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.

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.

 

High Score movie review

High Score movie review

In the same kind of movie category as The King of Kong, High Score shows us the struggle of a video game champion trying to topple the top score for Missile Command.

The full movie can be seen in hulu or just click play on the embedded video below:

Let’s talk about the film… (I’ll assume you watched the film or that you don’t care if I talk about a spoiler, in this review)

Overall Score: 8 out of 10

Although the movie is only about 50 minutes long, the movie is done with good taste and character and the gamer Bill Carlton is a good sport and has a great attitude when it comes to life and his gaming goals.

Bill Carlton
Bill Carlton

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bill is a world champion at Asteroids as well as Missile Command. The movie is about his fight to try to beat the Missile Command machine as he stays up for many hours and days trying to reach and beat the top score of 80 million. The problem is that the machine that Bill bought kept crashing, resetting, or overheating and as soon as that happened, it was game over.

If you have seen The King of Kong or you know about Twin Galaxies you will understand how he videotapes every hour of gameplay to try to submit for an authentic world record. If you don’t know what Twin Galaxies is, they are the Guiness World Book of Records approved association for keeping track of all authentic records for high scores for all video games. Click here to visit the Twin Galaxies website. They are very serious about their job and in order for a score to be accepted, you must be either playing at a world tournament or you have to record yourself playing on a machine that has been authenticated as being an original, unmodified machine.

The movie brings up some good points, such as showing that in some places of the US other than drinking and drugs, video games are one of the few escapes from reality people can have. Other than that, we see a fellow gamer that does not play modern games, bringing up that his kid can wipe the floor with him on PS2 gaming, but his son is afraid to even dare challenge him in Missile Command.

Many old games, like Missile Command, take a very long amount of time in order for you get high up there as far as world class high score record breaking goes. Bill anticipated that it would take him a good 2-3 days to reach the 80 million mark. A problem though is that the machine could not take the strain of his challenge.

Bill Carlton is frustrated
Bill Carlton is frustrated

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Like brought up in The King of Kong, some machines will simply have a kill screen where the game will simply crash and you will simply just keep dying, giving you a Game Over screen. Usually this is a problem of the game running out of RAM or having it’s design limit reached.

I wish the movie would have been longer and that they would have bought Bill another Missile Command machine so that he could take himself to the limit and see if he could really topple the number one score help by the now gaming-retired Victor Ali.

Bill is still in the number 10 position currently for the Twin Galaxies scoreboard, and it would be nice to see him rise in ranks. Keep it up Bill!

If you want to see what the current scoreboard looks for Missile Command, click here! Otherwise… keep on gaming!

About the Software Preservation Society (SPS)

Software Preservation Society logo
Software Preservation Society logo

About the Software Preservation Society (SPS)

SPS is a privately funded association of art collectors and computer enthusiasts striving for the preservation of computer art, namely computer games.

Art is an important cultural asset. Thousands of museums and archives all over the world preserve and restore pictures, books, movies and audio recordings and information in general for generations to come. To accomplish their assignment, national libraries are backed by law which, varying from country to country, forces production companies to deliver copies of publications, books, audio recordings and movies to the archives for long term preservation. It seems that as of today, nobody has ever thought or actively cared about the true, unmodified and verified preservation of computer games. Without any action taken, time will run out, very quickly.

Unlike games from the 1970s (delivered on solid state ROM-modules) and games from and after the mid-1990s (delivered on optical media like CD-ROMs and DVDs which are supposed to last for decades), computer games from the 1980s and early 1990s were delivered on magnetic media like tapes or floppy disks and are now at the brink of extinction.

From a preservation point of view, tapes and floppy disks are a nightmare for several reasons:

1. Tapes and floppy disks constantly degrade, in two ways. First is the physical degradation of the orientation of the metal particles which form the magnetic field and store the data. This process is slow, and given the fact that the data is encoded digitally, it may be too late to do anything when reading errors occur. Reading errors happen when it has become difficult to decide if a particular bit is 0 or 1. Preservation should occur before it becomes a gamble to get a good read.

2. Second is the chemical degradation. The metal particles bound to the plastic platter of a floppy disk or the surface of a tape can come off the surface. In fact, in most cases the bonding will simply fall apart after years of temperature changes, moisture and other issues of improper storage. Record companies struggle with this problem when remastering old recordings and have developed a process called baking where the original master tape is actually put in an oven to rebind the coating to the transport material. After baking, playback is a one try only process because the media will fall apart after passing the playback head of the machine. While similar to the original is sufficient for analogue material, even a single misinterpreted bit in the digital world means instant failure.

3. While no user can actually press industry standard vinyl recordings, CDs or DVDs at home (recordable media can be spotted by simply looking at it), tapes and floppies can actually be written and modified with consumer-grade equipment. It takes a lot of expertise to distinguish a professionally replicated medium from a home made copy. Even if a disk was produced by a commercial replicator, it does not necessarily mean that disk is still authentic and appropriate for preservation. Apart from a game possibly being copied over the original (as we have seen many times to “fix” a broken disk), many games themselves persist some kind of save state or high score, thus changing or erasing data that was available on the disk in the first place. As soon as the disk has been modified in any way, the authenticity of that copy is put into serious doubt.

SPS has successfully mastered these challenges and developed software and hardware technology to deal with the problems arising during the preservation process. Founded by computer expert and preservation pioneer István Fábián in 2001 as CAPS (the Classic Amiga Preservation Society), our highly specialized team has more than nine years of field experience. SPS members have not only been involved in playing games on the machines which are regarded retro today, but were programmers and designers also responsible for some of the games and programs available on these platforms.

While our original disk imaging tools (working on e.g. a standard Amiga 1200 with a compact flash adapter) are still good and easy to use, we are currently moving on to a completely self-contained floppy controller “KryoFlux” developed by SPS that works with any modern PC via an USB connection. This does not only speed up imaging of disks, but also enables physical media restoration of any title preserved so far.

Preservation at SPS usually is a two step process. Contributors from all over the world can help imaging disks with our unique technology. At SPS, our experts then use the Softpres Analyser to investigate the disk structure and create an IPF (Interchangeable Preservation Format) file. Scripting allows a flexible, even game-specific, way of representing data when read by a tool, or when rewritten to disk. Often rather different methods are required to represent various disk formats or copy protection methods when intended to be read by e.g. an emulator or to be written back when restoring an original disk. Due to the high quality of the preservation technology, IPFs have become the de facto standard demanded by Amiga users when looking for unmodified images true to the original.

While disks themselves are the problem that needs to be addressed quickly while they are still readable, SPS is also striving for complete archival of manuals and boxes in the form of physical products as well as digital scans. As of today, SPS has digitally archived about 3000 games produced for the Commodore Amiga, but now also supports other computer platforms like Atari ST, CPC, Spectrum and the Acorn Archimedes, to name just a few. Complete support for other platforms, like the C64 (which is a real challenge due to a second “computer” built straight into the floppy drive) is in the works, but disk imaging of such material already works today. It is only a question of manpower when the data imaged will be ready for presentation in dedicated IPF files. Again, this is a race against time to protect gems of yesterday from fading into oblivion.

For more information visit http://www.softpres.org/

Contact the Software Preservation Society:

Softpres.org Germany
Christian Bartsch
email: cb@softpres.org

Softpres.org UK
Kieron Wilkinson
email: kieron@softpres.org

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If you want to see part of this article you can do so at SPS’s facebook page. If you want to see how their analyser software works view this facebook page. If you want to follow them through facebook click here to go to their fan page.

We must help in order to ensure that many games and programs we enjoyed in the past get preserved for generations in the future.

Dig Dug review

Dig Dug in-game
Dig Dug in-game shot

Dig Dug review by Honorabili

One Sentence Review:

“Pop that monster!”

Overall Score:
9 out of 10

Overview:

Dig Dug consists of you being this blue man in a white suit that digs your way underground to kill monsters in tunnels. You do this by impaling them with an air pump that has like a tip like Scorpion’s weapon in Mortal Kombat (weird, I know but it’s cute!). You them pump the little monsters with enough air until they pop like a balloon. The game keeps progressing as you kill more monsters and there are none left in that level. Each level is progressively harder (especially when multiple enemies come at you at once).

You can get an extra man every 20000 points and you can pick up fruit in the middle of the stage when you kill enemies in a spectacular way, accelerating your 1UP rate.

The original game keeps going for 256 levels with the remake having about 400 levels.

The game is available on most Ataris, the Intellivision, Apple II, Commodore VIC 20 and c64, for PC, NES, gameboy, Wii, and the TI-99/4A. The remake is also available under Namco Classic Collection Volume 2 for Xbox, Gamecube, and the PS2.

Fun Factor:

I always thought it was a trip to fill up cute little monsters with air and watch their belly burst. If you’re braindead like me then you will love this kind of action. As the game will become much harder later, you will have to react instantly to the onslaught of monsters and have to adapt to using the terrain to your advantage and tricking the game’s A.I. by timing your attacks. You will sometimes have to run like a little bitch for your life and that can be fun to do especially in an old game! Fun Factor gets a score of 1o out of 10.

Difficulty Versatility:

Dig Dug is a challenging game. It’s from an era where if you wanted to get a high score you had to be a good gamer. Continues? Never heard of them. You put in a quarter and you got a set amount of lives. If you lost them all, you had to pay again to replay from the beginning. If you like your games easy then Dig Dug is not a game for you. If you like a game where the A.I. will eventually come at you from every direction, really fast then this is your game. You do get one more life though every 20000 points.

The first levels are easy and the game constantly keeps acccelerating in diffuculty. There’s no way to alter that but the game is challenging enough as it is. Difficulty Versatility gets a score of 9 out of 10.

Value:

Since this game is so old now, most people will probably play the emulated (usually MAME) version which you can get for free.

The PS2 Namco Classic Collection version is now out of print and not available online. You can track it down either by calling your local game stores or finding it through ebay.

The Wii version you can probably get online from their store for probably a few dollars.

Overall, since you can either play this game for free or for a few dollars for the PS2 or Wii version, Value gets a score of 10 out of 10.

Replayability:

Most classic arcade games are highly addictive/replayable, unless you find them too hard/frustrating for you. You can pretty much set your own goal as you what you want your experienced with this game to be, whether to get to whatever number of level or whatever your high score will be.

Myself, I find this game fun and I often wonder to what level I can get to the next time I play. Considering I’ve played this game thousands of times since the 80s and I still play it, the game is a classic and very replayable. I give replayability a score of 9 out of 10.

Sound:

The sounds mainly consist of hearing the dragon roar (whistle) and your pump that fills up the cute monsters and pops the living hell out of them. For an old game the sounds are really well done and I think Sound deserves a score of 1o out of 10.

Music:

The music is so simple but it’s so catchy. The music is interactive in the sense that the little jingle will only play whenever your guy is walking. Mega64 makes fun of that fact and made a video where they go around harrassing people with it! Here is a video showing that:

It’s catchy and it keeps you playing this hectic little game. For a few simple notes, it’s a classic. Overall the game has like 4 little melodies but the main melody is the one that you will hear the most. Music gets a score of 10 out of 10.

Graphics:

The graphics look pretty cute for this old game and they are actually great. It’s fun watching the monsters blow up like a balloon and then POP! Graphics get a score of 10 out of 10.

Stability/Reliability:

This game actually has 2 bugs.

If you get to the end of the game, the game has a kill screen where you are basically stuck because the game will not progress any further. This happens when you get to the last level of the game (level 256) and beat it.

The other bug happens if you drop a rock on an enemy while you are pumping it with air and snuff it. It basically makes all enemies disappear making the level unbeatable but the work around is to trigger another rock to fall.

Other than those two bugs, mainly the rock one (because most people will NOT get to the last level), the game is rock solid. Stability/Reliability get a score of 8 out of 10.

Controls:

The controls are simple. Up is up and so forth, and the fire button always triggers the harpoon gun/pump which lets you kill enemies. Other than that you walk into the ground to tunnel and you make rocks fall by leaving a tunnel under it (to try to trick a monster into getting crushed). Controls get a score of 10 out of 10.

Performance:

The game runs flawless whether you play it on an arcade machine, emulation (MAME, etc), or on a console remake of it. If only all games could run as well as old games! Performance gets a score of 10 out of 10.

My history with this game:

This is one of the first games where I was impressed by an arcade game, specifically Namco and Atari. I remember seeing this around the same time I first played Ms. Pacman, another arcade favorite of mine. I’ve played Dig Dug over 1000 times, literally. It’s not as popular as the Pacman games but among the arcade community, it’s always a classic.

If you’ve never played Dig Dug, you are missing out on a major arcade game that is a corner stone for arcade gaming history. Go play it and stop reading this.