. The keys can be custom mapped to any function.

Installation of the device is a snap and the customization software is easy to use. Users can be up and running, perhaps quite literally, in no time.

The controller itself takes a little getting used to, as reacting to on-screen action with a foot isn’t exactly typical on many games. A set of springs with different tensions were included along with a tool to quickly swap them, giving users of the product the ability to find a comfortable level of tension.

For first-person shooters, the Stinky Footboard proved to be a godsend. It was no longer required to remove fingers from important buttons to perform other on-screen actions, as those buttons could be replaced by functions on the Stinky.

To add a different element to the mix, a some old school titles were used for this review. The classic Pac-Manproved too challenging using the footboard, but it turned out to be quite fun to try the iconic Space Invaders with the unique controls.

The Stinky Footboard can also be used for non-gaming functions, including surfing websites.

The product itself is quite sturdy. A video shown at PAX East showed the Stinky Footboard being run over by a car and continuing to work with only minor case scratches. While that extreme was not used for this review, the product managed to survive hours of use by a 245-pound former pro wrestler without any loss of functionality. It continued to work like new, which is more than can be said about almost any other controller product.

In addition to gaming and work functions, the Stinky Footboard could be used as a solution for those with disabilities or injuries.

Overall, the Stinky Footboard is a sturdy solution to multi-tasking gameplay. Once a player gets used to it, they should find the extra functionality allows for a smoother experience while the product itself can truly take a beating.

More can be learned about the Stinky Footboard at www.StinkyBoard.com. They are also in the final days of a Kickstarter campaign with can be viewed here.

Michelle Juett Silva: Lifelong gamer draws up a successful industry career

Michelle Juett Silva

Michelle Juett Silva

The earliest generations of video gamers have now grown into the people who create all forms of entertainment. Among them is Schenectady, New York resident Michelle Juett Silva. As one-half of the married couple behind indie video game developer Ska Studios, she has turned a lifelong love of video gaming into a storied industry career.

“My first experiences playing games were in daycare on an NES, Super Nintendo and a Macintosh,” she recalled. “We had games like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Super Mario Bros., SkiFree, Number Munchers and Oregon Trail. As there were many kids, we had limited time to get to play.”

After Michelle and her brother were given a Super Nintendo console as a Christmas present, her passion for gaming continued to grow alongside the advancing generation of Nintendo consoles and eventually into the gaming creations of other companies.

“I was convinced I’d be a Nintendo fan for life and even into college I was anti Xbox and definitely not into PC gaming,” she said. “This is now pretty funny because I almost entirely play only Xbox 360 and PC. My favorite games of all time are easily Eternal Darkness and Silent Hill 2. These darker, more horror based games play an influential role on the kinds of games I want to make. As an adult, I made the switch to Xbox, primarily due to my first profession testing Xbox games. I still look back to those first influential games as the inspiration that molded me.”

Michelle Juett Silva

Majoring in art during college, the idea of working in the video game industry was sparked by her roommate’s desire to become a concept artist for video games. Choosing to take a similar path, Silva turned to an industry contact given to her by a family member.

“My aunt knew a game artist and helped set me up with an advice interview and that helped me get an idea of where I stood in the industry,” she recalled. “It didn’t look too promising. I wasn’t an amazing, jaw-dropping artist and the industry is incredibly competitive. I also didn’t know anybody except my aunt’s contact and I already felt like I was imposing on him. Don’t get me wrong, he was incredibly nice and helpful, but at that point I felt that pestering questions of any industry professional was a waste of their time.”

Michelle then decided to aim for as many industry positions as she could.

“I cold-applied as an artist to ArenaNet and some other, smaller game companies,” Silva said. “Interestingly, ArenaNet was the only one to take the time to send me a rejection email. As hard as a rejection is to hear, to this day, I still appreciate the crap out of them for letting me know. A few months after graduation, I found ‘game tester’ on a job search website that didn’t look like a complete scam and gave it a shot. When I received a call from a contracting service asking for a phone interview, I was completely surprised. The interview was basically a history of my experience playing games. It seemed like a gamer’s dream, still potentially a scam, but I also saw it as a foot in the door. And it was. In more ways than I could ever possibly imagine.”

As her career continued to advance, one of the games Michelle encountered also led her to meeting her eventual husband and partner.

The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai was one of the first titles I got my name into the credits for being a tester,” she said. “Dead Samurai was developed by Ska Studios, the one man team made up of James Silva. I felt unworthy but quality assurance is still an important part of the game development process. A while later, and a few jobs later, I became a lead in quality assurance at ArenaNet on the Guild Wars live team. At the time I felt this was where I would stay for a long time working my way up into the company. I got to work on some art tasks even in quality assurance. In late 2010, I started talking with James more again who became an acquaintance at PAX in 2009. Talking lead to more and eventually I would move across the country to upstate New York to live and work with James as an indie game developer.”

Michelle Juett Silva

Ska Studios current project, Charlie Murder, is described by Silva as ‘a 2D stylized four player co-op RPG brawler with a punk rock theme set in a zombie apocalypse’. As the first game she has been part of creating from start to finish, Michelle says she feels the various highs and lows that are part of game creation.

Charlie Murder isn’t out yet but I’m already feeling all the thrills and depressions of people loving and criticizing the game,” she added. “This most recent PAX was incredibly invigorating yet I have to remind myself to not read the comments sections of reviews. I’m trying to remain professional and diplomatic about the more negative of commentary about our game. I feel the game is me now as much as it is James, which I haven’t felt before. I’m still learning and growing and it’s exciting to see the results.”

While an integal part of Ska Studios, Silva says she has experienced some industry scrutiny based on gender stereotypes.

“My first time officially exhibiting with Ska Studios at PAX East in 2011, I was actually called a ‘booth babe’,” Michelle recalled. “James and I were talking with some attendees for a while when they asked if they could get a picture. We assumed they meant James and he agreed. Then the guys awkwardly said ‘Oh no, we meant with the booth babe’ and gestured at me. I wasn’t sure how to respond and even more awkwardly replied ‘Uh, I worked on the game’ to which they just replied ‘Oh’. At the time I was completely shocked and withdrawn but now every time I think back to it, it makes me angry. It doesn’t make me as mad at the guys as it does that I did not stand up for myself. It’s up to each individual to call out what is unacceptable to change our culture.”

As the industry continues to grow and become more accepting of indie game development, Silva notes that success can take time.

“Although my situation is somewhat unique and I joined an already successful indie studio, my advice carries over from trying to get in the game industry in general,” she said. “Don’t expect to be successful overnight. It takes a lot of work and diligence to get where you want to be. Of course, there’s the rare ‘successful over night’ stories but for the most part, successes come from perseverance and the refusal to give up.”

In addition to her work at Ska, Michelle also participates in group runs, triathlons and races on weekends. Her and James have also recently started a YouTube series entitled Michelle and James Play Video Games!The indie game duo will be at PAX Prime later this year and aim to release Charlie Murder later this year.

Ska Studios official website and merchandise can be found at Ska-Studios.com.

Rad Raygun

Rad Raygun

Rad Raygun, the Mega Man-inspired XBox Live Indie Game, has been gaining fans since it’s recent release. The throwback game title is part of a lifelong gaming journey for programmer and Corinth, Texas resident Chris Bryant.

“I was born in 1981, so the Nintendo Entertainment System was my first console,” Bryant recalled. “But I can distinctly remember watching my older brother play Asteroids and Missile Command on the Atari 2600. To this day, just seeing the Asteroids cartridge brings back some good memories.”

While continuing to game as he grew older, Bryant notes that even as the technology advanced, his heart remained with the classics, noting Super Mario Bros., a game he states he still plays today.

“I know it’s cliche, but I still play it in absolute awe,” he said of the 1985 Nintendo classic. “How did they get it so right? The graphics, sound and play mechanics were not only groundbreaking but flawlessly executed.”

Bryant’s love for games quickly turned into a dream of designing them, a goal he states started before he was even old enough to drive.

Rad Raygun

“I spent most of my childhood trying to learn anything that could get me in the video game industry, such as programming and 3D animation,” he said. “I can remember being 13 or 14 and wanting absolutely nothing for Christmas. All I wanted was knowledge. I wanted to know how to make games. I would make little text games in QBasic. I would also download other people’s source code and dissect it, trying to figure out how it worked. In 10th grade Computer Science class, I built my first two actual games, a clone of Pong and a clone of Frogger. In fact, I got in trouble for sharing my source code for Frogger because my classmates were playing that instead of paying attention in class! But, it all worked out…the teacher said he’d let it go if I shared the source code with him as well.”

Rad Raygun

Two years ago, the idea for Rad Raygun came into Bryant’s head. He reached out to a peer with the concept.

“I still have the e-mail to Chris Hernandez, a co-worker of mine and Rad Raygun’s creative director,” Bryant said. “His reply of ‘I’m absolutely 1000 percent into it’ was huge. I knew I had an amazing talent on my team that I could rely on for not just artwork, but a creative storyline as well.”

For the first year, everything for the game was developed for the PC version, according to Bryant. The programmer recalls issues with long load times when finally tested on the XBox 360, requiring a significant amount of time re-writing the code in a way that wouldn’t interfere with the level design already completed for the indie title. With just days to go before launch, more problems with load times came to light.

Rad Raygun

“The Xbox 360 is indeed a powerhouse, but only when used correctly,” Bryant noted. “The engine had serious memory management issues that weren’t visible on the PC. I spent days tweaking and optimizing the engine in hopes of alleviating the issue. This was the ultimate low for me. My team dedicated their nights and weekends to this project for over two years and, only two days from launch, I wasn’t sure if it would ever see the light of day.”

With a looming deadline, Bryant managed to find an issue he’d overlooked numerous times.


“While examining the game’s memory usage for the 100th time, I noticed that the maps were allocating way more memory than they should,” he noted. “It turns out that there was a bug in the level editor and the maps were exported with a ton of extraneous data at the end of the files. I wrote a tool to clean up the extraneous data from the map files, reloaded the game on the 360, and all of my framerate issues were gone.”

Following Rad Raygun‘s launch, Bryant says while he now feels a little extra pressure to make his next game, he is enjoying hearing back from fans of the game.

“I’m still trying to let it all sink in,” he said. “It sounds cheesy but this is really a dream come true. It really means a lot to me when I hear that people ‘get it’ and are able to connect with the game on a nostalgic level, sit back and enjoy the ride.”

Rad Raygun is available for 80 Microsoft points at this link.

Gaming Under the Influence

Gaming under the influence

Gaming Under the Influence

As the video game industry and culture has continued to grow, gaming has grown from interactive entertainment to a spectator sport. Numerous leagues and streaming websites now feature live streaming broadcasts of almost any video game in the world, ranging from major competitions to walk-throughs of popular titles taking place in a gamer’s living room.

Gaming Under the Influence aims to change the rules and bring video game competition out of the the living room. Taking place every Friday night from O’Malley’s Liquor Kitchen in ChicagoGUI brings television production quality to the table as participants take part in a combination of video game competition and drinking games.

“A couple years ago, I toyed around with the idea of doing something different than a ‘stream’,” said GUI‘s Jared Hoffa. “I play a lot of games, but I can’t sit and watch someone play games on Twitch. It bores the hell out of me.”

According to Hoffa, it was a trip to another part of the world that helped him put the pieces together for the show that would become GUI.

“I headed over to South Korea for fun and made it a point to see what they were doing in TV and gaming,” he said. “As most gamers know, professional video gaming is serious business over there and broadcasted on two major networks. What you might not know is the studio that makes all this magic is smaller than a high school gymnasium and broadcasted in standard definition. The same day, the executives at KBS-TV showed me GAG, a live, improv show that seats 500 audience members every show. It was unbelievable. With that, I had my motivation.”

Bringing video gamers out of gaming streams and into an entertainment venue was aimed at bringing them to the forefront, according to Hoffa. Several video game personalities, including Robot Combat League contestant Keisha Howard, have already appeared on GUI.

“I wanted people besides hardcore gamers to be engaged and have fun,” Hoffa added. “I wanted gamers to find a new platform to showcase their talent and their personality. Take off the Turtle Beaches and get out of the chairs. Give people a show!”

Stressing that Gaming Under the Influence is not a video game livestream, Hoffa brings years of television experience to the live show.

“I’ve been an on-air personality for NBC Universal’s In The Loop w/ iVillage, and a producer/shooter/editor for ABC, NBC, and WCIU-TV in Chicago,” he said. “As of now, I’m on-air as the witty App-Man on ABC7 Chicago’s Windy City Live. Television is fun, brutal, and unforgiving in every-way possible, but it’s an experience I’d never want to live without. GUI takes an entire production team and a slew of equipment to make possible. All the graphics you see, all the effects and camera changes is happening live.”

The surroundings of Gaming Under the Influence combined with a live broadcast brings an unpredictable element to the show, according to Hoffa.

“Every show we do, something memorable happens,” he said. “I think my favorite show is when a random old guy in a suit jumped on stage and started dancing next to the contestants. It was random, it was hilarious, and it threw everyone off…even our play-by-play announcer.”

Gaming Under the Influence airs live every Friday night at TheGUIShow.com. Viewers can interact with the live shows by voting with the Hot Box throughout the broadcast.

Capcom’s Arcade Cabinet Review

Capcom, a staple in the world of video gaming for decades, is celebrating their 30th anniversary with the release of Capcom Arcade Cabinet, a downloadable game pack for the XBox 360 and PlayStation 3.

avengers

For 400 Microsoft Points (or $4.99) players can now purchase the initial release pack containing classic shooter 1943: The Battle of Midway, side scrolling Black Tiger and the hardly remembered Capcom arcade release Avengers. Other games will be made available for add-on packs to Capcom Arcade Cabinet periodically, all at a higher price per-game than this introductory release.

Seemingly influenced by the earlier Game Room download for the XBox 360, Capcom’s multi-game set-up doesn’t exactly provide the same arcade-like feel. The majority of the screens are filled with a generic backdrop that is more akin to a plain arcade cocktail table kit than anything distinctive to the original arcade feel. Given how perfectly the ambiance of the arcade was captured in Capcom’s previous Final Fight download, this comes at a bit of a surprise and disappointment.

1942

The emulation of the games included thus far appear to be spot-on, even providing the options for different versions of the game from around the world. Graphics, sounds and music look and sound just like the arcade originals and controls are very responsive.

One of the potentially biggest issues I can see with Capcom Arcade Cabinet, however, will be the depth of game selection. While several early Capcom arcade titles proved popular when new, the average gamer never saw the majority of them. Capcom’s main claims to fame in the 1980s came from it’s successful Nintendo Entertainment System releases, followed by the Street Fighter II series in arcades the following decade. For every Ghosts ‘n Goblins will be a lesser title such as Son Son that most gamers simply won’t remember.

black tiger

This first game pack represents this perfectly. While 1943 was a huge coin-op success across the world, Black Tiger saw far less success and distribution. Avengers seems to be included only due to the name, perhaps trying to capitalize on a familiar sounding name instead of nostalgia. The game has nothing to do with the comic book or popular film, providing players with a weird top-down beat-em-up game that is totally lacking in appearances by Iron Man, Captain America and Scarlett Johansson.

That being said, the early price point isn’t a bad deal for the still-fun 1943, and worth a download at least to have that as a fun way to pass the time. Otherwise, the player’s experience withCapcom Arcade Cabinet will live and die mostly on what they knew or remember from the earliest arcade releases from the now-iconic video game company.

Video Game Voters Network aims to band gamers together in violence debate

video game voters network logo

Video Game Voters Network

The on-again, off-again debate over “violent”video games has been a daily news headline since the deadly December shootings in Newtown, Connecticut. Media professionals and political names on both sides of the aisle have been putting the debate center stage. Among them is Democratic Senator Christopher Murphy, who stated on Thursday, Jan. 24 that theSandy Hook gunman was given a “false sense of courage” from violent video games.

The Video Game Voters Network aims to give the gamers a voice in this debate.

“The Video Game Voters Network (VGVN) is a place for American gamers to organize and defend against threats to video games and to help promote the many positive aspects of this most creative of entertainment forms,” said Rich Taylor, spokesperson for the Entertainment Software Association.

According to Taylor, the information given in the media fails to reflect the actual nature of the video game industry, including the fact that no scientific evidence exists proving the link between violent media and violent acts and the fact that the age of the average video game consumer is in their thirties. These missing facts, he says, often brings forth attempts at legislation aimed toward the video game industry.

“With so much misinformation about video games in the media and in some political circles, it is important that gamers have a strong, unified voice against the unfair laws that are routinely proposed to regulate the industry,” he said.

Among recently proposed legislation regarding “violent video games” is a tax proposal from Missouri Representative Diane Franklin which would add a tax to any video games rated T for Teen and up by the ESRB Ratings System, stating the raised revenue would go toward “mental health conditions associated with exposure to violent video games.”

A similar tax proposal was quickly killed in Oklahoma last year after a flood of e-mail against it.

Gamers and supporters of the video game industry can learn more about the VGVN and sign up atVideoGameVoters.org.

Twonky Beam app review

Twonky beam app

Digital content can now be seamlessly streamed to your television set through your XBox 360 console using the Twonky Beam app for iOS and Android devices.

While the XBox 360 already has a variety of video and entertainment applications available, the Twonky Beam app provides the user a greater variety of options as easily as pressing the touch screen on their smartphone or tablet.

For this review the Twonky app was tested on an XBox 360 using a Samsung Galaxy tablet 10.1.

Twonky beam app

Using the Twonky app proved quick and easy, with nothing to press on the XBox 360 itself other than the power button. Upon opening the app, a menu with a variety of available content choices including YouTube, ESPN, Funny or Die, NASA, the White House and Vimeo came right up. No clutter or ads got in the way of simply clicking one of the many choices and getting straight to the content. Simply click the Beam button on your choice and it will begin play on the XBox 360 within one second.

In addition, users can surf other websites while using the app and also gain the option to beam video content embedded within those sites. This is an awesome concept for those times where you choose to surf the net from your smartphone or tablet and find an interesting piece of video content. A simple press of the beam button can send the video to that big television screen in your living room to enjoy in style.

Twonky beam app

The video quality of the beamed content was just as good as the content appears within the websites themselves. While using the app only a little buffering was apparent early on in some higher quality videos, but at a level far less than often encountered when playing content straight from the built-in XBox 360 applications. Each HD video used to test the application, once streaming on the television, was indistinguishable from broadcast quality programming.

The Twonky Beam app is free for download and when tested for this review did as advertised, managing to seamlessly stream quality video content from the tablet device to the television screen by way of the XBox 360 console. A highly recommended download to your smartphone or tablet, especially if you use them to surf the web and view video content.

Violent video game debate goes back decades

video game violence

In the wake of the Newtown, Connecticut shootings in December, the debate over violent video games is being waged once again.

Just before Christmas, National Rifle Association spokesman Wayne LaPierre made controversial remarks about violent video games in a public press conference. Over the past week, Vice President Joe Biden invited representatives from the video game industry to a panel discussion about the gun control and violence topic. On January 10, New Jersey governor Chris Christie also noted violent video games as what he believes to be a factor in violence.

“You cannot tell me that a kid sitting in a basement for hours playing Call of Duty and killing people over and over and over again does not desensitize that child to the real life effects of violence,” Christie said.

The topic of video game violence has been going on almost since the day the general public first became aware of video games. In 1976, Exidy’s Death Race became the first video game to spark such discussion. A game which challenged players to run over stick figures with cars,Death Race made national news headlines on shows such as 60 Minutes and created such an outcry that many video arcades removed the game.

Stern classic Berzerk also sparked similar discussion in 1981, especially after 19-year-old Jeff Dailey died of a heart attack shortly after playing the game. Similar to remarks recently made about games such as Call of Duty: Black Ops II, Berzerk found itself criticized by then-National Coalition on Television Violence chairman Dr. Thomas Radecki.

“In this game you’re a stick figure with a handgun,” Radecki said in 1981. “The object is to kill as many other stick figures as possible before they kill you. This type of role-playing practice is certain to have long-term harmful effects on the player. It teaches violent reactions. These games are training the next generation of Americans to be even more violent than our current adult generation, already the most violent in American history.”

According to a FactCheck.org posting on December 20, there were 3.59 gun murders per 100,000 people in 2010, the lowest rate since 1981, the same year Dr. Radecki made his statement about Berzerk and similar video games.

A number of gamers from the 1981 generation of grew up to become lawyers, business owners and doctors. Joel West, the 1982 world champion on Berzerk, is a conservative Christian and father who still plays the classic today. Another notable name who has made a living in the gaming world says despite thousands of hours of gaming, including Berzerk, he did not turn out violent.

Berzerk was one of my favorite arcade games back in the early eighties,” said former Electronic Gaming Monthly writer ‘Trickman’ Terry Minnich. “Today, I own an original Berzerk machine and it is still one of my favorite games. I’ve played every type of game. No matter how bad I am doing, I never kick or punch the machine or throw a controller in anger. I never have and don’t believe I ever will.”

Minnich went on to point out that some members of the early gaming generation, instead of becoming violent, went on to create a major impact on the world today.

“Some of the first geeks and nerds started in that generation,” he said. “The famous ones went on to found Apple and Microsoft and helped usher in the technology we enjoy today. I think that generation turned out pretty well overall.”

Wreck-It Ralph: The backstory behind the classic Tapper arcade video game

Wreck-It Ralph: The backstory behind the classic Tapper arcade video game

Out of all the vintage arcade video games that make cameos in Disney’s new Wreck-It Ralph film, which opened this weekend, perhaps none are as much of a surprise to old school gamers as Tapper, Bally Midway’s 1983 cult classic.

wreck-it-ralph - tapper

Originally conceived as an arcade title for bars and taverns, Tapper went into business with an official license with Budweiser, courtesy of Midway marketing guru Tom Nieman, and was programmed by Scott Morrison and Steve Meyer. A cabinet resembling a real bar, complete with cupholders, a brass footrail and a small beer tap as a controller, housed the unique coin-op title.

The object of Tapper was to control your speedy bartender as he tries to keep up with thirsty patrons who are capable of chugging their beer quickly and tend to get grumpy if they don’t get another right away. After the bartender fills a beer glass he slides it down to the customers, who slide back an empty one if they’d like to wet their whistle some more. The first level takes place in a saloon setting, with an athletic contest, punk bar and space alien bar appearing in future levels.

wreck-it-ralph - tapper

At one point a special chip was ordered to record burping sounds for use within the game. The production crew for Tapper sat around one night drinking beer and burping into a microphone, but once the concept was installed into the game it quickly became annoying. The idea was dropped.

The game was a modest success at a time when the arcade market was falling into a deep slump due to over saturation of product and locations. Around 3,300 Tapper machines were sold, and not all of them to bars and taverns as expected. When concerns arose about alcoholic advertising appearing in arcade locations where children might see it, Midway released an altered version of the game called Root Beer Tapper. The basic concept of the game was the same, but with root beer replacing Budweiser, removal of many of the bar elements from the game cabinet and replacing the bartender with a younger and more family friendly looking soda jerk.

wreck-it-ralph - tapper

Root Beer Tapper also allowed for the game to be licensed for home consoles of the time, though another licensing arrangement appeared in other home versions where soft drink Mountain Dew was the product of choice. The root beer version appears in all other modern day console re-releases.

In Wreck-It Ralph, Tapper’s is the name of the hangout where all the arcade characters gather at the end of a hard day. While it is quickly noted on screen that root beer is served there, the bartender is the mustached tapper from the original version. The arcade cabinet within the film features art from the original Tapper arcade machine with the root beer version on-screen.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yy5j0L6o6ns[/youtube]

This film appearance appears likely to cement the Bally Midway classic into pop culture some 29 years after it’s original release.

Hands-On Review: Plantronics GameCom Commander

The folks at Plantronics have put out a limited edition headset for the ultimate pro gaming experience, the GameCom Commander. With a price tag of $299.99, I decided to take it for a spin and see about that.

Plantronics GameCom Commander

First Impressions:

The Commander comes in with a lofty entrance. A heavy-duty carrying case hides and protects the headset and all it’s attachments, complete with a heavy latch to attach the protective case to your belt loop, luggage or backpack.

The case will do it’s job in protecting the valuable headset inside. I tried everything to hurt this thing, from pulling and yanking on the latch to actually standing on the case and it took the abuse with no evidence of it. Considering I’m a former pro wrestler, I have to conclude that this is a pretty tough carrying case.

First Impressions Score: 9 out of 10

Installation:

The wires and attachments were easy to remove and connect quickly. The drivers also installed on my PC very fast. I was up and running within moments, a big plus to me.

The only real issue here is that the headset uses the standard Windows drivers, something those wishing to use it at home more often than outside events may not wish to be stuck with.

Installation Score: 9 out of 10

Sound Quality:

Outstanding. The 7.1 Dolby stereo surround sound ensured I could hear every detail, footstep and audio queue on every game and song I attempted to use with it.

A big assist here goes to the noise cancellation ability of the Commander. The basic design of the headset comes from headsets that were originally designed to block out the noise of jet engines. All I could hear was what I wanted to. Any outside noise, even the sound of my own voice, was blocked out.

The heavy duty microphone provided the clearest sound I’ve heard with a headset. Regardless of if you are using the Commander to call out enemy positions in the middle of a team deathmatch or making a Skype call, every word you speak will come out with incredibly clarity on par with anything out there.

Sound Quality Score: 10 out of 10

Form Factor:

The Commander has both highs and lows in this department. I’ll start with the good news first.

This headset is tough and will likely last longer than your keyboard and controllers will. As I noted earlier, I’m a pretty big guy and yet my experience with the Commander marks the first time I’ve ever been unafraid that I might break a headset. I considered giving it the same test that I gave the case and see if it could take me stepping on it, but opted not to since I have to return this sample copy to Plantronics.

The volume control uses a flat dial that makes it hard to accidentally bump in the middle of play. The odds of accidentally muting yourself in the middle of a firefight or blasting your ears off accidentally are low.

On the flip side, however, the Commander is almost too much of a beast to be comfortable to wear. The weight of the product might be too much for some users, and after extended use I felt considerable discomfort around my ears and jaw, as if the headset was putting far to much pressure. I found no easy way to adjust the Commander for a more comfortable fit, meaning that it may not be ideal for marathon gaming sessions or lengthy conference calls.

Form Factor Score: 6 out of 10

Overall, the GameCom Commander delivers the experience it advertises and is built to last for the long term. The $299.99 price tag brings along a tough-as-nails design that ensures your investment will survive whatever you plan to put it through.

I only wish it was more comfortable to wear. People of different shapes and sizes may have a different experience in that regard while others might not want to trade off comfort for sound quality.

Total Score: 32 out of 40

Original Pac-Man cartoon series hits 30th anniversary

pac-man cartoon

Original Pac-Man cartoon series hits 30th anniversary

Thirty years before the Angry Birds appeared on every type of merchandise known to man,Pac-Man was the hottest product license on the planet. The 1980 arcade hit appeared on seemingly every type of consumer product of the day, from clothes and bedsheets to school products and cigarette lighters.

On September 25, 1982, a cartoon based on the Pac-Man games debuted on ABC television. This highly hyped series, produced by Hanna Barbera, marked the first time ever that a video game property was licensed for a mainstream entertainment series.

The cartoon featured Pac himself, along with his wife Pepper (aka Ms. Pac-Man), their young child Baby Pac-Man and their pets. They all lived in Pac-Land, an obviously fictional city full of a number of different shades and shapes of Pac-people. The monsters from the video game series were also present, led by an original character named Mezmaron.

The series took some liberties with the characters themselves, as might be expected by any licensed property-based cartoon series from the 1980s. Most of the male characters, including Pac-Man himself, sported a variety of hats. The ghost monster characters for Blinky and Clyde switched places from their video game roles with Clyde becoming the smart alpha of the group and Blinky becoming the dim witted follower of the group. Sue, the female ghost from the Ms. Pac-Man game, appeared in a shade of blue rather than the orange color from the game, likely in an effort to make her stand out more from Clyde.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yu-qrVx7XKw[/youtube]

Entertainment veteran Marty Ingels voiced the lead character. Somewhat ironically, voice acting legends Frank Welker and Peter Cullen voiced the often-feuding pets of Chomp-Chomp and Sour Puss. Two years later they would voice the characters of Megatron and Optimus Prime in the original Transformers cartoon.

From 1982 to 1983, Pac-Man aired on ABC Saturday mornings as part of a cartoon block featuring older properties such as Richie Rich and a cartoon version of the Little Rascals. The second season, which introduced the Super Pac-Man and PJ Pac (Jr. Pac-Man) characters was paired with another eighties icon in Rubik The Amazing Cube, based off the red hot toy of the time.

The series was cancelled at the end of the 1984 television season, cut loose as the North American video game industry suffered a near-fatal crash. Influence from the cartoon would continue to be felt for years, however, including the packaging artwork for the Pac-Man Chef Boyardee food products and Nintendo Entertainment System version of the original game. Namco released Pac-Land in 1984, a side scrolling game that pre-dated Super Mario Bros. and also featured heavy influence from the game in Pac-Man 2: The New Adventures, a 1994 16-bit title.

While the original series itself was short-lived, the Pac-Man cartoon opened the doors for video games to be licensed as television and film properties, a practice that is still ongoing today. A newPac-Man cartoon series, in fact, is set to debut on Disney channels in 2013.

The original series was released on DVD earlier this year.

David Crane speaks on the triumphs and pitfalls of his multi-decade career

David Crane

The first video game boom period of the late 1970s and early 1980s created many superstars that are still known today, from the hardworking Mario to the still-hungry Pac-Man. It also saw a handful of game designers reach the superstar level themselves, including David Crane.

Starting his career with Atari on titles including Canyon Bomber and Outlaw for the Atari Video Computer System, Crane was among the founding members of Activision in 1979. Since that time, Crane has been the driving force behind game titles that made an impact on several generations of gaming, from Pitfall! to NES cult-classic A Boy and His Blob to the controversial Night Trap.

The original Pitfall!, which just reached it’s 30th anniversary, was a literal game changer according to Crane.

“Even during development, we knew we had something special,” he said. “The platformer game genre opened up worlds of new games. In fact, there were hundreds of platform games developed after Pitfall! blazed the trail through the jungle. When the game held the number one spot on Billboard‘s chart for 64 consecutive weeks, a record that I don’t think has ever been broken, we knew the game had legs.”

Today, three decades after it’s release, Pitfall! is among the classic video game titles still found on t-shirts and modern console releases. Crane states that this was not something that he considered the future would hold.

“I would have never predicted the classic gaming movement where people continue to play their favorite games 30 years later and who bring in a new generation by exposing their kids to the classics,” he stated. “Sure, we tweaked the games to a fine point and we felt those games were the best games on the market at the time, but it still surprises me when classic gaming enthusiasts tell me that for pure game play, modern games fail to live up to the standards we set back in the day.”

A Boy and His Blob, Crane’s 1989 title for the Nintendo Entertainment System, began as a tool-using adventure game concept. After recalling a cartoon character creation from his childhood, Crane altered the game’s toolkit into that character.

“When I try to explain the concept and story of A Boy and His Blob people look at me like I have two heads,” Crane said. “As the explanation goes on they become sure of it, ‘So… after collecting all of the underground treasures, the Boy spends it all on vitamins? Then he turns his Blob into a rocket and flies to Blobonia where he vanquishes an evil king with a Vitablaster? Are you insane or just on drugs?’ I assure them that I am indeed sane, and that my drug of choice is peanut M&M’s”

In the decades since Crane’s early success, the video game industry has grown to include various publishing levels. The veteran game designer notes that modern publishers should take notes from the history of the industry.

“In the eighties games were published on ROM cartridges. That was a huge barrier to entry, requiring hundreds of thousands of dollars to publish a single game,” he said. “In the mid-eighties there was a crash, brought on by 30 companies trying to cash in on Activision’s success but without quality games. By 1985 there were 20 bad games on the market for every good game. Consumers were lost.”

“Today there is no barrier to entry,” he added. “Anyone with $99 can pay Apple to publish a game, which explains why there are 100,000 games in the App store. One on hand the optimist will say that this makes it possible for indie developers to make something fabulously new and original. The pessimist points out that there are 1,000 bad or derivative games for every one jewel. Games in the eighties sold for $40; that indie designer who makes the jewel is lucky to net 40 cents on every game he sells. That is not enough to sustain a game development business, so it becomes unlikely we will ever see a second jewel from that designer.”

“The industries of then and now couldn’t be more different,” he continued. “But today’s glut of bad, derivative, or just plain indifferent games has some similarities to the conditions in 1985. Back then that glut precipitated a major crash in the business and it took years for the video game to regain it’s popularity. Hard to say if that will happen again, but those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it.”

Crane recently turned to Kickstarter in an effort to create a new Jungle Adventure game as a follow-up to his 1982 classic. The project failed to catch on enough to reach it’s goal, however, despite Crane’s hope that supporters would like to be part of the game development process.

“Ask any game publisher if they would like the e-mail address of everybody that is going to buy a game before the game is published,” he said. “That could be a valuable resource for those times where the designer is struggling with game options. I suspect that my Kickstarter project didn’t get traction because the masses are not ready to commit to a game until they know what it is. Those that understood what I was hoping to achieve backed it enthusiastically, and went out as evangelists to try and recruit others.”

After 35 years in the video game industry, Crane states that he will continue to be part of it for some time to come.

“I design and program games every day,” he said. “I have been compared to Charles Schulz, who drew the Peanuts cartoons every day of his life for 50 years. By that analogy I have at least 15 good years left. I am comfortable in the fact that I know how to make games fun, and that is what keeps me going.”

The Classic Gaming Birthday Round Up

The Classic Gaming Birthday Round Up

Over the last two weeks a number of iconic classic games have had birthdays. The following is a grouping of those postings from Patrick Scott Patterson.

August 27

Super Mario Kart celebrates 20 year anniversary today

The original Super Mario Kart, perhapsNintendo‘s biggest 16-bit classic, turns 20 years old today.

The classic racer was first released in Japan on August 27, 1992 with a North American release just days later on September 1. Developed by game industry legend Shigeru Miyamoto and directors Hideki Konno and Tadashi Sugiyama, Super Mario Kart came about in an effort to create a multi-player racing game that improved upon the single player experience of Super Nintendo launch title F-Zero.

The game proved to be one of the strongest titles for the Super NES and Super Famicom, selling 8 million copies during it’s lifespan, a titanic number for that generation of gaming. Sequels and follow-up titles continue to this day, including Mario Kart Wii, the second best-selling game for the successful Wii game console with almost 32.5 million copies sold to date.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TcTIk19Lcms[/youtube]

Many fans of the original still look back upon it today.

“At the time of the games release, I was actually into go-kart racing,” said Mario Kart fan Josh Jones of Killeen, Texas. “This was a way for me to experience a whole new way of racing and battling at home. Nintendo did a supreme job incorporating it’s characters into a fun filled game which still has a fan base today.”

The multi-player aspect made an impact on the household of another fan of the game.

Super Mario Kart was the game that settled all the sibling disputes in my household,” said P.J. Stanton of Bordentown, New Jersey. “When my brother and I couldn’t agree on something the winner of argument was determined by a quick race or battle. Of course, by the time we finished playing we usually had forgotten what we were arguing about. My brother and I are estranged now, yet every so often we’ll talk on the phone and the conversation will always lead back to who was the better player.”

August 30th

Original Street Fighter arcade game turns 25

It has now been 25 years since the originalStreet Fighter arcade game first saw the light of day.

Capcom introduced this one-on-one fighter to arcades on August 30, 1987 in two different cabinet styles. The first featured two pressure sensitive “punch” pads while another marked what would be the first-ever six button layout on a fighting game.

While the original Street Fighter was only a modest success, the impact of the game on video game history cannot be fully stated in a short article. Street Fighter II, first introduced in 1991, became the biggest arcade hit since Pac-Man and spawned an entire generation of fighting games. Today, the Street Fighter franchise is one of the most competitive scenes in all of professional video gaming.

“I actually grew up with Street Fighter on arcade back in the day,” said fighting game fan Teri Otis Redding of Australia. “Loved every Street Fighter made pretty much. I think I’ll always remember the arcade experience I had when I was growing up.”

The continued success of the franchise seems pleasing to the maker of products for fighting games.

“Street Fighter has been almost a benchmark for standards on all upcoming games,” said Doug Johnson ofFoeHammer Custom Joysticks. “We love it when they launch a new one because the hype is tremendous.”

August 31st

Arcade classic BurgerTime turns 30 years old

Yet another household name in video game history is celebrating a major milestone this week as BurgerTime turns 30.

August 31, 1982 saw the first public appearance of the game, originally called Hamburger during it’s initial Japanese release. Created by Data East, the game made a big splash at the 1982 AMOA trade show where Data East showed off the title for it’s DECO Cassette System (an early interchangeable arcadesystem) as well as a licensed version from Bally Midway.

BurgerTime featured a chef named Peter Pepper, doing battle with living eggs, hot dogs and pickles who are trying to stop him from making the biggest hamburgers in the world in a multi-level platform. The game gained a loyal following in both coin-op form as well as home console versions from Mattel Electronics.

BurgerTime is one of the defining eighties games,” said Ohio’s J.D. Lowe, holder of the third highest BurgerTimescore ever with 6,109,500 points. “Easy to learn, hard to master, with music that sticks in your head and a design that is hard to replicate.”

Many of the remaining original BurgerTime arcade cabinets have landed in the hands of collectors, including Rhode Islands’ Brian Diamonti, who says he will hold on to his machine regardless of the offer.

“I had a buddy offer to trade me his Joust for myBurgerTime and I had to turn him down,” Diamonti said. “BurgerTime is too much of a staple in gaming roots to trade off and my girlfriend would be too pissed at me.”

BurgerTime made a national television appearance in early 1983 as one of the game titles used in a gauntlet on That’s Incredible. Players had to quickly reach a scoring threshold on the game to move advance to the next game. Texan Ben Gold, who won the televised contest, only had a short time to learn the game.

“I had three weeks to learn it and only one arcade to practice at,” Gold recalled. “Todd Walker was by far the best player on this game and the irony is that his mistake on it is what allowed me to beat him in the competition.”

Numerous sequels to BurgerTime have been released over the past 30 years, including last year’sBurgerTime World TourRay Almeda from MonkeyPaw Games, the company who released the 2011 follow-up, notes the unique concept of the game as a reason for it’s longevity.

“Anybody who plays BurgerTime instantly gets hungrier and hungrier the longer and longer they play,” Almeda said. “Even to this day, Peter Pepper still remains a lovable chef that builds the planet’s biggest burgers. Who would have thought you’d be running from food in a video game? It doesn’t get any more addicting and iconic than that, even after 30 years.”

September 6th

Activision classic Pitfall! reaches 30 year anniversary

The iconic Pitfall! has now reached the 30 year mark.

Originally released on September 6, 1982, this early Activision title was designed byDavid Crane and became an instant best-seller. First released for the Atari Video Computer System (later known as the Atari 2600), Pitfall! sold 4 million copies, a huge number for a game at that time and held the top on best-seller charts for an incredible 64 weeks.

Perhaps the first hit game to popularize the side scrolling style that became a staple of gaming later in the decade, Pitfall! gave players a limited amount of time to overcome in-game obstacles such as pits, crocodiles and giant scorpions in an effort to reach the treasure at the end.

The popularity of the game transcended the title itself with the character of Pitfall Harry at the helm. Pitfall! was one of the video game titles featured in the first season of CBS Saturday morning cartoon series Saturday Supercade. A young Jack Black appears in one of the television commercials for the original game as well.

Pitfall! was our first chance to game as a proper adventurer,” said Jayce Stokes of England’s ConsoleNinjas podcast. “The way it combined maze elements in with the platform staples of timing your jumps and avoiding hazardous drops was unmatched back then.”

As an early example of a game with a finite ending point, completing Pitfall! proved to be a badge of honor among gamers, many of whom say they had a love/hate relationship with the cartridge.

“Who doesn’t love Pitfall!?” said Stockton, California’s John Lopez. “I played it until I thought I’d break my joystick as a kid. The gameplay was great; a running man grabbing the vines, swinging over the pits and quicksand, jumping logs, climbing into the underground caverns, jumping scorpions and collecting treasure. It was one of the coolest games.”

A new version of Pitfall! was recently released for iOS devices, while the original game designer recently opened up a Kickstarter project in an effort to launch a new jungle adventure.

Nintendo Power: Reaction to the end of the long running magazine

Reports that Nintendo Power magazine was shutting down popped up like popcorn a week ago, bringing both old school and modern Nintendo fans to reminiscence about the long-running publication.

Nintendo Power Magazine

The first issue of Nintendo Power appeared in the summer of 1988, featuring a miscolored clay model for the upcoming Super Mario Bros. 2 on the cover. The magazine ran every other month for a while, eventually becoming a monthly publication and the best source for news on upcoming titles for the then-dominant Nintendo Entertainment System.

The full-color publication contained a variety of game previews, a section where gamers could request help on their toughest game challenges, tips, tricks and detailed maps for just about every release, contests, game rankings and even a high score chart where the world could race to be the first to max-out the high scores on NES titles.

Nester - Nintendo Power Magazine

I remember these days very fondly. I can still remember reading through that first issue three or four times that first night alone. Back in these days we didn’t have the internet to give us instant news nor were the other video game magazines on the market particularly timely. Nintendo Powerwas a literal treasure trove for a Nintendo-obsessed youngster such as myself, and I miss the feeling of anticipation of each new issue. I couldn’t wait to read the newest previews, try the latest tricks and tips and even to see if Howard ever gave Nester a little respect.

I subscribed to the magazine for the entire first four years and continued to check it out on newsstands ever since. Even though Nintendo no longer held direct control of the magazine in recent years, Nintendo Power still held true to it’s roots and still felt ‘right’.

Nintendo Power Magazine

“The passing of an era,” said New Jersey television producer Dave Bullis. “I remember reading it since childhood. It’s not just the passing of Nintendo Power, but the end of physical print and the closing of a childhood memory. The best memory I have is the Goldeneye issue. It made me really excited for the game.”

Another longtime fan learned of the news just hours after renewing her subscription.

Nintendo Power had a huge impact on my interest in gaming,” said Seattle gaming vet Elizabeth ‘Ebo’ Hanning. “I have roughly a few hundred issues of the magazine dating back to some of the early copies. The best part of Nintendo Power was that the helpline was a local number, so I could call without my parents getting angry.”

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tMCEEO77EpU[/youtube]

Some reports state the publication may be done outright while others state that Nintendo Power may continue as an online-only publication. Either way it is the end of an era, especially for us long-time fans.

Arcade Classics: What happened to them all?

It is easily the most common question I get when I chat with anyone about the classic arcade games of the early 1980s. What happened to them all?

Tron

They remember those days just as I do. Video arcades were commonplace and practically every type of business out there had arcade games in them. I remember seeing a Defender in the window of a flower shop, Ms. Pac-Man and Galaga machines at the local Denny’s and entire gamerooms in select 7-Eleven stores. These machines were literally everywhere.

Over time a number of these machines have ended up in homes, mostly as an addition to a rec room or something fun in the corner of the garage. A smaller number of home collectors are deeply dedicated, some with dozens or even hundreds of machines. In recent years, arcades and taverns with classic themes are popping up around the country, giving an extent of new life to a bygone era.

Atari Football

What most casual and even many die-hard classic arcade fans don’t realize is that the vast majority of machines from the early eighties arcade boom are long gone from the planet. While games such as AsteroidsSpace InvadersPac-Man and Donkey Kong set arcade sales records that still stand today, most did not survive.

Today I provide some insight into why. While none of this is going to cover things in depth, it is going to touch on the basic answers to that common question.

The Great Video Game Crash

Atari Pole Position

While it is becoming a hardly known legend to the younger generations of gamers, the entire North American video game industry crashed hard in 1983 and 1984. The arcade market and home console markets crashed for different reasons, with the coin-ops dropped off first. Things slowed in the summer of 1982 and went into a free-fall the next year, due in large part to oversaturation of the marketplace and aging equipment.

By 1984, a great number of arcade operators had gone out of business. Those that survived had significantly smaller operations and routes. The vast majority of arcade machines seen in non-arcade businesses were never owned by those businesses but rather by vendors who installed the machines in those locations for a cut of the revenue.

Operators were stuck with huge inventories of machines nobody wanted to play anymore, and with almost everyone forced to scale back operations, most older machines had no resale value or potential buyers. Everyone had enough Scramble and Galaxian machines gathering dust in a warehouse already.

Joust

So they trashed them.

Many machines were gutted for useful parts such as monitors and coin doors then had their cabinets smashed, burned or taken to a landfill. Others were left to rot in abandoned warehouses, sheds or fields.

This practice actually still continues today. Me and a friend came across an antique store a few years ago that had obtained a few trailers of early eighties machines. Thinking they had no value they left the open trailers outside and smashed up entire machines until they’d filled their dumpsters. By the time we got there, we found pieces of games such as Donkey Kong Junior andCentipede in the trash and the machines still in tact had been rained on so much they were falling apart.

While there are hobbyists who restore classic machines scattered across the country, it is commonplace for them to use several machines to complete one full restoration, trashing the rest.

Conversions, Multicades and MAME

Mame arcade cabinet

Most classic arcade machines that didn’t end up as scrap were converted into newer game titles, and still are today.

The first successful conversion kit game was Mr. Do! in 1983, starting a trend that helped operators survive at least a while longer. For a far lesser price than a full arcade machine, vendors could purchase kits with new electronics, graphics and sometimes wiring which was used to turn that old Qix or Berzerk machine into a brand new game title.

While most arcade manufacturers resisted this trend as long as they could, they were forced to change with the times and start offering kits to operators. Some, such as Nintendo and Atari, began to produce kits designed to specifically convert their older titles.

Pac-Man

 

This trend continued through the middle of the decade but slowed for a time in the late 1980s. A bit of a resurgence in the arcade market came along with the rebirth of the home console industry during this time, and dedicated machines of newer hit titles began to sell once again. Most converted machines were simply converted again to newer titles for street locations.

The next big period of conversion mania came with Street Fighter II in 1991 and 1992. This game earned so much money so quickly that many operators quickly bought kits for every arcade cabinet they had in storage. Years ago I met an operator that literally converted every remaining early 80s machine he had to SFII when it was hot, and remember locations with classic machines such as BurgerTime and Front Line that they converted at this time.

Donkey Kong 3

In recent years the conversion mania has continued in two forms. Over the past decade an influx of overseas knock off boards often dubbed as “Multicades” have made their way into North America. These bootleg boards contain dozens and sometimes hundreds of games. Many arcade machine resellers have gutted surviving classics in favor of converting them into these multi-game machines in the name of making a buck.

Other home collectors have built arcade machines based on the MAME emulation program. While some of these MAME fans have built their arcade rigs from classic cabinets that were already stripped or converted beyond reasonable restoration, others have posted blogs where they show their process of gutting a surviving arcade machine to build it into a computer-based conversion.

Several arcade conversions have appeared on these popular treasure-hunting television programs in recent years, often without the people on the show seemingly aware of it. An episode of Pawn Stars saw someone bring three “Japanese Arcade Games” into the Las Vegas shop, two of which were conversions from Defender machines. The Ms. Pac-Man machine that appeared on an episode of Auction Hunters was actually a conversion of an original Pac-Man machine, a cabinet that is similar but quite different in many ways as well.

Arcade Passports Required

Ms. Pac-Man

Classic-era arcade machines that weren’t trashed, left to rot or converted may not reside in the country at all anymore. Several people in southern states have confirmed to me in the past that they have shipped and sold entire box trucks of older arcade machines to Mexico.

The current world record holder on Taito rarity Zoo Keeper had his machine shipped to his Australia home from the United States.

Preservation is Key

Trojan

At the present time it seems that the number of people who’d rather turn a retro arcade machine into a Multicade or MAME machine far outnumbers those who would rather try to restore them into their former glory. It is a long and often expensive task to do so.

However, these machines are pieces of pop culture and video game industry history. Just as memorabilia from films, television and various sports have seen efforts to save and preserve their history over time, video games are finally starting to see signs of a preservation effort.

The efforts of groups such as Southern California’s Videogame History Museum and New Hampshire’s American Classic Arcade Museum should be noted for being among the first in the country to take serious steps in this direction as well as many individual collectors across the country such as New Jersey’s Richie Knucklez and Cat DeSpira in the Pacific Northwest.

In time, such efforts may turn the question from “What happened to them all?” to “Did you see all that are left?”

Two more NES prototypes hit online auctions

Two more NES prototypes hit online auctions

Two more NES prototypes hit online auctions

In the wake of the prototype cartridge of The Legend of Zelda selling for a record $55,000 comes two more eBay listings for rare production cartridges for the Nintendo Entertainment System.

Both items are listed by Mark Nolan, a noted prototype collector of video games from this time period.

The first cartridge is a sample copy of the pack-in cartridge that came with the NES Power Set containing Super Mario Bros.Duck Hunt and World Class Track Meet, a game designed for use with the Power Pad, an early example of a video game motion controller. The opening bid sees a “Buy It Now” price tag of $200,000 with the option to make an offer.

The other cartridge is graded and comes with a certificate of authenticity. It is listed as a prototype version of a cartridge titled Arcadia VI, a multi-game cart. A page on website Unseen64.netshows more about this prototype and confirms the seller as co-owner of the only known example. The “Buy It Now” price for this item is currently $100,000, also with the option to make an offer.

“Just incredible to suddenly see such a treasure trove of rarities start coming out onto the market in such a big way,” said Nintendo collectibles expert Kelly R. Flewin of Winnipeg, Manitoba. “People are going to look double time when going to a flea market or garage sale in hopes they luck out with a treasure like that.”

Both auctions are listed to close early next week unless the “Buy It Now” prices are met or offers made on the items are accepted by the seller.

Legend of Zelda prototype sells for $55,000

Legend of Zelda prototype sells for 55000

Legend of Zelda prototype sells for $55,000

prototype version of the all-time classic The Legend of Zelda grabbed many headlines over the past week. Now it looks to have grabbed a record price for a Nintendo game collectible.

The eBay auction for the rare cartridge has ended with the accepted offer of $55,000, setting a record for the highest sale price ever for a Nintendo Entertainment System title. According to seller Tom Curtin, the offer price was not the only factor in his choice to sell.

“I care about the collecting community and giving it a good home was important,” he said. “I feel as though that was accomplished. It was also important getting prototype video game collecting into the news. It is amazing what is out there in released and unrealesed protos.”

According to Curtin, he is under a non-disclosure with the anonymous buyer, who obtained the item for just over a third of the original listing price of $150,000.

“I am satisfied,” said Curtin. “Do I think it’s worth more? Yes. There was no way I was taking less than the previous world record. The fact that it remained in tact over the last 25 years is amazing. The legacy of this cart and how it came into the hands of the previous owner is incredible.”

While the prototype Zelda cartridge may now reside at a new address, Curtin says he is happy to have owned it while he did.

“Amazing to play something that was in the hands of the Zelda dev team,” he stated. “I simply cannot describe it. I played this with my brother as a kid, for hours and ours as many of us did. To own the cart that brought this to America was a dream.”

Curtin also wished to express his gratitude for those who have worked to preserve these unique pieces of Nintendo history.

“I definitely cannot thank Jason Wilson, Mark Nolan, and Matt Nolan enough,” he added. “They had the foresight to go after these prototypes years and years ago. They preserved important pieces of gaming history. I think between this and the release of Ecstasy of Order the video game community is getting some much needed love. We are not a bunch of geeks sitting around glued to the boob tube, we are normal everyday people celebrating something that makes us happy.”

Ecstasy of Order now on DVD

Ecstasy of Order now on DVD

Ecstasy of Order now on DVD

Ecstasy of Order: The Tetris Masters, a documentary film about the 2010 Classic TetrisWorld Championship, is now available on DVD.

The film, which has won a number of film festival awards since starting on the circuit last year, has ties starting with the 1990 Nintendo World Championships and leads up to the 2010 California event that invited many of the current day Tetris champions to compete, including Robin MiharaJonas Neubauer and Harry Hong.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yTK6MnPa8Zo[/youtube]

“It’s a bit surreal to see it actually happen,” 1990 NintendoWorld Champion Thor Aackerlund said of the DVD release. “I’ll always be really impressed with the spectacular amount of work and cooperation it took to get it done. It was truly a community and passion built project.”

To celebrate the release, special screenings will be taking place in Los Angeles on Monday, July 23 and in New York City on Thursday, July 26. Tickets to these screenings can be purchased here.

The DVD, available via direct order, can be purchased here. The film will also join a variety of on-demand streaming services on August 21.

“It’s an incredible story of player versus machine, himself and herself and each other,” Tetrischamp Ben Mullen said. “It charts the stories of the best Tetris players in a manner which is truthful, exciting and heart-pounding at times.”

A review of a pre-release copy can be found here. More about the film can be learned on the official movie website at www.EcstasyOfOrder.com.

Joust turns 30

Joust

Joust turns 30

The early 1980s marked a huge boom period for the video game industry. As a result, many of the iconic classics of that time seem to be reaching major anniversaries in rapid-fire succession.

The latest to reach the 30 year milestone is Joust, the unique 1982 title from former arcade powerhouse Williams Electronics. According to government trademark records the first appearance of the title was on July 16, 1982.

Created by John Newcomer, the game of Joust put the player in control of an ostrich-riding knight. The object of the game was the turn away the challenges of numerous enemy knights, also riding the odd birds through levels with several platforms. From time to time an almost unbeatable pterodactyl would join into the frantic pace of the game.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kkxY9_dZFI8[/youtube]

The two-player feature helped Joust make an impact in the coin box at arcades across the country. While the ability for numerous players to play together has been a common feature in arcades for some time, in 1982 it was quite the novelty for two players to be able to play at the same time. Adding to the feature were offers of bonus points on certain levels, some of which encouraged teamwork and others that encouraged direct competition.

While the classic has been long removed from most surviving arcade locations today, Kansas City gamer Lonnie McDonald has been bouncing across the country for the past year in an effort to post a high score of 9,999,999 points on every surviving Joust machine he can find. So far on his tour he has hit over 60 different Joustmachines, including one in placed in the former location of a historic arcade just days before the 30th birthday date.

“I have met some cool folks along the way,” he said in a previous interview. “Played with current world champs; seen Joust machines in homes, bars, arcades and museums. I’m not as fast or as handsome or thin, but I am wiser and more strategic. On the other hand when you win 500 free guys you can play silly if you want to.”

Spelunky

Spelunky-gameplay screenshot

I don’t often do game reviews. I certainly wasn’t planning to do one when I first downloaded Spelunky for XBox Live Arcade when it came out on July 4. However, after becoming totally addicted to the game I feel compelled to do just that. This game is something special.

Spelunky, written by Derek Yu, originally appeared in 2009 as a freeware game for Microsoft Windows. The game will instantly take veteran gamers back in time with a 16-bit console feel and music soundtrack and side-view platformer style. The object of the game is to take your adventurer through four different environments full of challenging enemies, booby traps and random surprises.

Spelunky-gameplay screenshot

Along the way there are various treasures to tempt you. Collecting these are not required to complete a level but are required to run up the score and to ensure you can purchase items when you find a shop. The player is armed with bombs that can blow holes in the floors and walls and ropes to help reach high places.

Health is scarce in Spelunky. You begin with four hearts, all of which can be quickly lost in countless ways on each level. More hearts can be gained by rescuing “damsels” hidden in each stage, but doing so requires carrying her all the way to the exit.

Spelunky-gameplay screenshot

The charm of Spelunky comes with a unique combination of familiarity and surprise. It somehow borrows elements from numerous classic titles while managing to throw curveballs at almost any turn. That treasure chest or clay pot you just busted open could be full of treasure, helpful items or enemies. Picking up a valuable treasure might trigger a trap. Adding to the surprise factor are random levels. While each world has four levels to pass, the levels appear at random from a far larger pool, sometimes adding in total darkness or zombies as well.

Spelunky-gameplay screenshot

Spelunky is also an incredible challenge, yet somehow contains enough balance to remain charming. Personally, I am reminded of the very balance that hooked me on games like Lode Runner in the 1980s and the original Prince of Persia in the 1990s. Spelunky joins those titles on a short list of platformer games that have driven me just insane enough to demand that I have to try again, knowing that I’ll do better on my next go-around, only to dodge my previous mistake in favor of making a new one. Passing a level is extremely satisfying, even if you didn’t get any further than you have before by doing so.

Spelunky-gameplay screenshot

There is also an element of risk versus reward that exists in very few games of this kind. You will often find yourself at the end of the level, able to simply exit the door and move on, but tempted by trying to gain just a little more treasure stashed nearby. If you pull it off it is quite a thrill, but more often than not you’ll simply end up losing valuable health or finding sudden death, wondering afterward why you didn’t just leave while you could. Greed can also be costly due to time. Taking a page from 1980 arcade classic Berzerk, lingering too long on a stage will bring out an invincible enemy (a ghost in this case) that will end your point-pressing attempt cold if it catches you.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Caj23gbl0n8[/youtube]

All told, Spelunky is easily the most addicting and charming game I’ve come across on XBLA to date. I know people often hesitate on grabbing a game for 1200 Microsoft Points, especially if it doesn’t have a household name attached to it, but in this case it is more than worth the price. Spelunky is as addictive as it is challenging and will provide hours of entertainment before you’ve even realize you’ve been playing for hours. A must-buy.

Mythbusting six common video game trivia mistakes

Mythbusting six common video game trivia mistakes

Welcome to the return of Know Your History, a feature column that aims to cover proper video game history. Normally, an edition of Know Your History would compare past history to current headlines in an effort to put current topics into proper perspective. This week, however, the aim is to correct a number of video game history facts that I either seen often or have recently run across.

With that said, let us get started with one of the longest running mistakes I’ve seen.

– Pong was NOT the first coin-operated video game.

know your history

A lot of people think and commonly publish that Pong was the first arcade video game. This mistake is incredibly common and with good reason, as I’ve found this mistake printed in video game publications as far back as the late 1970s. While the first successful coin-operated arcade video game, Pongwas not the first, nor was Computer Space, Nolan Bushnell’s first attempt at bringing one to market.

Galaxy Game actually gets the title of being the first coin-operated arcade video game. This space battle game appeared on the campus of Stanford University in 1971, at least two months before Computer Space and almost a full year before Pong.

– The Pac-Man ghosts only have one name each, not two.

know your history

Another long-running mistake is the misconception that the monsters in the original Pac-Man have two names each, such as Character: Shadow, Nickname: Blinky. This is incorrect.

The term of “Character” on these screens is not attempting to list a name but to describe the personality traits of that monster. As top Pac-Man players know, each of the four monsters has a different AI than the others. The “two names” on the title screen are attempting to point that out with one word each, probably losing something in translation.

The original Japanese listings under “Character” paint the picture a little better, with the red ghost described as Oikake (“to pursue”), the pink ghost as Machibuse (“to ambush”), the blue ghost as Kimagure (“moody”) and the orange ghost as Otoboke (“pretending ignorance”).

Compare those “Character” listings to the American versions and they make a little more sense. The character term of “Pokey” (Clyde) is describing him as “a little slow in the head” or something similar.

Make no mistake, the monsters have only one name each: Blinky, Pinky, Inky and Clyde.

– Mario was NOT named Jumpman during production of Donkey Kong.

know your history

Another very common error, despite being easy to disprove with a quick Google search. I’ve heard people tell me that “Jumpman” was the name for Mario in the original Donkey Kong arcade game, with some going so far as to tell me he wasn’t even named Mario until Donkey Kong Junior or even the original Mario Bros.

None of this is quite correct. While it is true that Mario’s working name was Jumpman, and that the instructions on the original arcade version do call him that, the name of Mario came along before Nintendo was even pushing Donkey Kong machines out the door. The original advertising flyer, released at the time the game was released, refers to the character as Mario numerous times.

While Jumpman was almost the character’s name at this time, he was referred to as Mario far earlier than most websites claim and throughout all the merchandising released for the game.

– Sega Channel was NOT the first online console gaming.

know your history

Sega might have claimed this at the time of their short-lived online console service, but to do so would mean ignoring GameLine for the Atari 2600 and PlayCable for the Intellivision console, both from the early 1980s.

– Wolfenstein 3D was NOT the first of the first-person shooters.

know your history

Saw this error listed a lot during Wolfenstein 3D‘s recent anniversary. Numerous mainstream media reports called the classic the first-ever first person shooter, a fact that is nowhere near accurate, as there were numerous others that came before it.

The first is often credited to 1974’s Maze War, which is shown in the slideshow for this column.

– Oh, Guinness Book, how could you make this error?

know your history

I like the Guinness World Records: Gamer’s Edition books, and not just because I’m listed in them every year. I enjoy the great cross-section of gaming that is covered inside.

However, the 2012 edition lists a pretty harsh error on page 202, calling WWF WrestleMania for the NES the “first wrestling video game” in the bottom left corner. How this was not fact checked is a huge mystery, as this 1988 title wasn’t even the first pro wrestling game on the Nintendo console, nor was it the first WWF title to market, either, which would be Micro-League Wrestling.

Numerous popular pro wrestling games came out going as far back as 1983, including Tag Team Wrestling, Mat Mania and Mania Challenge in the arcades and Pro Wrestling on the NES. How did this error make the book?

Then again, this isn’t the only error I noted in the book this year. Page 47 attributes a quote and some information about Galaga champion Andrew Laidlaw as coming from “local newspapers” when, in fact, that quote and information was obtained and first written by me, the person who broke the story to the mainstream media. Click here and see for yourself.

These are just a handful of the common video game history errors out there, but some of the most common. Hopefully this article can go a long way toward helping fix these misconceptions.

Arcade classic Donkey Kong Junior is turning 30

One of video gaming’s most unlikely heroes is turning 30.

Donkey Kong Junior

Arcade classic Donkey Kong Junior is turning 30

Donkey Kong Junior had some big shoes to fill in 1982 as the sequel to Nintendo‘s first hit game, Donkey Kong. In a unique role-reversal, Mario was now the villain of the story as the son of the original antagonist fought through a maze of jungle vines and moving platforms in an effort to save his father.

According to trademark filings, Donkey Kong Junior first appeared publically on June 30, 1982. The suffix in the title was spelled as “Jr.” in Japan but “Junior” in North America. Later home releases moved toward the shorter version, appearing as “Donkey Kong Jr.” Despite the original longer version of the name the shorter suffix is the most common spelling of the game title worldwide.

Donkey Kong Junior Arcade

“I remember Donkey Kong Junior getting a lot of attention in the arcades,” said Mark Kiehl, the all-time high score champion on the arcade classic. “People were excited about a sequel to Donkey Kong.”

The DKJ arcade unit went on to sell 30,000 machines in North America and see releases on every major home platform of the day. It also saw a great deal of exposure on television as one of the key games in a nationally aired arcade game contest, a breakfast cereal and even a Saturday morning cartoon short as part of the Saturday Supercade series on CBS.

Donkey Kong Junior Mini Arcade

In the later 1980s, Junior was among the list of launch titles for the very successful Nintendo Entertainment System. The game was part of a short-run reissue arcade game from Namco in 2005 included alongside the original game and Mario Bros.

“To this day it’s still a staple game for collectors and retro arcade operators to own,” Kiehl added. “It had a lot of staying power.”

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M1KrrnBJ0Vs[/youtube]

Take a look at the video montage to experience some of the mainstream media love given to young Donkey Kong Junior in the early 1980s and post your thoughts and memories of the classic arcade game below.

Goin’ Out West: Running the gauntlet at E3 2012

Goin’ Out West: Running the gauntlet at E3 2012

E3 2012 has come and gone, bringing forth tons of people, announcements, events and bleary-eyed game journalists who haven’t had a real meal in a week.

I was not among them.  While I attended the full event this year I did not go to cover it.  There are easily tens of thousands of others who went to do just that, so I chose not to.  I went with my other professional priorities in mind instead, leaving the thousands of blogs about the new Call of Dutygame or Nintendo‘s press conference to others.  I do not classify myself as a gaming journalist nor is reporting and writing all that I do in gaming.

e3_2012

That being said there seems to be expectations from followers of my columns here and social media.  Several e-mails have been asking me where my coverage is, despite numerous public statements that I was not going to E3 to report on it.  Only now am I writing this in an attempt to satiate those who seem to expect it while also showing what I was really out there to do.

Therefore this E3 column will be different as I provide short stories and thoughts on my adventures in Los Angeles this year.

Tuesday, June 5 –

e3_2012

I always skip the Monday press conferences, knowing whatever I missed can quickly be watched from a comfortable chair later and knowing whatever is shown is going to be seen when I walk the floor anyway.  I rolled into the event on Tuesday morning instead.

Got to walk the floor very little on Tuesday as I caught up with business contacts and potential business contacts along with some friends.  Notable moment came from the VIP area atop the Microsoft booth when I met Philadelphia Eagles wide reciever DeSean Jackson.  He is as tiny in person as he is fast on the field, but quite friendly.  No, I did not let him know I’m a Dallas Cowboys fan.

Wednesday, June 6 –

e3_2012

Hit E3 early this day to meet-up with veteran video game journalist Rusel DeMaria, a man who has been writing about video games longer than a lot of the gaming media in attendence have been playing.  Also got to catch up with Spy Hunter world champion Paul Dean, who is always an interesting guy to talk to.

The most interesting portion of the day for me started late afternoon as the Los Angeles Kings fans began to arrive to the area.  A lot of tension existed in the area that day, as if the Kings won the Stanley Cup that night there may have been quite a moment in an area surrounded by other video game events.

Met up with Twin Galaxies founder Walter Day at the Nokiato help him out with some stuff he needed to do for the Video Games Live event taking place there that night.  This became a point for multi-tasking, as the VIP party for VGL was going on at the same time as the red carpet premiere of the film noobz at the theatre down the street.  After becoming one of the few people on earth to see exactly how Billy Mitchell primps his hair a group of us walked from the Nokia and past a sea of hockey fans and alert LAPD to the red carpet premiere.

e3_2012

It was a while before our turn to walk to red carpet, where actor/producer Blake Freeman was presented with a historic award and trading card for the film.  I have to look for footage of a media interview with actor Ron Livingston to see if my accidental blurting out of “Holy ****, the guy from Office Space!” can be heard.  Exactly 45 minutes late for the Video Games Live party we had to skip the screening of the film and head for the door.

As soon as he hit the front door of the theatre, Walter Daysuddenly ran off at a full sprint.  I turned around to see the rest of our group had not yet caught up with us, then back to see Walter still running at a surprisingly high speed.  Not knowing what else to do I took off after him, as a 63-year-old man in a referee uniform shouldn’t run through a pack of hockey fans alone.

We plowed through the barricades in front of the Nokia as I tried to keep up with Walter.  He ran right into the main theatre with me after him as people we starting to take their seats.  I truly hope someone out there got cellphone video of me and Walter Day’s run through the streets of Downtown Los Angeles.  If you do, please post it or send it to me.  It has to be quite a sight.

Plopping down in the Video Games Live VIP party I noticed two things.  I was sweating half to death and the godfather of video games himself, Nolan Bushnell, was sitting 5 feet from me.  Was an honor to finally meet him, even if I was short of breath at the time.

Also glad that the LA Kings lost that night.  Not only was I not prepared to spend the night in a riot scene but a popular story subject in this space, Rachel Lara, might have been a red skidmark on the pavement outside if they had.  Luckily she arrived through the exiting hockey fans in tact that night.

Thursday, June 8 –

e3_2012

This day marked the first day of the event that I actually got to play anything.  To sum that up, those who complain that football games are the same thing every year will find the new physics in Madden NFL 13 really do change the feel of the game in a big way and that I think Nintendo’s Wii U will catch on well with those that made the original Wii a big success.

A great surprise came to me this morning as me and Walter Day met up at the Nintendo booth along with Guinness World Records’ Gaz Deaves to present Isaiah Triforce Johnson with awards for his successful attempts at being the first-in-line to purchase numerous Nintendo consoles at launch.  The surprise came in the form of Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime along with a photo op alongside him.  Quite a hard fellow to get to, it was a fun thing to happen to me, even if the photos I saw later claimed I was Gaz Deaves.  I can’t quite imagine him with my haircut.

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Later hit the G4tv set for Walter to present Nikole Zivalichwith an award as well only to have the fun surprise of getting one myself while there.

For the rest of the event I got to walk the floor with Walter Day, meet up with some more folks and end up in more cellphone photos than I can count.  Ironically, despite not going to E3 to report on it I ended up meeting more people and becoming more exhausted than I have at any previous E3 event.  I am also still catching up on the trailers I actually failed to find the time to see while out there.

e3_2012

Quite a fun time overall, and the slideshow to the left will show some of these very adventures.  If anyone reading this also has photos or videos of the happenings mentioned here please Tweet them to me @OriginalPSP or send them to my website at PatrickScottPatterson.com.

In the meantime I rest in this window between E3 and ComicCon as I hope and pray for no more downtown street runs.

Know Your History: Call of Duty critics should note the Pac-Man run of 1982

Welcome to the first edition of Know Your History, a new regular feature in this space.

know your history

Consumer market video games have existed for more than 40 years now, and with such a milestone comes a great deal of history.  Many of the current topics in video gaming can be compared to events of the past but are often treated as if they are first-time happenings.  This column aims to draw on the history of the industry and culture as it relates to current hot topics in the gaming world.

With the recent announcement of Call of Duty: Black Ops II, critics of the best-selling CoD series have been quite vocal.  They state that a new Call of Duty game each year is simply too much and that each game doesn’t bring enough new material or changes in gameplay.

30 years ago there was a popular game series that drew the same criticisms in time.  Eager to follow up on the record-breaking success of Pac-Man, Bally Midway brought not one, not two, not three but FOUR new Pac-Man games to the arcades of 1982.

Ms Pac-Man 1982

Ms. Pac-Man started the march of sequels.  Released in January 1982, this first Pac-Man follow-up added more colors, moving fruit and multiple mazes to the popular Pac-Manformula and took the top of the arcade earnings chart with ease.

Super Pac-Man

Super Pac-Man was the first Namco-produced sequel and came out later in the year.  Adding gates and keys, bonus rounds and a super pill to the maze chase concept, Super Pac came on strong at first but quickly slid off the earnings charts.

Pac-Man Plus

Pac-Man Plus was an upgrade kit for existing Pac-Manmachines in need of an earnings boost, released by Midway after pressure from arcade operators who were facing legal action for installing “enhancement kits” from other sources in order to twart the patterns players had developed for the original game.

Baby Pac-Man Pinball

Baby Pac-Man rounded out the 1982 Pac-Man games by attempting to merge a maze video game with a small pinball machine.  The game failed to make much of a splash and is difficult to locate today.

Call of Duty critics might point at this and note that frequent sequels is far from a new concept in the world of video gaming and has actually moved far faster in the past.  Two more Pac-Man-related arcade titles came out in 1983 as well.

Also worth note is the fact that historians blame Super Pac-Man‘s quick fade from popularity to be due to the massive changes in the basic Pac-Man gameplay concept.  Ms. Pac-Man, however, changed little to the basic concept of the game and simply added new screens and features while running on the hardware of the previous game.  Ms. Pac-Mansold a record number of arcade machines in the United States and continues to hold the record to the modern day.  Ms. Pac-Man machines can still be found in many locations across the country, the only one of the four 1982 Pac sequels to do so.

While annual releases to popular game titles may seem like a topic of note to the gaming world of today, it doesn’t mean it is a new concept when one knows their history.

Trials Evolution

The much anticipated Trials Evolution has finally been released on XBox Live.  The sequel to the very popular 2009 title Trials HD, fans had high expectations for this motorcycle stunt game and will be pleased to learn it is everything it needed it to be.

trials-evolution-box

Trials Evolution finds the perfect balance between rehashing the same formula from before and remaking the game to the point it loses the charm of the original.  The game instantly feels like the original in your hands but quickly stuns with amazing new graphic detail and personality.  Very few video games have ever successfully managed to make such a deep improvement while retaining everything that made the original popular as well as this one has.

Trials-Evolution_gameplay-screenshot

Perhaps drawing inspiration from some of the user-created levels of the original, Trials Evolution uses obstacles and environments in far more creative ways than the original.  Even the earliest tracks have a more “extreme” feel to them while later tracks add elevators, moving cars and over-the-top explosions like never before.

trials_evolution_gameplay

Those that missed the original Trials HD will find quick tutorials to help them pull off various moves.  The Single Player levels increase in difficulty in a balanced manner and should provide players of all skill levels a fair level of challenge throughout.

Trials-Evolution_gameplay-screenshot

The level editor mode has grown by leaps and bounds and comes in two flavors:  a basic mode and a more advanced editor.  Both versions allow for an exponential amount more than the original Trials HD editor did while somehow still managing to be easy to learn and use.  This feature alone makes the purchase price of 1200 Microsoft points a bargain.

Trials-Evolution_gameplay-screenshot

The multiplayer mode provides the only real issue thus far.  At the time of this review, online matchmaking was taking several minutes at a time and would fail altogether on many attempts.  Once in a game, however, it ran flawlessly and could easily become a serious competition for many XBox Live fans.  Be aware if you lag behind the rest of the pack the camera will turn toward you once the race has finished, putting all eyes on your efforts to complete the track.  Hopefully the matchmaking issues can be remedied quickly.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=43tj8X7dQ2s[/youtube]

All in all, Trials Evolution is easily the best XBLA game released in quite some time.  Such a deep gaming experience is rarely seen in a downloadable title and should provide hundreds of hours of play.  A must-buy for all gamers.

Atari’s XE Game System

A lot of notable anniversaries in video game history will take place during the course of the year.  Others may not be as notable, as we’ll learn about today.

Atari XEGS

The Atari XE Game System (XEGS) turns 25 years old this year, a date that most industry experts might not notice.  Thanks to the efforts of Nintendo and a series of new hits in the arcades the video game industry had come roaring back in 1987.  Former industry king Atari wanted a piece of it, and tried in several different ways.

After re-releasing the original Atari 2600 as a value priced system and shipping the previously cancelled Atari 7800 product from warehouses, Atari introduced the XEGS in 1987.  Little more than a redressed Atari 8-bit personal computer, the XEGS aimed directly at Nintendo in television commercials, touting it’s own lightgun and items such as keyboard, disc drive and joystick.

The XEGS also boasted of a huge library of games available for play due to backward compatibility with previous Atari products.  While technically true, the game library was deeply aged by the time the XEGS hit store shelves.  Most of the XE branded games in stores were simply repackaged Atari computer game titles while others were translations of other home computer licenses as Nintendo had exclusive deals signed for almost every other arcade hit.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xZ2xuoSkv2Q[/youtube]

The Nintendo Entertainment System had gained more than 90 percent of the market by 1988, leaving the XEGS in the dust along with Atari’s other product.  It wasn’t the last time Atari took aim at Nintendo, however.  Years later Atari would introduce it’s own handheld system, the Lynx, to compete with Nintendo’s GameBoy.  In 1993 they also introduced the 64-bit Jaguar, the last new console released by the legendary Atari.

Despite a short run, the XEGS and games can be found on eBay and other online sites fairly easily today.

Does upcoming film help gaming or further stereotype it?

After more than 30 years in gaming, I have always found the different ways gaming is portrayed in the mainstream interesting.  Sometimes I find humor in it, sometimes it’s made me mad and still other times it has made me shake my head.

Today’s gaming culture is far gone from the “kids thing” it used to be painted as, even if a great deal of the mainstream media still paints it that way.  With celebrities becoming more involved and museums recognizing video gaming history, it could be said that gaming culture has finally reached the same level of respect as other forms of entertainment such as television and film.

Noobz-Movie-Poster

This summer a video gaming film is set to debut.  Noobz, a film about a gaming team heading off to a major gaming tournament, is set to make it’s worldwide debut on June 6 at the Nokia Theatre, right as the E3 Expo is in town.

Upon watching the trailer I am given mixed emotions.  Some of it made me chuckle a little, such as the little kid on the other end of the XBox headset, the team name being spelled as “riegn” (the type of horrible misspelling one cannot play a game online without coming across), and a little homage to classic arcade gaming.

However, I can’t help but feel this film also pushes stereotypes of video gamers that simply don’t apply to the majority of gamers today.  The film seems to feature a number of foul-mouthed little kids, girlfriends that hate games and bash their boyfriends for playing them and loudmouthed stoner types that simply have nothing else to do.

I feel I speak for a large number of gamers out there when I say I tired of the “video gamers are basement dwelling virgins” stereotype a long time ago.  As a happily married man and father of two children, I can tell you firsthand that I know more die-hard gamers just like me, with families and an awareness of the world around them.  My wife is also a gamer, something else that is pretty common these days as well.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TB1zJU08IiA[/youtube]

Basically, I’m mixed.  I want to say that anything that puts gaming center stage is a good thing for gaming culture, but I’m also reminded that this isn’t the first time I felt this kind of embarassment as well.  I was annoyed at how The Wizard and Video Power portrayed gamers back in the day and have a similar gut feeling about Noobz now.  The trailer reminds me more of why I started going into private party chats on Call of Duty instead of listening to the main lobby.

Therefore I am opening up the floor for discussion about this one.  Please take a moment to watch the trailer to your left and comment below or contact me via Twitter or direct message if you like.

Is Noobz a good thing for gaming culture, or does it base itself off of too many gaming stereotypes?

 

Angry Birds Space

Angry Birds Space - Gameplay Screenshot

In space, nobody can hear you scream.  However, the sound of an angry bird shot from a slingshot in space is already being heard worldwide.

The original Angry Birds has proven to be the most mainstream video game hit since Pac-Man barnstormed across the planet over three decades ago.  One would be hard-pressed to walk into any retail store in the country and not find Angry Birds merchandise or turn on the television without seeing a reference to the popular app and video game.

Angry Birds Space - Gameplay Screenshot

Now the first true sequel to the pop culture phenom, Angry Birds Space, has hit Apple and Android devices, as well as PC and Mac computers.

Iconic games of the past have sometimes struggled with sequels.  The original Tetris has proven a more popular game than any of it’s later follow-ups, while most Pac-Man sequels also fell short of the original.  Ms. Pac-Man was the exception to the rule, proving successful in large part for managing to take everything that made the first Pac-Man popular and enhancing it with new features.

Angry Birds Space - Gameplay Screenshot

Angry Birds Space manages to do what Ms. Pac did decades before.  Ten million downloads in the first three days of release show others feel the same.  The new title successfully enhances the classic gameplay formula that made the original such an unqualified success.

Fans of the original Angry Birds and it’s spin-offs will be able to instantly recognize how to play Angry Birds Space.  The extra challenge of various types of gravity now exists in various ways.  Some levels will require the player to put a bird into orbit in order to reach the enemy pigs (who are now apparently “pigs in space”).  Others require knocking your adversaries out of orbit and down to the surface of nearby planets and moons.  Still others provide the challenge of knocking space junk or asteroids into the green pigs in order to move on to the next level.

Angry Birds Space - Gameplay Screenshot

New birds join your ranks as well, some of which can be detonated by another touch of the screen while in flight and others that can be split into three flying foul with an extra tap.  As with the original Angry Birds the timing and angle of your shots are key, but with the varied ways Angry Birds Space uses gravity and obstacles each level requires a different approach than the previous and often prove far less predictable.

The hype surrounding this new title is justified.  Much like the aforementioned Ms. Pac-ManAngry Birds Space doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel, taking everything that worked about the original and improving upon it.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CIQehovBZF4[/youtube]

Go ahead and throw down your 99 cents, charge up your smartphone all the way and set aside more than a little free time.  Angry Birds Space is an instant classic.

 

What is gaming’s ‘Greatest Generation’?

Legendary journalist Tom Brokaw coined the term “the Greatest Generation” in 1998 to describe what he felt was the most important generation in American history.  What generation deserves that tag in video gaming history seems to be up for debate.

video-game_Generation

Over the past several years I have seen and dealt with players who will put the topic up for constant debate.  I have seen classic arcade gamers refer to anything console as “lame” and unimportant in comparison, even going so far as to note the NES as the death of their generation instead of the massive industry crash years before it.  I have seen modern gamers question the loyalty of the classic gaming fans and I’ve seen every generation inbetween sing the virtues of their preferred generations of gaming.

Last Friday’s article noting that all three modern consoles have now surpassed the Nintendo Entertainment System in lifetime sales figures saw some pro-NES fans go on the defensive, even acting as if the statistics were being used to somehow downplay the importance of the NES or claim modern console superiority.   A puzzling yet interesting response that led me to open the floor up for debate on this very topic.

What do you think is the “Greatest Generation” in video gaming?  To help with the discussion I’ve broken down the generations below.

* Pre-History Era (pre-1971) – Games such as Spacewar proved popular on major university campuses, but no consumer video game products existed yet.

* Consumer Era (1971-1977) – Video games became available to consumers in both coin-op form and home products that could be hooked up to television sets.  Few games truly caught on during this time, however.

* Boom Era (1978-1983) – Video games arrived in a big way starting with Space Invaders and went deep into the mainstream in both coin-op and home console form.  Arcade machines set sales records that still stand today.  However, this generation was unable to sustain itself.  After sliding in 1982 the industry began an unstoppable downward spiral in 1983.

* Crash Era (1984-1986) – The video game briefly joins the list of dead fads as most arcade locations close and retailers refuse to carry any video game products.  Personal computer gaming managed to thrive.  The Nintendo Entertainment System came along toward the end of this era and gained some steam…

* NES Era (1987-1990) – Nintendo’s console dominated the home console scene while surviving arcade locations stabilized behind strong titles not yet available for home play.  While the NES manages to more than double the lifetime sales of the Atari 2600, other consoles struggle.  Handheld gaming comes to be, starting with Nintendo’s GameBoy.  Video games are still considered “toys” by the media as the decade ends.

* Nineties Era (1991-1999) – The 16-bit console wars split the gaming audience between Nintendo and Sega but increase the overall scale of the industry.  Arcades see a semi-comeback behind popular fighting and sports titles.  Consumers were unable to keep up with the majority of new console product, however, until Sony’s PlayStation comes along, becoming the first console in history to sell more than 100 million units.

* Millenium Generation (2000-2006) – The PlayStation 2 comes out to product shortages and an eBay frenzy, eventually trumping the lifetime sales of the first PlayStation.  Microsoft’s XBox brings new blood into the marketplace while Sega bows out.  Nintendo finally moves on with the introduction of new handhelds, continuing their dominance in that area but struggling to regain the top spot with traditional consoles. Video games leave consumer toy labels into electronics and entertainment labels.

* Modern Generation (2007-present) – The Nintendo Wii brings the Big N back to the top of the traditional console market with motion control.  The PlayStation 3 stumbles out of the gate but helps Sony’s Blu Ray win the disc format war.  The XBox 360 brings Microsoft ahead of Sony in the console race.  The Nintendo DS blows past the lifetime GameBoy sales numbers while all three traditional consoles reach the top five best selling consoles ever.  Numerous titles break all-time gaming sales figures.

Latest sales figures show all three modern consoles now top lifetime NES sales

xbox 360, playstation 3, nintendo wii

Latest sales figures show all three modern consoles now top lifetime NES sales

The Nintendo Entertainment System defied the odds as the 1980s came to a close.  Released in a video game market that American retailers had written off as a fad, the NES not only revived the gaming entertainment industry but set sales figures that blew away the earlier console generation and the previous king, the Atari 2600.

The NES lifetime sales figure of  61.91 million consoles became the biggest prize for anything released after it.  Going into the current crop of gaming consoles, only two consoles ever topped the lofty mark set by the NES:  the original PlayStation and the PlayStation 2.

Now, according to sales-tracking website VGChartz.com the PlayStation 3 has now also topped the lofty NES numbers.  Not only does this put all three PlayStation consoles into the top five best-selling consoles of all-time, but it also means the PS3 joins the Nintendo Wii and XBox 360 in that short list.  All three modern consoles have now topped the NES lifetime sales figures, a first for any console generation in history. (Author’s note: All three consoles have also topped the NES software sales figures, according to the same website.)

“It was just a matter of time before gaming became so popular that the modern big three topped the original console that revitalized the gaming industry,” said Eric Cummings, founder of the group Gaming World Wide.  “I’m happy about it.  It means that the industry has really arrived.”

Another gamer who remains an NES player to this day provided similar thoughts.

“I feel this is proof that gaming is more than just people who play games,” said Eric Perez, host of The 8-Bit Eric Show.  “It is part of a worldwide culture.  The fact that three separate consoles have outsold what I feel was the pioneer of revitalizing gaming shows that the industry is in great shape.  The Nintendo Entertainment System will forever hold it’s place in history, but this is also history in the making.  The next generation of consoles will be something to watch.”

The Top Ten Selling Game Consoles of All-Time (source: combined data from VGChartz.com and Wikipedia listings.  Excludes handheld gaming devices.  All stats are as of date of this article’s publishing.)

1.  PlayStation 2 (Sony, 2000) – 153.68 million units

2.  PlayStation (Sony, 1994) – 104.25 million units

3.  Wii (Nintendo, 2006) – 95.25 million units

4.  XBox 360 (Microsoft, 2005) – 65.80 million units

5.  PlayStation 3 (Sony, 2006) – 62.11 million units

6.  Nintendo Entertainment System (Nintendo, 1983, 1985) – 61.91 million units

7.  Super Nintendo Entertainment System (Nintendo, 1990) – 49.10 million units

8.  Mega Drive / Genesis (Sega, 1988, 1989) – 39 million units

9.  Nintendo 64 (Nintendo, 1996) – 32.93 million units

10. Atari 2600 / VCS (Atari, 1977, 1985) – 30 million units

 

Veteran gaming author turns to Kickstarter to update video game history book

Veteran video game author Rusel DeMaria wants a third edition of High Score!: The Illustrated History of Electronic Games.  Fans of his previous work and gaming history have a chance to help.

High Score

Veteran gaming author turns to Kickstarter to update video game history book

The first and second editions of High Score were released last decade and were well-received by critics and gaming fans alike.  DeMaria now wants to do an updated third edition and has turned to a Kickstarter project to get it off the ground.

“I hate the fact that the book is out of print,” he said.  “I know there are a lot of video game history books out, and many of them are very good, but High Score is special, especially for its emphasis on graphics and showing the story in pictures as well as words.”

DeMaria is pledging to reward his Kickstarter backers with opportunities to meet some of the biggest industry names in gaming history.  Lunches with luminaries such as Trip Hawkins and Will Wright are up for grabs for reaching certain donation levels.

“There were people who were at first reluctant to participate in the book for personal reasons. In the case of Trip Hawkins, he wanted to save all the material for his own book,” DeMaria recalled.  “I was able somehow to convince him that he wasn’t done yet and it was too soon for him to write his memoires. And so there I was, in his beautiful house late at night. I mean I had the run of the house he and his family were sleeping upstairs. There were lots of rarities and treasures there, such as handwritten documents from John Madden and Julius Irving, but perhaps the greatest find (which I think he left out for me) was the original business plan for Electronic Arts. It was stunningly accurate. His five-year plan – amazingly bold and audacious for that time in history – was spot on. It doesn’t print all that well in the book, but it reads like a prophecy. I always respected Trip, but this made me see him as somewhat surreal in his vision.”

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CCNH9qrIzgg[/youtube]

According to DeMaria, a third edition of High Score has been discussed before but was held back by a full-time job at The Art Institute in Seattle, WA.  Presently unemployed, the long-time gaming writer said he feels now is the right time but that he cannot do it alone.

“Right now I’m unemployed, so money is a serious issue for me, which is why I turned to Kickstarter,” he said. “With financial support for a few months, I think I can improve and expand High Score and put out a great new edition. I want it to be an even better book than the original versions, with all the main material, but better. I also want to find a way to publish or e-publish the extra content that I have, because there’s a lot of it, tons of graphical material and even much longer interviews that I could share. At any rate, this seems like a perfect moment to create the new edition, improve the book and expand it to cover the last decade or so, as well. Carpe diem.”

The Kickstarter project can be found by clicking here and needs to raise $25,000 by April 4 in order to fund the project.

You can also check out the second edition of High Score on Amazon.com here.

Oklahoma’s “violent video game tax” shot down after e-mail backlash

The proposed “violent video game tax” of Oklahoma Representative Will Fourkiller is no more after hundreds of e-mails to Oklahoma’s Subcommittee on Revenue and Taxation.

William Fourkiller

Violent video game tax

With Fourkiller’s claim that video games cause violence and obesity, the proposed tax would have applied to any video game Rated T or higher on the ESRB Ratings chart.  This would have included game titles such as Zumba Fitness 2: Party Yourself Into Shape, a popular fitness title.

When asked to withdraw his tax proposal this past Monday, February 20, Rep. Fourkiller attempted to create the Oklahoma Task Force on Video Games Relationship to Obesity and Aggression.  His new proposal was also shot down.

“It was obvious that this bill singled out video games with unfair and unfounded claims, and something needed to be done,” a statement from the Video Game Voters Network said.

This column previously countered Rep. Fourkiller’s claims and was sent to his offices via e-mail and fax.  Requests for direct statements and a Skype interview to defend his claims that video games cause violence and obesity in children went unanswered.

You can read that original column here.

Patrick Scott Patterson has been a gamer since 1981, acting as a writer, technician and world record holder on several game titles. He has appeared numerous times in the yearly editions of Guinness World Records: Gamer’s Edition. In addition to writing here, Patterson has also written for Yahoo!, Twin Galaxies, VGEVO and Gameroom Magazine, and is always looking for unique and positive news to report from the video gaming world.

Site of Last Starfighter, birthplaces of Mario and Lode Runner added to registry

Three new additions have been made to the Registry of Historic Gaming Locations, a project aimed at preserving the stories of locations that have historical importance to video gaming.

The Last Starfighter

The project, which started last summer, now lists a total of 26 locations with plans to add more on a monthly basis.

The newest crop of inductions include:

– Rio Cafe & Grocery in Santa Clarita, CA – The food store where the hotshot gamer in 1984 film The Last Starfighter strutted his stuff.

– Early Nintendo Warehouse in Seattle, WA – The site where the struggling Nintendo of America built the Donkey Kong machines that saved them from bankruptcy in 1981.  This is also the warehouse owned by Mario Segale, the man rumored to be the inspiration behind the naming of Nintendo’s iconic mascot.

– Former Broderbund Software HQ in San Rafael, CA – The place that brought Lode Runner, Choplifter, Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? and Prince of Persia to life.

Some of the other 23 locations previously inducted include competitive gaming birthplace Ottumwa, IA, the original testing locations of classics such as Donkey Kong and Defender, arcade locations featured in films such as Tron, The Karate Kid and WarGames, former headquarters locations of companies such as Atari and Bally Midway and the famous landfill that saw millions of unsold Atari game cartridges dumped in 1984.

In a short time the Registry of Historic Gaming Locations has received press coverage across the world, including recent stories in Japan and Brazil.

The full Registry list, including the newest three entries, can be found at PatrickScottPatterson.com.

 

Indie Game Gems: Mr. Gravity

The Indie Game Gems feature will focus on the hidden treasures that can be found on your XBox 360 for just one dollar.  For those that don’t look up from the latest Call of Duty long enough to notice, XBox Live Indie Games contains a massive amount of games created mostly by smaller studios and downloaded for very little money.

Mr. Gravity - Indie Games - Gameplay screenshot

This section will sort through the heavily stocked shelves of XBox Live Indie Games to find the hidden gems that will provide fun well worth the low prices.

We start this regular feature with Mr. Gravity, a game developed by students at the University of Utah and released last spring.  The object of the game is to help a happy little fellow named Mr. Gravity traverse through a maze and reach his bride Mrs. Gravity, who is patiently waiting somewhere else in the maze.

Mr. Gravity - Indie Games - Gameplay screenshot

Along the way, Mr. Gravity must use the power of gravity he holds to cling to walls and avoid spikes and obstacles.  He also must collect as many gems as possible along the way, though he can complete a level without doing so.  Once he reaches his smiley wife at the end of the maze the level ends.

Mr. Gravity nails the feel of some of the earliest days of video gaming.  The concept sounds simple enough and seems easy enough at first glance, yet is difficult to master.  It doesn’t take long for the game to become quite challenging yet still manages to find a perfect balance that allows it to frustrate you just enough to make you keep trying again rather than turn it off.  I felt reminded of what hooked me on the original Lode Runner on my oldCommodore 64 in the 1980s on some of the upper levels of Mr. Gravity, as the more frustrated I grew each time a narrow move saw me crash into a spike the more I wanted to beat the dang level because I felt I could.

Mr. Gravity - Indie Games - Gameplay screenshot

At the end of each level the player is awarded stars based on their performance in the areas of gem collection, speed of completion and how many lives were needed to get to the end.  You need certain amounts of stars to unlock later worlds, giving the player a reason to go back to earlier levels again and play them in different manners in order to obtain them.

Mr. Gravity - Indie Games - Gameplay screenshot

The graphics for a game like this don’t need to be complex yet don’t need to be too simple, and Mr. Gravity nails this aspect to.  The fairly simple graphics are given a color vector look and glow, reminiscent of classics such as Tempest and more modern hits such as Geometry Wars.  Both characters in the game change facial expressions based on what is going on in the level with a simple yet fun charm.  The background music is excellent, especially for an indie game, and adds a great extra element for the player while attempting difficult moves.

Mr. Gravity - Indie Games - Gameplay screenshot

Mr. Gravity is well worth the price of 80 Microsoft points (or $1.00 in human talk) and far more.  It manages to bring several original and uncommon puzzle game aspects together to make a challenging yet addicting puzzler with far more replay value than most puzzle games from far bigger game studios.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RxKvdyzP8XI[/youtube]

Please share this article with your friends before trying the game for yourself or you might not be back on the internet for quite some time.  You can download the game from the XBox website by clicking here.

Patrick Scott Patterson has been a gamer since 1981, acting as a writer, technician and world record holder on several game titles. He has appeared numerous times in the yearly editions of Guinness World Records: Gamer’s Edition. In addition to writing here, Patterson has also written for Yahoo!, Twin Galaxies, VGEVO and Gameroom Magazine, and is always looking for unique and positive news to report from the video gaming world.

Pac-Man Battle Royale super-sizes in new deluxe cabinet

The iconic Pac-Man never seems to leave the gaming scene for long, and the current arcade scene once again has a case of Pac-Man Fever.

Pac-Man Battle Royal

Pac-Man Battle Royale super-sizes in new deluxe cabinet

Pac-Man Battle Royale Deluxe is a recent coin-op release that stands out in any location or video arcade.  Launched in December, this new release takes the Pac-Man Battle Royale release from 2011 and places it into a large multi-player stand-up cabinet with each player having their own control station.

Similar at a glance of the popular Pac-Man Championship Edition games for home consoles, PMBR pits players against one another in a “last Pac-Man standing” battle.  Check out the description from Namco’s sales materials for the game.

Pac-Man Battle Royale is the first four player competitive Pac-Man arcade game. The original Pac-Man game concept has been given a cannibalistic twist: Eliminate your opponents by eating them and the last Pac-Man standing wins the round. When players eat a power pellet, they power-up by doubling in size and increasing in speed. Once powered up, they are now able to eat non powered-up blue players and ghosts. Players of the same size simply bounce off each other. Players can also be eliminated by running into ghosts if there aren’t any powered up players. Eating a piece of fruit or all of the pellets resets the maze with a fresh new set of power pellets. The game is simple, competitive, and highly addictive. The deluxe cabinet’s glowing lights and large viewing monitor make this the perfect centerpiece for any location.

Dave & Busters locations are among the first to feature the huge deluxe cabinets.  Check out the slideshow to the left to see a deeper look at this newest arcade release.

Patrick Scott Patterson has been a gamer since 1981, acting as a writer, technician and world record holder on several game titles. He has appeared numerous times in the yearly editions of Guinness World Records: Gamer’s Edition. In addition to writing here, Patterson has also written for Yahoo!, Twin Galaxies, VGEVO and Gameroom Magazine, and is always looking for unique and positive news to report from the video gaming world.

The Simpsons Arcade Game

The Simpsons Arcade Game is now available on XBox Live, and the first-ever home console release of the 1991 quarter-muncher is every bit as fun as you remember.

The Simpsons Arcade Game - Xbox live - Gameplay Screenshot

One of a long series of four player side-scrolling beat-em-ups that Konami put into arcades around this time, The Simpsons allows players to fight as HomerBartMarge or Lisa as they attempt to rescue baby Maggie from the evil Smithers.

Younger fans of the iconic Simpsons franchise should note that this classic arcade game was developed at the very beginning of the television series.  Some of the characters will look different than they do today and all of the references in the game pull from the earliest episodes of the show.  Sideshow Bob appears in one stage to help you out, Smithers is a tough guy, Bleeding Gums Murphy is alive and the rabbits from the Life Is Hell comic strip appear several times.  In those days that comic strip was Matt Groening‘s biggest success story to date.

The Simpsons Arcade Game - Xbox live - Gameplay Screenshot

Fans who remember pouring every quarter you had into the arcade game will be thrilled.  The game is exactly as you remember it from start to finish with straightforward controls and even the full demonstration mode, complete with the annoying-yet-classic “waaa waaa waawaaa waaaa!” scene with Bart and Lisa.

Several fun unlockables are also available for those who finish the game with specific characters.  The Japanese ROMset is available for play along with character bios, a neat but brief look at the development timeline and original advertising materials for the arcade game, a sound test and more.

The Simpsons Arcade Game - Xbox live - Gameplay Screenshot

Some achievements are easy to get and some will take time.  Longtimes fans of the Simpsonsseries will laugh at some of them as well.  The “Tastes Like Burning” achievement I gained by hitting Smithers with one of his own bombs forced me to pause the game for a moment to laugh, which brought up a neat pause menu drawn inside the old Simpson television set.

Online leaderboards not only show scores but also how many continues those players had to use to obtain them, adding a little credibility to such a scoreboard as part of a multi-continue game.  If you really want to try and show off there is a one-life “survival mode” as well.

The Simpsons Arcade Game - Xbox live - Gameplay Screenshot

Overall, The Simpsons Arcade Game is just pure fun.  Fans of the original arcade game will like it for different reasons than the younger Simpsons fans who may never have seen it, but they will all like it.  At 800 Microsoft points (about ten bucks) it’s a steal as well.

Don’t have a cow, man.  Download this one right away.

Patrick Scott Patterson has been a gamer since 1981, acting as a writer, technician and world record holder on several game titles. He has appeared numerous times in the yearly editions of Guinness World Records: Gamer’s Edition. In addition to writing here, Patterson has also written for Yahoo!, Twin Galaxies, VGEVO and Gameroom Magazine, and is always looking for unique and positive news to report from the video gaming world.

Abobo’s Big Adventure

As much as some followers try to stick the “classic arcade” tag on me, I am every bit as much of a fan of the 8-bit console era of the later 1980s. Back then, if I wasn’t sleeping, eating, showering or doing my homework I was on my Nintendo Entertainment System, and I wasn’t adverse to skipping one of those listed tasks at times to play it.

Abobo's Big Adventure

Months back I learned of Abobo’s Big Adventure, a fun looking Flash-game parody of the entire NES era, and began looking forward to it. The game went live last night and exceeded my expectations, something that is difficult to do with me.

Yes, you are Abobo, the big muscle-headed ugly guy made famous in Double Dragon and you are pretty darn grumpy. Seems a variety of 8-bit characters kidnapped your kid and you are out to get him back. Thankfully they skip explaining how a guy that looks like Abobo managed to become a father.

As you begin your game you are instantly bombarded with characters from just about any NES-era game you can name. You’ll have to do battle with those pink sweater-vest guys from Kung Fu, characters from Renegade, River City Ransom and even T&C Surf Designs. You’ll encounter Goombas, Mega Man boss enemies, the masters of the Pro Wrestling ring and so many more. Even the title screen is full of any 8-bit game character you want to name, from the Duck Hunt duck to the Eggplant Wizard from Kid Icarus. Finally I got to live out my life-long desire to punch Kid Niki in the face, even if I had to dodge exploding barrels from Donkey Kong while doing so.

6

The game plays right in your browser and can use arrow keys or a gamepad to play. As with the 8-bit games of the day there are only two buttons to learn to use. Just pick up and play, and play you should.

Abobo’s Big Adventure is the ultimate 8-bit tribute game and a must-play for any fan of the era. You can stop reading this article now and go do just that by Clicking here.

Patrick Scott Patterson has been a gamer since 1981, acting as a writer, technician and world record holder on several game titles. He has appeared numerous times in the yearly editions of Guinness World Records: Gamer’s Edition. In addition to writing here, Patterson has also written for Yahoo!, Twin Galaxies, VGEVO and Gameroom Magazine, and is always looking for unique and positive news to report from the video gaming world.

Everything you ever wanted to know about Pac-Man, but were afraid to ask

The Pac-Man Dossier

Everything you ever wanted to know about Pac-Man, but were afraid to ask

The original Pac-Man arcade game might be pushing 32 years of age, but the name still has interest with video game fans of all generations.  Pac-champ David Race once again made international headlines when RecordSetter announced he’d set another new speed record while the recent online World’s Biggest Pac-Man game estimates more than 40 man-hours have been played on their website in the past year.

Casual players and observers who think there isn’t much to Pac-Man strategy and gameplay might be surprised by a visit to the Pac-Man Dossier website.  This labor of love by dot gobbling fan Jamey Pittman goes deep into the Pac-Man program, explaining not only strategies but how the game thinks and reacts to the player’s every move.

“As a kid, my grandparents would often take me to a local shopping mall that had a Gold Rush arcade,” Pittman recalled. “This is where I encountered my first Pac-Man machine in 1980 or 1981. Up to that point, I had dropped most of my quarters into space-themed, ‘shoot ’em up’ titles like Space Invaders and Asteroids, but that all changed once I saw Pac-Man.  Everything about it seemed so new and different compared to what I was used to: the cabinet, the colorful characters, the sounds, everything.”

Decades later, Pittman once again returned to the deep blue maze.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JLfugsoU3d0[/youtube]

“The game studio I was a software developer for went under in 2008, and I suddenly found myself with a lot of time on my hands,” he said. “I started playing a lot of Pac-Man using the MAME emulator and realized that, as much as I enjoy playing Pac-Man, it would be even more fun to reverse engineer the game and finally learn how the ghosts work ‘under the hood’, so to speak. So I set out to fill in the many gaps in the internet’s collective knowledge base on the inner workings of Pac-Man. The goal was to conclusively prove how every part of the game functioned, especially everything related to ghost behavior, and put everything I learned into one reference document to share with interested parties.”

With input from several Pac-Man champs and classic arcade reverse-engineering guru Don Hodges, Pittman completed the Dossier after two months of work.  With explanations on every aspect of Pac-Man from how the monsters react to player movements to why and how the player can sometimes pass through an enemy without losing a life, Pittman notes a few programming bugs in particular that caught his eye.

“I think one of the more interesting tidbits was how the chase mode logic for Pinky and Inky works slightly differently when Pac-Man is facing upward,” he said. “After noticing this subtle discrepancy in Pinky’s targeting algorithm, Don and I did some additional code analysis and concluded the game developers screwed up by leaving an overflow bug in the code used for calculating tile offsets relative to Pac-Man’s current position. Another interesting bug I uncovered is how to trap three of the ghosts inside their home during the first two levels of play. That one took some time to figure out as the code governing when and how ghosts leave their home is fairly convoluted.”

Since launching, the Pac-Man Dossier has received hits from over 300,000 unique visitors and was even used as a learning tool when Google developed their popular Pac-Man 30th Anniversary Doodle in 2010.  If time allows, Pittman says he may do similar site for another arcade classic.

“I could easily do an sister site on Ms. Pac-Man as it’s based on the original Pac-Man code,” he said.  “Both I and Don have already spent a lot of time looking over that game’s disassembled code.  But in terms of choosing a completely different title, I think I would most enjoy tearing Centipede completely apart. Defenderor Joust would be fun projects as well.”

The Pac-Man Dossier can be visited by clicking here.

Patrick Scott Patterson has been a gamer since 1981, acting as a writer, technician and world record holder on several game titles. He has appeared numerous times in the yearly editions of Guinness World Records: Gamer’s Edition. In addition to writing here, Patterson has also written for Yahoo!, Twin Galaxies, VGEVO and Gameroom Magazine, and is always looking for unique and positive news to report from the video gaming world.

A look back at the Coleco Mini-Arcades

Coleco Mini-Arcades - Frogger

Long before the Nintendo 3DS and Sony PSVita were even thought possible and even before Nintendo made theGameBoy a household name a company named Coleco echoed through the ears of video gamers who wanted to take gaming everywhere they wanted to go.

Coleco Mini-Arcades - Donkey Kong

The early 80’s video game boom saw gaming literally appear everywhere.  Arcade games appeared in every type of public business you could think of while consoles that hooked up to home television sets brought blocky gaming experiences home.

Coleco Mini-Arcades - Galaxian

Capitalizing on this trend combined with the popularity of handheld electronic games such as Mattel’s Football, Coleco began licensing and producing small “tabletop” video games based on some of the most popular games of the day.

Coleco Mini-Arcades - Zaxxon

Despite Atari holding the licenses for home console versions of Pac-Man and Galaxian, Coleco was able to get the rights to produce the Mini-Arcade versions, both of which became top sellers.  A literal parade of hits followed with the addition of FroggerDonkey Kong and Ms. Pac-Man.  A version of Nintendo’s Game and Watch Donkey Kong Junior and a version of Zaxxon rounded out the Coleco line before the mid-80’s industry crash.

Coleco Mini-Arcades - Pac-Man

Rather than make traditional handheld games the Coleco Mini-Arcade games attempted to duplicate the look of the arcade hits right down to the cabinet artwork.  A series of commercials featuring a character named “Mr. Arcade” shrinking full size arcade games down into the Mini-Arcade games drove the point home.  The result was a fun arcade feel that didn’t exist in any home console versions of arcade hits at the time.

Coleco Mini-Arcades - Donkey Kong Jr

The Coleco games are popular collector’s items today.  Some of the later releases saw smaller production numbers and even the more popular releases are difficult to find in good condition after being played to death in their heyday.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TKDFoDvs898[/youtube]

Take a look at the slideshow and video to the left to see more about the Coleco Mini-Arcades as either a trip down memory lane or, for younger gamers, a good gaming history lesson.

Patrick Scott Patterson has been a gamer since 1981, acting as a writer, technician and world record holder on several game titles. He has appeared numerous times in the yearly editions of Guinness World Records: Gamer’s Edition. In addition to writing here, Patterson has also written for Yahoo!, Twin Galaxies, VGEVO and Gameroom Magazine, and is always looking for unique and positive news to report from the video gaming world.

Choplifter HD

ChopLifter_HD_Logo

I’m always mixed when it comes to retro remakes, especially if it was a game I really used to enjoy.

Choplifter was one of those games I never thought caught on like it should.  While it had a popular run on the old Apple II computers, I really got into the 1985 version from Sega and it’s counterpart on the fledgling Sega Master System.  Sadly, these versions never really came during a time or place that allowed a large audience to see them, forever making a solid game a bit of a footnote to the 8-bit gaming era.

Choplifter HD was released Tuesday for around $15 on the XBox 360, PlayStation Network and PC.  While a big fan of the original, I’m mixed on this modern-day remake.

ChopLifter_HD_Gameplay

The Good

We’ll start here.  The good part of Choplifter HD is that they didn’t try to re-invent the wheel.  After a few silly tutorial sessions the game really does feel like Choplifter should feel like in your hands, and the basic point of the game should come naturally to anyone who knows the deal here.

There is a good mix of different choppers and a great amount of detail within each level.  There seems to be one hell of a war going on here and you are flying through the thick of it while on your missions to rescue hostages and airlift folks to safety.  The chopper pilots are a little chatty with decent humor.

ChopLifter_HD_Gameplay

The Bad

The controls leave a little to be desired.  I really didn’t expect to have to use every button on my controller for a Chopliftergame and as a fan of the orginals my hands simply did not adjust to the extra steps to turn directions and fly around quickly.

You can’t lay down a steady barrage of fire, either, something else I loved to do in the 1985 arcade version.  Your machine guns overheats and leaves you without any offensive weapon if you try.  While I understand this is realistic, I didn’t grab this game for realism.  I would have preferred a fast-paced shoot-em-up weapon like on the Choplifter helicopter from my youth.

ChopLifter_HD_Gameplay

The Ugly

The hostages and enemy soldiers are simply too small.  I understand the word “HD” is in the title but this shouldn’t mean I need a 60″ plasma to see the people.  I squished way too many of the people I’m supposed to be rescuing simply because I couldn’t see them on a fairly large HD set.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8quWH-6L_aw[/youtube]

The Bottom Line

Choplifter HD feels enough like the original to give old school fans a thrill but still tries to add too many new bells and whistles to a concept that really doesn’t need them.  I would have preferred more of an old-school side-scrolling shooter without so many objectives and controls like the one that used to suck the quarters out of my pocket at the skating rink in the late 1980s.

A fun game that is a casual play at best and should maybe be priced slightly lower.  As much as the name Choplifter still makes my ears perk up, I simply can’t see myself spending near as much time on this as I would have liked.

Patrick Scott Patterson has been a gamer since 1981, acting as a writer, technician and world record holder on several game titles. He has appeared numerous times in the yearly editions of Guinness World Records: Gamer’s Edition. In addition to writing here, Patterson has also written for Yahoo!, Twin Galaxies, VGEVO and Gameroom Magazine, and is always looking for unique and positive news to report from the video gaming world.

XBox 360 passes Nintendo Entertainment System on all-time sales list

Xbox-360-Elite
In the midst of a strong holiday sales season, Microsoft’s XBox 360 has now reached lifetime sales of 62.6 million console units, overtaking the Nintendo Entertainment System as the fourth highest-selling game console ever (not counting handhelds).

Released first as the Famicom in Japan in 1983, the NES first came to North America in 1985 and quite literally brought the American video game industry back from death. Production on the console finally ceased in 2003 when it was finally discontinued in Japan. Through this lifespan, the Famicom/NES sold 61.91 million total consoles worldwide.

The XBox 360 first hit shelves in November 2005 and despite weak lifetime sales in Japan, the Microsoft unit has managed to reach this mark in far less time than the NES, taking only six years to reach this mark.

However, despite toppling the NES in all-time sales the 360 is still the distant second overall in the current console generation, trailing behind lifetime sales of the Nintendo Wii’s 93.4 million units.

The current console generation is likely to see a hat trick in regards to the NES before all is said and done, though, as Sony’s PlayStation 3 is also catching up with the NES sales figures with 59.1 million units sold to date. Even as big as the Nintendo Entertainment System was in it’s day, it appears destined to find itself ranked under all three modern consoles on the all-time charts.

The all-time best selling console (not counting handhelds) is Sony’s PlayStation 2, which shipped 144.45 million units during it’s lifetime.

Patrick Scott Patterson has been a gamer since 1981, acting as a writer, technician and world record holder on several game titles. He has appeared numerous times in the yearly editions of Guinness World Records: Gamer’s Edition. In addition to writing here, Patterson has also written for Yahoo!, Twin Galaxies, VGEVO and Gameroom Magazine, and is always looking for unique and positive news to report from the video gaming world.

Christmas Comes to Pac-Land

Christmas_Comes_to_Pac-Land

While current generations of gamers wait with much anticipation to open the XBox 360 Kinects and latest Call of Duty gear currently stashed under the Christmas tree, we take a look back today for a historical first in video gaming.

The first major wave of gaming popularity came to a crest in 1982 as arcade video machines could be found almost anywhere and Atari faced off with their first real home console challengers.  It was also a huge season for video game related merchandise, as manufacturers of everything from breakfast cereal to bedding to swim trunks got in on the first video game boom.

Christmas_Comes_to_Pac-Land

On December 16, 1982 the first ever Christmas special of the video game age debuted in prime time.  Hanna Barbera’s Christmas Comes to Pac-Land took the popular new Saturday morning cartoon series based on Pac-Man and it’s many sequels into uncharted territory for anything related to video games.

In this ABC holiday special, Santa Claus crash lands in the fictional town of Pac-Land, an odd world where it seems to be legal to eat other inhabitants and walk around without pants.  Santa, (voiced by a pre-Optimus Prime Peter Cullen), has never heard of Pac-Land while those who live there have never heard of him or Christmas at all.

Christmas_Comes_to_Pac-Land

The inhabitants of Pac-Land accept the idea of Santa and Christmas pretty quickly and decide to help Santa fix his sleigh and warm up his reindeer.  Pac-Man himself (a guy you’d think would be a pretty important guy in a world of the same name) goes off to find Santa’s sack of toys, which have been discovered by the “ghost monster” gang of Blinky, Pinky, Inky, Clyde and Sue.

Long story short, Santa gets going on his way, Christmas is now known by those who live in Pac-Land and even the ghost monsters get in on the gift giving spirit of the season.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fYH7AWiCF2g[/youtube]

Initially the special had a short lifespan.  The video game industry crashed and burned through 1983 and 1984 and by the time gaming returned to the public eye years later (due to Nintendo’s strong marketing plan) Pac-Man was considered old hat in place of the Super Mario Bros. and Zeldacharacters.

The special has come back in recent years in holiday airings on Cartoon Network and Boomerang and can also be watched on the left side of his article thanks to YouTube so that parents of the original video gaming generation can show their young ones the roots of Christmas video gaming.

What are the best-selling video game consoles of all time?

gaming-consoles

With the holiday season upon us, it appears each modern-day video game console is primed to do more big numbers.  While this is nothing new to video gaming throughout most of the past three decades, the sheer numbers are telling of just how much the industry has grown and how much more it may grow before it levels off.

The original “must have” game console was the Atari Video Computer System, later called the Atari 2600.  While it didn’t catch on right away, the 2600 was the clear sales leader of the early generations, selling around 30 million units in it’s lifetime, six times more than competing consolesIntellivision and ColecoVision sold combined.

Even with such numbers, however, the lifetime figures of Atari’s classic console have been beaten many times over.  While 1996’s Nintendo 64 failed to catch on like retailers had hoped, it still managed to outsell the 2600 in the end my almost 3 million units.  Nonetheless, it was tagged a failure by Nintendo compared to previous consoles.

classic_video_game-consoles

The biggest Nintendo console for some time was theNintendo Entertainment System, which moved almost 62 million consoles in it’s lifetime, saving the video game industry in North America.  Only recently did Nintendo manage to defeat it’s own sales record with the Nintendo Wii, which has now hit the 90 million unit mark.

The NES may come down the lifetime charts by the end of some other console runs, however.  The XBox 360 is nearing the 58 million unit mark with Sony’s PlayStation 3 not far behind it with over 55 million units sold as of this writing.

Even though it is in last place in the current console generation, the PlayStation 3 may still reach the top five selling consoles of all time by the end of it’s run, giving Sony three of the best selling consoles ever.  The PlayStation 2rules the roost with a whopping 153.5 million units sold, a mark that beat Sony’s own record with the originalPlayStation, which shipped over 102 million consoles.

While this article isn’t including handhelds it is interesting to note that the Nintendo DS has sold 149 million units (not including the 3DS model), a number that means it’s already trumped the unreal sales numbers of the original GameBoyhandhelds that had ruled the market for over a decade.

classic-consoles

Here is a list of the top selling consoles of all time, according to Wikipedia.  Where do your favorite systems rank?

1.  Sony PlayStation 2 (2000) – 153.5 million

2.  Sony PlayStation (1994) – 102.49 million

3.  Nintendo Wii (2006) – 89.36 million *

4.  Nintendo Entertainment System (1985) – 61.91 million

5.  Microsoft XBox 360 (2005) – 57.6 million *

6.  Sony PlayStation 3 (2006) – 55.5 million *

7.  Super Nintendo Entertainment System (1990) – 49.10 million

8.  Sega Genesis (1988) – 39 million

9.  Nintendo 64 (1996) – 32.93 million

10. Atari VCS/2600 (1977) – 30 million

11. Microsoft XBox (2001) – 24 million

12. Nintendo GameCube (2001) – 21.74 million

13. Sega Dreamcast (1998) – 10.6 million

14. NEC TurboGrafx-16 (1987) – 10 million

15. Sega Saturn (1994) – 9.5 million

* = Console still in production as of press time.

Ecstasy of Order: The Tetris Masters

Ecstasy of Order

Following in the unexpected success of The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, a small army of video game documentaries have come out in recent years.

The latest, Ecstasy of Order: The Tetris Masters debuted Friday night, October 7 as the Austin Film Festival.

Before starting my review, I’d like to disclose that I personally know a number of people in this film.  While part of the Twin Galaxies staff from 2008 until early this year I personally verified and entered many of the scores of the Tetris players who appear in this film.  I also competed in the Nintendo World Championships 1990, an event that is important over the course of this film.  Overall, I will have a unique point of view on this film that others won’t, and may see this film differently than most.

Ecstasy of Order centers around the 2010 Classic Tetris World Championships, an event set up in Los Angeles by NWC  1990 runner-up Robin Mihara.  While Tetris had long been one of the most iconic video games in history, there was no one person considered THE Tetris champion, so Mihara rounds up the top ranked players in the Twin Galaxies database and some others, including NWC 1990 Thor Aackerlund, to come to California and compete on the classic Nintendo Entertainment System version of Tetris.

[youtube width=”600″ height=”480″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yTK6MnPa8Zo[/youtube]

The film spends a great deal of time on the back stories of the various men and women invited to Los Angeles to compete along with some deep looks into the deeper strategies of the top Tetris players.   Viewers will get to see some reunions and some first-time meetings as the champs converge on Southern California, with the film wrapping up with the big Classic Tetris World Championship event and some surprise moments.

First of all, I’m thrilled to see a film that features this group of gamers.  Those who’ve watched King of Kong, Chasing Ghosts, High ScoreDoctor Kong and the rest might think that Twin Galaxies is only about arcade video games and the same general group of players.  Far from it.  Every gaming platform is tracked by Twin Galaxies and the Nintendo Entertainment System crowd is often more competitive than the arcade side of things, from top players such as Tom Votava and Andrew Furrer to the many players included in this film.  Something that features them in this manner is long overdue.

It is also very nice to see vintage footage and mention of 1990s gaming contests such as the NWC 1990 and Sega’s Rock the Rock from 1995.  These were very large scale events with very big prizes that somehow fell by the wayside in gaming history, despite being bigger than most of the events before them and since.

Tetris-Competitors

The comparisons to King of Kong will no doubt come up in most reviews, so they might as well be touched on here.  Ecstasy of Order does not have an underdog good guy, a blow-dried bad guy, a conspiracy theory, talk of gummy substances or a guy in a Halloween costume complaining about cherry pit spitters on Jay Leno.  If that is what you want to see you won’t find it here.

What you will find, however, is a video game that is at least as iconic as Donkey Kong, a great number of charismatic players showing respect to one another and the thrill of live head-to-head competition.  You will get a true view of the camaraderie that exists in many gaming communities as you meet players from all walks of life.

Ecstasy of Order may fire up players to chase down 999,999 scores on the NES Tetris much like competition on Donkey Kong fired up into full swing after The King of Kong.  Tetris max-outs and Level 29 could become the “Donkey Kong kill screens” for the NES generation to chase down.   I know it made me want to fire up Tetris again, and unlike original Donkey Kong arcade games anyone can obtain a chance at becoming the next Harry Hong or Jonas Neubauer with a quick trip to eBay or Amazon to purchase the classic NES stuff needed to become the next Tetris master.

Ecstasy of Order - Movie image

Overall, Ecstasy of Order: The Tetris Masters is a fun trip with an all-time classic video game where the viewer gets to meet some fun new gamers along the way.  A relaxing and fun 92 minutes that should appeal to both the hardcore Nintendo Entertainment System fans and the casual viewer who might want to see what exists within Twin Galaxies and classic high score chases away from the arcade scene.

You can learn more about Ecstasy of Order, including upcoming screenings, at www.EcstasyOfOrder.com.

 

Are video games finally being accepted by the mainstream?

Jimmy Fallon - Batman Arkham City

Any longtime gamer knows of that gut wrenching feeling that comes along when a mainstream media or entertainment source does a video game story.  From news stories that claim violent video games are kid’s toys to Jay Leno jokes that paint gamers as basement dwellers and virgins, it often seems that the industry stats aren’t known by much of what passes as news and entertainment these days.

The facts are hard to deny, however.  The Entertainment Software Association statistics show the average age of a video gamer in 2010 was 37 years of age with 72 percent of American households accepting gaming as a regular form of entertainment.  All said, the US spent $25.1 billion on video gaming last year alone, nearly two-and-a-half times more than they spent at the movies over the same time period.

While there have still been plenty of head shakers in the mainstream this year, overall 2011 has shown many signs that video gaming is finally gaining acceptance as the mainstream form of entertainment it is.

 The release of Batman: Arkham City made the monologue on Conan last week with a parody clip similar to what is typically done with major new films and political figures.

[youtube width=”600″ height=”480″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fj9BN3WLHLg[/youtube]

 A lengthy television commercial for Google features gamer Brian Kingrey, the winner of the $1 Million contest onMLB2K11.  The clip shows how Kingrey studied and prepared for the contest by doing research on the search engine and speaks to several of his friends.  He also appears briefly in a shorter Google commercial.  Both ads debuted during NFL football games on Sunday.

 NBC’s Late Night With Jimmy Fallon regularly features previews of hot new gaming releases and guests from within the industry.  Shortly after the 2011 E3 Expo the show even featured an entire week dedicated to gaming, complete with special opening credits.

 Former Donkey Kong champion Steve Wiebe makes a short cameo as a security guard in hit film Horrible Bosses.  Reportedly, Colin Farrell’s character of Bobby Pellitt was inspired by another former Donkey Kong champ in Billy Mitchell.

 Members of the US Congress and reps from the video gaming industry formed the Caucus for Competitiveness in Entertainment Technology (E-Tech Caucus) to help continue to foster growth in the video game industry due to its impact on the economy and job market.

 The characters from Angry Birds appear in an ad for Wonderful Pistachios alongside numerous celebrities and pop culture icons.  Costumes from the game are among the most popular Halloween costumes this year as well.

Some 40 years after the release of the video game to mainstream consumers and revenue that trumps the previous kings of the entertainment industry, it appears that gaming is finally taking a seat alongside television, film and music as an accepted form of mainstream entertainment.

 

Still Providing Raw Thrills: Eugene Jarvis has impacted over 30 years of gaming

Eugene Jarvis

Odds are high that any person who has put a coin into anything in an arcade over the past three decades has played something attached to the name Eugene Jarvis.

Whether someone is a classic gamer still hooked on Defender or Robotron: 2084, a more modern arcade patron who enjoys Big Buck Safari or Cruis’n World or even a pinball wizard who grew up on Firepower and Space Shuttle, the impact of the Raw Thrills founder and former Williams Electronics employee has been felt.

The arcade success story began with Jarvis’ very first attempt at a video game with 1980’s Defender, a game not well received by trade show critics nor the creator himself.  Despite the low expectations, Defender became one of the biggest hits in arcade history.

“I was shocked as anyone,” Jarvis said.  “It was the first video by me and the first real video by Williams.  We were completely new to the field and just tried to make it the best I could.”

robotron

Before launching, Defender was tested in the famed Mother’s Pinball in Mount Prospect, IL.  According to Jarvis, he tried to avoid this first night until learning of large crowds that stuffed the coin box and even placed couches around the machine.  The success of Defender lead to a Jarvis and his team continuing to develop games for Williams Electronics, including 1982s Robotron: 2084, a title that continues to have a strong cult folowing today.

Robotron seems to be the most popular now,” Jarvis said.  “The cool thing about Robotron was how we implemented the concept in three days.  Then it became ‘Let’s fight ten robots… That’s great!’  It then became ‘Let’s fight 20!  Even better!  Let’s fight 90!  Awesome!  This is intense!'”

While noted for their roles in gaming history, Defender andRobotron are considered by gaming experts and historians as some of the most challenging games in history.  According to Jarvis, this challenge was a part of their charm.

crusin world

“In that era there was this sort of macho hardcore thing,” he said.  “You were almost daring the player to beat you.  The average play time during Defender‘s test run was 33 seconds, yet players kept putting another quarter into the machine to try again.  Maybe it’s time for another game like that.”

While the video game industry has undergone several changes since Defender and Robotron ruled the arcade, Jarvis states that creating a compelling new video game today is not much different than it was 30 years ago.

“The basic challenge is always there,” he said.  “In video you are starting with nothing but a black screen.  There’s no game there.  With pinball you at least start with that basic concept, but not with video.  The challenge of going from no game to something today is only different because you have to create something so damn fun people will pay $1.00 every two minutes to play it.”

In an industry that grosses billions of dollars a year today, more opportunities exist in the industry now than ever before, according to Jarvis.

“It’s probably the best time in history to get into the industry,” he stated.  “There are so many more opportunities today as opposed to in the past.  Video games are ubiquitous now.  From arcade to console to PC to smartphones to Facebook… they are just everywhere.  You got all these shareware and iPhone games, and now anyone can make their own damn game and put it out there.  It’s a massive avalanche of opportunities.  Wide open.”

defender

With the development of the extra layers and platforms for video gaming entertainment, Eugene says the problem has shifted to the same problems that face small-budget films versus major studio movies.

“The problem changed with the industry,” he explained. “Now anyone can put out whatever but so can a million other people.  How do you get noticed?”

Jarvis stated that indie game developers face many of the same challenges that he’s faced in game design throughout the past three decades.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lr363UM9D60[/youtube]

“You start out with all these dreams and hopes,” he said.  “Then reality sets in.  You can’t do this because the technology isn’t there or you can’t do that because the budget or time isn’t there.  Then something doesn’t work how you wanted it to.  It feels like being on one of those old wagon trains going across the desert and one of your horses dies.  Then you sometimes have your best moments, too, when you stumble across something cool and unexpected to add to the game.”

As Jarvis’ Raw Thrills continues as one of the strongest American coin-op arcade companies of the modern day, he says his favorite moments have always been the same they have always been.

“The great times are when you put a game on location and see others play it for the first time,” he said.  “After all, we are really kind of an entertainer.  You perform for the joy of the audience.”

Steve Jobs 1955-2011: Technology pioneer worked in the early days of Atari

Steve Jobs

Mankind has lost one of the greatest inventors and visionaries of all time, as Apple has confirmed the death of Steve Jobs, the founder of the company.

Most famous for his role in pioneering the personal computer industry and reinventing technology with products such as the iPhone and the iPad, Jobs also had a role in the earliest days of the video game industry.

In 1974, an Atari receptionist came to video game pioneer Al Alcorn to tell him of a long haired young man in the lobby.

“We’ve got this kid in the lobby. He’s either got something or is a crackpot,” the receptionist told Alcorn.  After giving an interview where he’d exaggerated his electronics knowledge, an 18-year-old Jobs became Atari’s 40th employee, working for $5 an hour to tweak and finish an early handheld game called Touch Me.

Atari Touch Me

A short time later, Jobs invited his friend Steve Wozniak to show off a homemade version of Pong he’d developed, impressing Atari so much that he, too, was hired by the young video game company.

Jobs and Wozniak would later pair up to work on Atari’s 1976 release Breakout, the ball-and-paddle brick-breaking game that has been cloned a million times over, from 1987’s arcade hit Arkanoid to countless Flash-based clones on the internet today.  Offered a bonus by Atari if the number of chips that could be eliminated from the machine, Jobs offered to split the bonus with Wozniak, who worked for days on end to reduce the design to such a degree that Atari was unable to figure it out and had to redesign the circuit board over again.  Despite the fact that Wozniak did the work, Jobs took most of Atari’s bonus money for the project without Wozniak’s knowledge.

Jobs and Wozniak would then go on to form Apple Computer, the company that brought the computer into the home.  Almost ironically, the iPhone and iPad would become popular devices in the modern day for playing video games, putting his contributions to the industry at both the start and end of his historic career.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IpVIufJ4qoU[/youtube]

Jobs was 56 years old.  “Steve’s brilliance, passion and energy were the source of countless innovations that enrich and improve all of our lives,” read the statement from Apple that confirmed the passing of Jobs on the evening of October 5.

 

The man who thought the NES was worth $13,000

NES

This column has never been shy about pointing out epic fails in video gaming knowledge.   From CBS News graphics stating the Sega Genesis was recently hacked to fleshy art collectors who’d swear they saw Walter Day running from the Texas Schoolbook Depository in 1963, I take great joy in pointing out when supposed gaming information experts miss the mark by a hemisphere or two.

This gentleman on A&E’s Storage Wars takes the cake.   For those who avoid such shows like the plague, Storage Wars is little more that footage of people who buy abandoned or defaulted storage lockers at auctions and dig through the mess inside hoping to find buried treasures.

Information for what to look for is important for this line of work, and this poor soul didn’t have it.   Upon finding a cola-stained original Nintendo Entertainment System, it was proclaimed to be an NES-001, “the first Nintendo DS built” and was supposedly worth $13,000 based on the last time it sold on the “internets”.

Sadly, he failed to realize the famed $13,000 “internets” sale of an NES included the super rare Stadium Events cartridge, which is what carried the value.

Rather than take a quick stop to look at eBay, Amazon or anywhere else, he quickly calls another guy to go to a used game store and obtain the true value of the broken classic console:  $10.

Watch the video and listen carefully.  I swear you can hear that music from a lost Price is Right game at the end of the clip.

[youtube width=”600″ height=”480″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H4FV512vPHQ[/youtube]