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.

The Interview: Nolan Bushnell

This was originally posted on Twin Galaxies and is reposted with permission of Twin Galaxies and writer Matt Bradford. You can see the original Interview here.

Nolan Bushnell

Nolan Bushnell hasn’t worked a day in his life. At least, there are very few he’d consider “work”. From his early days at Atari, to launching Chuck E Cheese, and now his current adventures at the forefront of interactive entertainment and education, the aptly titled “Father of the Video Game Industry” has led a life rich with innovation, excitement, and most of all: fun.

So how did he find time to talk to us? We have no idea – but you can bet we took advantage of the opportunity. Join us as we pick Nolan’s brain on the future of gaming, why it pays to remember the past, and what it is to be a gaming icon.

 

 

nolan-bushnell-image

Let’s begin with one of your most recent achievements; your British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) Fellowship Award. What did this mean for you?

Well, what was really nice about that is [gaming] was being represented or thought of as a truly creative endeavour, and that really is sort of a transitional point in some ways from being a hobby and just about games. I mean, I’m not sure if Monopoly—as wonderful a game as it is—ever got a BAFTA [laughs].

It was a nice win for gaming. When do you first recall video games receiving that level of recognition?

I’d say probably in the very late 80s or early 90s. One of the pivotal games that I’ve always felt represented a big shift was Doom. Somehow, the graphics, the immersion, and the ability to feel like you were in another world…I think it was truly excellent. And then, to add to that, do you remember Myst and those kind of games?

The point and click adventures…

Right, the point-and-click adventures. One of the things that happened with those is the graphics and the sound and the experiences were so compelling; like, I felt like I visited those islands. So all of the sudden, there became an ability to really capture the emotive experience of being somewhere else. Of course, movies give that to you in the abstraction—one’s interactive and one’s passive—and so I kind of think that was where I felt it was really good. Before that the technology was so rough, the best we could do was sort of a cartooney view of the world, which was not immersive.

Are modern games hitting that mark in terms of immersion?

Absolutely. Now it’s almost de rigueur; you do that all the time. It’s not novel or new to be immersed in a strange or fantasmagorical world.

You hit on a topic that sometimes polarizes the gaming community; that is, the idea that modern games don’t offer the same degree of immersion or skill level as some of the more classic games. What’s your take?

I think that both camps are right. I mean, let’s face it, in some ways the early classic games are much more finely tuned and in some ways better produced because we could not rely on graphics to steal the show. We really had to make sure the challenge was right, the timing was right, and the difficulty was right at every level or else the dog didn’t hunt, as they say.

And in some ways the arcade world—the coin operated world—was a very, very good development world because each quarter was a vote. We as developers got immediate feedback from our customers as to what they liked and didn’t like, what they found objectionable, and when they would quit putting quarters in the machine. That feedback mechanism was very, very good for the early days.

In reality, very often graphics can actually cause fuzziness in the gameplay. For example, I play tournament chess. We wouldn’t think of playing on anything other than the classic wood, knight, queen, king, and bishop chess set. There are brilliant and wonderful chess sets, but to have to worry about whether what you’re moving is actually a bishop or actually a rook because the design is kind of funky…that’s not part of what chess is. Chess is about no ambiguity, and often times really good graphics will introduce a level of ambiguity when it’s not wanted or not needed, or is actually destructive to the gameplay. If you go back to game theory, sometimes you want to introduce abstractions and sometimes you don’t. It depends on what the creator or director of the game wants. Gratuitous abstractions are not good.

Can you think of games that demonstrate both extremes?

The one that harkens back for me is a game called Zaxxon from the early days of the coin-op business. That was very, very confusing to a lot of people. In some ways, though, Tempest had a level of abstraction that was quit obtuse, which people found very, very compelling.

Today, Portal is a game in which there’s some abstraction that are really wonderful integrations to the gameplay. As for games that are using gratuitous abstractions, there are a few of the Zynga games [Farmville], but that seems to be working for them!

To be called the Father of Arcade Industry is a huge honor, and a lot to live up to. How does it feel to carry that title, and how are you keeping that moniker alive?

Actually, to tell you the truth, I don’t focus very much on the rear view mirror. I’m always focusing on what I’m doing, and right now while I’m doing some help with Atari on the 40th Anniversary, my real drive is to fix education using some of the things I know about how to immerse kids and how to addict them to activities that can be educational as well as entertaining.

Does that involve game theory? Are you drawing on your experience as the founder of Atari?

Massively. We know for a fact that video game play increases the IQ. There’s been study after study after study, and it’s absolutely true. What happens though, is video games are, in fact, addictive and people who play an excess amount of video games find that they end up being able to creatively problem solve, but they’ve got no data to fall back on. They’re what we call “processors with no memory”. I think that it’s important to keep a well balanced life.

You’ve been in the gaming world for quite some time. Who else do consider an unsung hero of the video game industry?

I think Steve Meyer doesn’t get talked about a lot, but he was absolutely pivotal in a lot of the creative thought that Atari is known for. Ed Rothberg [Battlezone] is another one who did some wonderful stuff. Joe Decuir in the later stuff in terms of being a brilliant coder. That’s kind of the early days. Of course, I’m a big fan of Will Wright [Sim City], and I think John Carmack from Doom has done wonderful things too. He’s not necessarily unsung, though.

What about some of the indie developers coming up. Any on your radar?

Yeah, the guy who made Minecraft, this Markuss “Notch” Persson. I just think that that is brilliant in its simplicity. There’s this rule in gameplay: maximum richness, minimum rules. He’s kind of done that, and created this very, very compelling world space.

It’s seems right now there’s a lot of gameplay innovations vying for domination. You’ve got motion controls, social gaming, graphical enhancements, and all that. Is there anything you see as coming out victorious in the next couple of years?

Oh yeah, for sure. We all know the direction; we all want to have essentially an artificial universe. Whether we’re talking about the Holodeck or Westworld, we want virtual experiences that are real. I’m not sure if we’re ever going to get jacked in like Neo.

It’s funny, I just finished a science fiction book that will be published in a few months, Video Games 2071. It’s set a hundred years in the future from the first video game. I timed it from Computer Space, and I sort of let my technology mind run wild as to what I think the ultimate video game would be.

Which is almost the Matrix, right? Being unable to separate the video game space from the real world?

Yeah. It’s kind of a reverse turing test.

Do you see us getting to that point?

Getting close. I think we can get real close. And with what I consider the technology to be, that is not just possible, but probable…and probably sooner than what I postulated in my book.

We’re talking a lot about future trends, and Twin Galaxies lives in the more competitive domain of gaming. Do you think competition is still going to play a key role in the video game experience going forward, or is that going to be replaced by social and cooperative experiences?

No. I see a lot of signals that say competitive gaming is going to explode. I predict that within two years there will be several television channels devoted to nothing but watching other people play video games.

Understand that what happens is players become audiences. People watch basketball and baseball because they played it as a kid, so they know the rules intimately, and in some ways they project their aspirations from then onto the players now. That mechanism is part of our psyche, and that’s going to happen in games. You have to have enough of the audiences, and you have to have the right games, and the right dynamic. I believe that someday somebody will put it all together in a very short while.

There was a time in 70s and 80s when that appeared to be happening, but it never fully took off. What is different now?

The games were not designed for viewing that well. The field of view was constrained. I think in some ways they should almost design a game sport that is designed for third party watching.

Assuming competitive gaming does take off as much as you predict, will there be a need for score keeping organizations like Twin Galaxies?

Not only that, I think there’s going to be opportunity for Video Game Halls of Fame for great players– which clearly are score based, and all kinds of those things. Remember that what we have is a social phenomena, and surely as there’s walks of fame and a lot of these things, once it becomes a social phenomena, people want to experience it aspirationally.

You’ve give us a lot of insight into what’s the come, but what about what’s already happened? Looking back, what has been your proudest achievement?

My family of eight children, being married to my wife, and having a really nice home and support structure. The most important thing is really your family and friends. All the other stuff is window dressing.

The reality is, am I proud of things that I’ve done? Absolutely. But, you know, they were a vehicle for creating an interesting life for myself and my children in some ways. I’ve had really, really fun life. I haven’t worked a day in my life. Well, actually, that’s not true. We all want these ideal jobs, but there are times like [at CES] where the last thing I wanted to do is go down to the consumer electronic show and fight the crowds, but yet I was curious. So is that work? Is that play? I don’t know.

Speaking of your career, it seems far from over. Aside from the educational initiative and your continuing work with Atari, what else is keeping you busy?

I’m also on the board of a company, CyberSecurity, that I really love. I get involved with companies that are doing important and interesting things. Right now, part of the thing that I really like is I don’t have to be CEO. CEO is really a hard job. It’s all consuming. I think as I’ve got older, I’ve found it’s really fun to not be CEO [laughs]. It’s really fun to—I don’t want to say dabble—but to have an impact on a broader set of issues.

I am absolutely, in my core, an existentialist. The journey is the reward.

Are you playing anything right now?

I still play Go. I am playing some Portal. I am playing a lot…an awful lot…of the Atari Greatest Hits on the iPad. It’s a wonderful articulation. It brings me back and, you know, it’s almost like a time warp. I was playing Lunar Lander today and just having a ball. It was like time travelling back to 1976 or whenever it was. I got the Atari joystick and button thing for the iPad for Christmas, and I’ve just been having fun playing Missile Command.

What about your work in the industry? Anything up your sleeve?

I’m actually doing work on a truly interactive movie. Imagine, if you would, 100 people in a theatre playing an interactive movie. I’ve got a design, and one I think would be spellbinding. I’ve driven the cost out of it, and I think that it’s possible the first few interactive movies can make 20-percent of what Avatar did with the fraction of the budget.

You know, a lot of people think that it’s horrible to give away all your secrets, but I’m almost the opposite. I like to bounce those things off people. I’ve found that an unproven idea you can’t give away, let along have somebody steal them [laughs].

People don’t realize how bumpy the road to innovation is. Could any of the thousand companies come up with the iPad? Absolutely. And I think some people did. You know, people were talking about Apple Computers and that five years before, but what you have to do is execute properly. A lot of people don’t realize how hard it is to execute properly.

And that was Steve Job’s genius.

Exactly. And in some ways it was Atari’s genius. At one point in time, we had about a 90% market share. That’s really, really hard to do unless you had the secret sauce. Anybody could have done what we were doing, but we did it first and best.

That said, the Fairchild Channel F was out almost a full year before Atari. How did Atari succeed where it failed?

This is going to sound very dismissive, but…they were really crappy games [laughs]. Quite candidly, the technology was not extensible. It was viewed a tiny little step on the pathway to a multi-game, which is where everyone was going. Everyone wanted to do a multi-game. Once you have a multi-game, it has to be good enough, and [the Fairchild Channel F] just wasn’t. The Magnavox Odyssey, they basically had huge returns, and actually in some ways—and i hadn’t realized it at the time—but kind of poisoned the well for consumer games going forward.

How so?

When we took the Atari Pong to the Toy Show, we sold none. Nobody wanted to touch it, because there had been enough people that had heard about Magnavox and some of those things, and so they just didn’t see it. If it hadn’t been for Sears, I’m not sure if we could have gotten it launched. Of course, it turned out to be one of the most successful consumer product launches for ages, but it was a real, real struggle. When you look at it, what was the difference between Pong and Ping Pong games. You could say, well, “was there really that big of a difference”. And it turns out it was massive.

Yeah, you could say that. 

—–

Twin Galaxies thanks Nolan Bushnell for his time and for laying the foundation for what TG staff and members enjoy on a daily basis. Look for Nolan in our Trading Card Series and keep watch for his next big projects.

Kino One Review

Kino One
Kino One can be described, in a nutshell, as the illegitimate child of a classic single screen shoot-em-up arcade game with a late 90s bullet-hell Japanese shmup, conceived after a particularly wild night of sake drinking. This is of course a good thing. Or at least it should be considered one by most indie-minded retro gamers, that tend to appreciate both these sub-genres and the overall anime aesthetic of the game. Especially as some R-Type inspired mechanics have also been thrown into the mix.

After all, Kino One, knows and loves its audience, and doesn’t try to appeal to the casual gaming crowd. It features lovely cell-shaded graphics to appease the little Japanese loving nerd that lives inside you, excellent comic book styled cutscenes, great video game humour, an intricate scoring system, and a brilliant virtual arcade sporting some truly well remade versions of Pong, Pac-Man, Arkanoid and more.

Kino One Gameplay Screenshot 1

Despite not being incredibly original and at times feeling slightly repetitive (some stages do drag a bit), one can’t help but notice the amount of care and polish poured into the thing. It features more than enough levels, impressive end bosses, different difficulty options and even comes packed with cute faux arcade flyers. Besides, the control scheme that effortlessly lets players cloak, use smart-bombs and shoot everything in sight works like a breeze and helps Kino One become a most addictive fun little high-score chase.

Oh, and the soundtrack is quite enjoyable and definitely appropriate too.

Kino One Gameplay Screenshot

Verdict: Not the most original shmup around nor a game for everyone, but excellent fun and absolutely stuffed with content to make retro-gamers, shmup addicts and manga worshipers drool. Also very cheap.

Visit the official Kino One website to find out more, download the demo or -better yet- grab a copy of the thing.

Facebook Gaming vs Real Games aka anything else

Facebook Gaming vs Real Games

As an experiment of sorts I installed a bunch of Facebook games to my profile to see why people play those games. I quickly saw that these games are merely made so that you can waste your time faster at a dead-end job (maybe a real job) rather than at the usual braindead rate.

Life is strife. Life is challenge. Most of the FB games I found (like 99% of them) don’t have any death penalty. What’s the point of doing anything if you’re immortal? Like seriously, even Tic Tac Toe is more hardcore. Even Pong is insanely more punishing than the typical FB game.

Tic Tac Toe
Yeah, even this little girl is more hardcore than Farmville!

I found a pattern with most of these games. The typical game will let you do a certain amount of actions or so per hour or per day, regenerating your ability to do more if you wait or if you pay real life money or facebook money. I guess this appeals to people who always thought video games were retarded but now they’re addicted to the most base form of “video games”.

FB games are basically blatant ripoffs on concepts taken from old school BBS door games. There’s a ton that involve having land, building an army, and attacking other players for resources. Of course, all these games now involve “leveling up” which sometimes doesn’t even give you anything but just goes to show how much of a loser you are for playing the game for longer than 2 minutes.

I actually found one FB game which does have death and losing but pretty much nobody plays it. The game is called Verdonia and it plays a lot like an MMO version of Defender of the Crown. The game consists of building up your country and conquering land from NPC and other player nations. Most other games are about trains or zombies or farms or dumb shit. It’s just a bunch of pointless fucking grinding that makes even the worst play-for-free MMO look like a work of art.

I guess these games appeal to the basic gaming addict that just want their level to go up with no point or skill needed. Here, just click on this button a bunch of times and level up your farm/zombie herd/etc.

I played these games for a bunch of days and then I fired up even some games that I had been sick of playing and here is what happened. OMFG, is this what fun feels like? Like, I’m sick of playing certain games that I play all the time with my friends like Dawn of War 1 and 2, Battleforge, GRID, etc but Jesus H Christ, even grinding these games that don’t even give me any gratification anymore is much more entertaining than even the best FB game. I found that my skill in playing games that require practice degraded a lot and I had to repractice to get my skills up to par.

Let’s talk about specific games:

Lucky Train: Build trains, board them, click to send them, repeat over and over and over and over and over (kill yourself)
Office & Co: Simulates pointless office jobs, the best part of the game being when you fight your boss and you play rock, paper, scissors with the chance of losing, only to repeat it again. You can’t get fired unlike in real life, for playing this game at work and getting caught.
BRAAAINS: Cute graphics but that doesn’t make up for a game where you can’t die. Build up a zombie army and keep doing it over and over as you fight random strangers in an uncontrolled pvp animated match.
Mobsters 2: Vendetta: Kind of neat to see the different missions that you can do but essentially, you read it once and who cares after you click on the mission again for the 40th time.
Castle Age: “rpg” fantasy game where you do quests that are just you clicking the quest button over and over and then you fight bosses and pvp other players, with no real death penalty. Pointless.
OfficeWorld: Tired of your pointless job in real life? Go be an asshole in a virtual office in this game. Click on people and deal with office drama, again without being able to get fired.
TrainStation: Similar to LuckyTrain, except not as cute.
CarTown: Game for people who wish they were 6 years old again and could play Micro Machines.
NightClub City: One of the neater games, again you can’t lose. Cool thing about it is that it plays samples from real musicians which I guess it’s a way for you to buy their singles online.
RomanTaxi: You run a taxi service in Ancient Rome… Yeah…
Mercenaries of War: Create a band of warriors and fight NPCs and other players, and even though they just shot you with assault rifles, you can never lose to the point of having to make a new character. What fucking bullshit is that?
BrainBuddies: Harder than the other games I just mentioned. You get to do little brain teasers to see how clever you are, or just how many times you did these quizzes and memorized what you had to do.
City of Wonder: Civilization rip off in which you attack random people and build up your city with again little consequence of chance of dying.
Tetris Friends: At least this is modeled after a real game. How can you fuck up Tetris?

Okay, I’m going to go punch a wall and play some hangman on paper with some elementary school kids because at least I can die in that game. Makes me want to fire up some Hello Kitty Online for Slaneesh’s sake!

Slaneesh demotivational poster
Slaneesh, worship him/her or Chaos will RAPE you

The Interview: William D. Volk

William D Volk

To say that William D. Volk has had an interesting career in gaming would be an understatement. From playing video games in high school to having his first gaming related job in college, to creating a number of great games. Volk began working with Avalon Hill starting off in quality assurance. In time he began working on his own titles including Conflict 2500, Voyage 1 and Controller.

Obsolete Gamer was able to get insight into his career working with various companies including Activision where he was VP of Technology has his technical direction over Return to Zork. We were also able to get his opinion on some of the events in his life including the video game crash, the Philips CD-I and mobile gaming.

Avalon Hill logo
Avalon Hill logo

Obsolete Gamer: Would it be fair to say you did not grow up playing games but once you were into your college years you found your love of gaming?

William Volk: I was playing games at the arcade in High School.  Pong showed up in the early ’70’s.

Obsolete Gamer: What was the first video game that you were exposed to?

William Volk: Probabily Pong.

Obsolete Gamer: What was the first video game that hooked you?

William Volk: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_Wars On a PDP-8 at University of Penn … original Startrek  and the Classic Adventure.

Obsolete Gamer: How does the process for transferring a strategic board game to computer software work and what was it like testing these games?

William Volk: Very few of Avalon Hills Computer Games were based on the board games in 79-82.  I wanted to tackle “Iron Men and Wooden Ships” but by then I had taken a position with Rising Star.  I also proposed an online version of Squad Leader.

Conflict 2500
Conflict 2500

Obsolete Gamer: Any gamers today have never seen much less played a text game, can you give us a little insight into how text base games were at that time?

William Volk: Everyone was hooked on the Infocom games.  You can still play them today.  Lords of Karma was Avalon Hill’s best text adventure IMHO.

Obsolete Gamer: During your work with Avalon Hill you began to create your own titles, can you tell us about the thought process of coming up with a game and then trying to create it?

William Volk: Conflict 2500: I was renting a place in Baltimore during the summer of 1980 and was a huge fan of Star Raiders (Spaceship Yamato).  I had played the Startrek game and wanted a more complex version of that.

Voyager I: Saw a maze program on an Apple II.  At UNH in 1981 I did a class project using a random maze generator that displayed a solid wall 3D maze on some incredibly expensive Textronix terminal.  The game was kinda based on the end of the original Alien film.  The getting off the ship because you set self-destruct part.

Controller: Was working at a video game store in Portsmouth NH and the owner (Frank D Kelley) had been an air-boss in the navy (controller).  He wanted a simple game to land aircraft.  Reagan fired the air-traffic controllers and Avalon Hill picked up the game.  I KICK MYSELF for not porting that to the iPhone on day one, given the success of Flight Control.

Obsolete Gamer: What was the atmosphere at Avalon Hill like?

William Volk: Very congenial.  There were people who had started there in the 1950’s!  The board game people were absolute experts on military history.  I would have conversations with a WWII vet who worked there and had witnessed a ME262 attack on a B17.

PlayScreen logo
PlayScreen logo

Obsolete Gamer: How did it feel to see the work done at Avalon hill released to the public?

William Volk: Funny, I was in Baltimore for a meeting last week.  Had dinner in the harbor area about 200 ft from the location of a shop (probably not there) where I saw Conflict on a shelf for the first time.

Obsolete Gamer: You were able to avoid what is called the great video game crash when you moved to Epson and was offered a great position, what were those years like moving forward as many other companies and the industry as a whole suffered?

William Volk: I felt compelled to take a ‘real’ job in 1982 because I had been in college and grad school for almost 8 years by that point.  So when I showed some folks at Epson my little 3D rendering system on the Atari 800 they referred me to Rising Star in California.  I was hired at the COMDEX show in Vegas in Nov. 1982.

Rising Star was great but leaving independent game development was one of the biggest mistakes of my life.  It did teach me about technical management and the Val Draw program I wrote was probably my greatest technical achievement.  A full 2D drafting system in 58 kilobytes of FORTH.  Lines, arcs, splines, associative dimensions, virtual memory, zoom, snap, automatic parallel lines … the stroke font was packed into a byte per stroke.  I don’t even know how I pulled it off.  In real dollars I made more $$$ in 1984 than I may have since, but I really should have just continued building games as an independent.  I didn’t realize that I was doing pretty good and I had some nice stuff I wanted to do.

Controller
Controller

Obsolete Gamer: The Pyramid of Peril was a 3D adventure inspired by some of your previous work and Raiders of the Lost Ark, can you tell us about the creative process when developing that game?

William Volk: Obviously based on Voyager 1.  Pyramid shaped puzzle.  David Barrett helped with the writing.  The Mac was new and exciting.  The entire game from concept to heat shrinking the boxes – 30 days.  Coded on a 128kb Mac.

Obsolete Gamer: Completing a project of the scope of “Pyramid” in 30 days was impressive, how was it done so quickly?

William Volk: I had the maze generating and display algorithms from Voyager and people to help on the artwork.

 

 

Obsolete Gamer: Most people know of the fate of the Philips CD-I, but can you tell us your thoughts on why in the end the company failed?

William Volk: Delayed launch to add MPEG Video.  AIM (American Interactive Media) decided that they didn’t need the video game industry to back the system.  EA and others, who had spent serious money building development systems, abandoned it because of the delays.

Obsolete Gamer: When you became director of technology and began pushing for Activision to publish “The Manhole” how did you know this would be the right move?

William Volk: I could see true greatness in the creativity of Rand and Robyn Miller (Cyan).  The User Interface was just breakthrough.  I was also a bit pissed at the delay of CD-I and wanted to send a message about that.  Activision was recovering from the video game crash and wanted something that was ground breaking.  Finally Stewart Alsop suggested that the Manhole would be an ideal CD-ROM title.  He was right.

Obsolete Gamer: What were the main challenges in moving away from the Midi format to actual recordings?

William Volk: We didn’t want to use CD-Audio tracks on the Mac (first) version, because we wanted to be able to pull data from the CD, we had to … because of Hypercard.  So we had to come up with a way of paging in 8 bit, 22khz audio chunks.  The CD-Emulator said it wouldn’t work, so we burned a test CD ($500 at that time!) and it worked.  Using live musicians was very cool.  I believe $20k of the budget was just for the music.  Russell Lieblich composed most of the music.

When we did the PC CD-ROM title we had our own engine …. MADE (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multimedia_Applications_Development_Environment) so we could force a cache of data in a scene and use CD-Audio (redbook) tracks.

Return to Zork
Return to Zork

Obsolete Gamer: What was it like behind the scenes at Activision during its troubled time of the late 80’s?

William Volk: Fall of 1989 was one of Activison’s good years: Mech Warrior I, Death Track, Ghostbusters II, The Manhole, etc… The financial mess started in 1990 with the judgement on the Magnavox patent case.  Funny thing in 1990 is we coped with massive Nerf Gun wars and RC car ‘racing’ (consisting of running RC10’s into each other at 40mph+ … each car … in the parking lot).  In a strange way the coping made the place very fun to be at.  I still have a scar on my head from playing that game from “Sam and Max” where you hit full beer cans with some sort of post-nuclear-apocolyptic club.  Yeah, Fizzball http://samandmax.wikia.com/wiki/Fizzball Other local companies would come and watch us play this at lunchtime.

It wasn’t fun to see everyone go though.  Down to about 13 when we made the move to LA.

Obsolete Gamer: What was your feeling of using full motion video in games?

William Volk: It was clever but got overused eventually.  I do think we were heading in the right direction with RTZ’s emotional response system and intricate conversation interfaces.

Obsolete Gamer: Can you tell us about the interface you created for Return to Zork?

William Volk: The Diamond Reverse Parser was inspired by an article Eddie Dombrower had seen from MIT.  I just used Taxicab Geometry with diamonds because it made the hit-detect faster.  We had used this sort of hit detect trick on “Tongue of the Fatman”.   So the idea you could use any object on any object and have the reverse parser show you what the action was came out of the disappointing reception we got with LGOP2.    We wanted INSANELY DIFFICULT and UNFAIR puzzles.  Yes, there really was a “Chris Lombardi Memorial Puzzle” in the game (internal object name), dedicated to a writer at CGW who had panned LGOP2.  I believe it was the sliding stone – sentences puzzle.

It’s not clear how we came up with it all the character interactions, but we were trying to make the video more than just “Interruptible Media”.  So the idea of being able to ask characters about objects, pictures, and even what other characters had to say … that was the goal.

The Manhole box art
The Manhole box art

Obsolete Gamer: How did it feel to save a company with the release of a great game?

William Volk: Great, but frustrating that we couldn’t get the studio to just let us run with that UI and style.  Everyone wanted to copy Myst.  Ironic, when you consider I helped to get Cyan their first publishing gig.  I am very proud of RTZ.

Obsolete Gamer: What are the differences in your feelings about mobile gaming from then to today?

William Volk: Well, Mobile Gaming from 2001 to 2007 was very much like games of the early 1980’s.  Very small games.  Then the iPhone shows up and we now have one of the most innovative sectors in gaming.  Just playing Match 3D (Sherri Cuono’s design) game is Sci-Fi like with the multitouch interfaces.

We haven’t even begun to exploit augmented reality, social interactions and other possibilities.

Obsolete Gamer: Of all your time in the industry do you have a favorite story about that time?

William Volk: Yeah.  Producer (John Skeel) goes to comic show in NYC in 1989 or so.  Likes a new comic book so he negotiates a deal to get the video game rights for $20k.   Activision does a weekend focus group on the concept with kids, soda and pizza.  The result?

TEENAGE BOYS SHOW LITTLE INTEREST IN  ANTHROPOMORPHIC  TURTLES.

Activision logo
Activision logo

Obsolete Gamer: Overall what was your favorite computer or game system?

William Volk: The FM Towns.  Really.   The Amiga a close second.

Obsolete Gamer: What was your favorite classic game?

William Volk: Choplifter.

Obsolete Gamer: Was there a game you had in your head that you wanted to release, but never did/could?

William Volk: I seriously wanted to release a Wing Commander type game … where after hours of play, many missions and incredible skill you would end up crashed on some planet (otherwise you would be killed) … and then end up in an elaborate adventure involving learning how to interact with native people … and have us DENY THAT THE ADVENTURE GAME EXISTED.  Like only 1 in 10,000 players would stumble upon that game within a game.  Yeah, that sounds crazy, but it’s what I wanted to do in the early 1990’s.

Obsolete Gamer: If you could rerelease any game you’ve worked on using today’s technology what would it be?

William Volk: Return to Zork in a “Grand Theft Auto” type engine and fairer puzzles.

Currently William Volk is the co-founder and CEO of PlayScreen and an avid cyclist.

The Obsolete Gamer Show: Episode 7

PVP vs non-pvp PVE
PVP vs non-pvp PVE

Player versus Player and Player versus Environment was the topic for this week’s show. We were happy to have our good friend Edwin in the studio with us and had a great conversation via Skype with longtime Obsolete Gamer fan, Liz Poisonkiss.

We started off with a recap of last week’s show which featured MMO’s and then moved into our Facebook fanpage question of the week which asked which our fans preferred to play PVE or PVP type games. From there we talked about our Insider Discussion question of the week which asked our panel which had a bigger impact on PC gaming RTS or FPS games.

From there we dove right into the main topic discussing the differences between a FPS mindset playing games such as Quake 2 and the strategy side of RTS games such as the original Warcraft game. Edwin also talked about his online Street Fighter games and said that he preferred to play again a human which we all agreed.

We premiered a new feature on OGS called Skype with a fan where we talk with people who have participated on our Facebook page and Forums and our first guest was longtime fan Liz. Who shared her thoughts on being a gamer girl, fps versus rts and pvp versus pve.

In our final segment Ignacio, Edwin and I discussed our various experiences in PVP from MMO’s to X-box live to arcades. Overall we had a good discussion about an important subject in the world of gaming. So give us a listen and we will be back next week with a brand new show.

The Obsolete Gamer Show: Episode 7

The Interview: Chris Tremmel

Boogerman game
Boogerman game

Chris Tremmel

There are thousands of great games across all platforms that we as gamers have enjoyed for many years of our lives, but what about the people behind them. Just as there are fans of games there are the game makers themselves who weave a concept into code to be displayed on your system of choice. Many times the idea that became the mega-hit game of the year came to the developer or designer in the middle of the night, but from there it was many sleepless nights to turn that vision into reality.

One of Obsolete Gamer’s main purposes is to get the story behind the game and we do this by speaking with the designers, developers and publishers who helped bring us oh so many hours of enjoyment. Sometimes it begins with a gamer profile where we just find out a game they like and from there a dialog starts and soon you find out all kinds of wonderful information.

This is what happened with our gamer profile of Chris Tremmel. I discovered him through his clothing store, Gamer Cultoure and when he submitted his gamer profile with the game BoogerMan I wanted to find out why he liked that game and what I found out was he was one of the main creators of it. After that I had to learn more and Chris was very accommodating in answering our questions.

Gamer Cultoure logo
Gamer Cultoure logo

Obsolete Gamer: Let’s start with a little history, what was it that got you into gaming and working in the gaming industry?

Chris Tremmel: When I was a kid, my parents hooked me up with a Texas Instruments\99-4A computer. I was already a gamer thanks to PONG, and the AT2600, but the TI-99 allowed me to begin making my own games! I think I started with “porting” my choose your own adventure books into interactive form. 🙂

Obsolete Gamer: When did you begin working at Interplay?

Chris Tremmel: I officially started working at Interplay in 1992 I believe. It’s funny because I first interviewed for a tester spot. I didn’t get the job because my “autoexec.bat, and config.sys” knowledge was a bit rusty. I went home, studied up, and returned for a 2nd interview a month or two later. This time I got the job. The 1st games I tested were the original Alone in the Dark on PC, and the Lost Vikings on the Amiga.

Obsolete Gamer: Who else did you work with primarily at Interplay?

Chris Tremmel: I initially worked in the testing department but quickly made friends with a couple of designers and producers, primarily Mike Stragey and Alan Pavlish.

Obsolete Gamer: What was it like working for them?

Chris Tremmel: I hate to sound really cliche’, but working at Interplay in 1992\1993 was “magical”. I was in awe of everything being made and was thrown right in to working with some of the brightest people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting and working with. It was an amazing time as I was being taught my core design fundamentals by great guys like Mike and Alan. I knew this is what I wanted to do forever.

Obsolete Gamer: When did you first start working on Boogerman?

Chris Tremmel: I believe we started Boogerman in early 1993? It’s hard to remember exactly.

Obsolete Gamer: Who else worked with you on Boogerman?

Chris Tremmel: My boss, and the man that hired me out of test Michael Stragey. 🙂 Also Alan Pavlish was the executive producer who we would run stuff by on a regular basis. We also worked with an external animation house called Little Gangster, as well as some in-house artists, and additional programming support, but primarily it was Mike and myself.

Obsolete Gamer: How did you come up with the concept and story behind Boogerman?

Chris Tremmel: Interplay came to Mike and said “we want to make a gross-out game that appeals to the Garbage Pail Kids demographic.”

Interplay logo
Interplay logo

Obsolete Gamer: Can you tell us a little bit about the development process?

Chris Tremmel: Conceptually we knew we wanted to make a “gross” game. Mike came up with the idea of a gross Superhero and off we went! The ideas just starting pouring out from Michael and myself, I would say we were never short of ideas for characters, locations, etc.

As for the design of the characters, we worked very closely with Little Gangster and went through dozens of designs until we finally settled on what you see today. Funny enough, several of the bosses in the game including the main boss BoogerMiester were originally design concepts for Boogerman himself.

Obsolete Gamer: When Boogerman was ready to launch did you believe you had a hit on your hands?

Chris Tremmel: Ya know, this is a weird thing… I was so new to the industry and so excited and stoked every day to be making games that I never really thought about “hits”. We knew we had something fun, and we knew people responded to the content the way we wanted, so that was enough for me. I still remember our very 1st magazine preview EVER. It was in Diehard Gamefan, they dubbed it an “instant classic”, we were happy.

Now some gaming sites and magazines game you high marks while others gave you more middle of the road scores. Do you think they just didn’t get it or what was the disconnect?

I think we were pretty happy with the reviews. We had some serious competition that year with Earthworm Jim being released at the same time. I think Boogerman got the scores it deserved, it was a good game, just not everyones cup of tea.

Obsolete Gamer: What was your feeling about winning the grossest character of 1994 award from Electronic Gaming monthly?

Chris Tremmel: Honored for sure. The entire Boogerman universe is still very close to our hearts to this day (Mike and myself). I still believe the franchise has a lot of potential.

Obsolete Gamer: Was there a plan to make more Boogerman related games?

Chris Tremmel: Yes, absolutely. AND a cartoon. The cartoon was actually started, at least script writing, character design, etc. but I believe in the end Universal went with the Earthworm Jim cartoon that was in development at the same time. Which btw, I am a massive EWJ fan and I loved loved loved the cartoon.

There were clocks made, t-shirts, and even a Boogerman phone. In addition we DID start the sequel on the Sega Saturn. We had a basic design document done and had contracted some amazing matte painters to start working on backgrounds. Unfortunately, it never came to fruition. Michael and myself left Interplay to pursue work with another company, I think we both wish Boogerman 2 could have been made. We had some really fun ideas.

Obsolete Gamer: How was it to see Boogerman released for the virtual console in 2008?

Chris Tremmel: Neither Mike or myself were involved in this. I believe this happened after Interplay changed hands. We were incredibly happy to see it up there though, downloaded it immediately!

Obsolete Gamer: Did you play Boogerman a lot yourself and do you still play it today?

Chris Tremmel: Absolutely! Mike and I both played all the time while making the game, AND after the game was released. Out of all the games I have made, this one probably got played the most. I definitely still bust it out once or twice a year. I like looking back and try to figure out what the heck I was thinking with a particular layout, or just to laugh at some of the character designs. Lot’s of laughing during the development.

Obsolete Gamer: After Boogerman what came next for you?

Chris Tremmel: Mike and I left Interplay to make a game for EA based on a Saturday morning TV show called “Bump in the Night”. Unfortunately this game was never finished\released, although we did have a rad demo running on the Saturn. I ended up at Virgin Interactive after that working on the N64.

Gamer Cultoure dog tag
Gamer Cultoure dog tag

Obsolete Gamer: Can you tell us a little about Gamer Cultoure?

Chris Tremmel: Sure! Gamer Cultoure is a side project I have started that is clothing centric. It’s really a basic line of T-shirts, hoodies, etc. that are gaming themed. The line is really small right now, but I intend to continue to grow it over the next year or two. After leaving Activision early in the year I decided to take a little time off and try something different for a little while. It has been a fun, rewarding process for sure.

Obsolete Gamer: What do you think of gaming today in comparison to gaming back in the early to mid nineties?

Chris Tremmel: Oh no, this is a loaded question. 🙂 It is definitely different. The process has become more complicated, usually requiring a large number of people to make something significant. The money involved in some of the triple A games is staggering with some budgets now reaching 100 million dollars. That naturally changes everything in terms of peoples priorities, and agendas. Sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. One of the nice things though as of late is seeing the rise of the “indie” studios, small teams executing on great ideas. It is very easy to get distracted now a days when making something. The bar has been raised so high, and with so much money involved it takes some serious planet-aligning powers to take something killer to market. All of that being said, I hope the younger guys and girls that are in the industry today feel the same sense of magic that I felt in 1992.

Obsolete Gamer: Are you working on any video games at the moment?

Chris Tremmel: As of right this second, no. Expect that to change very soon. I will definitely keep you posted any news. 🙂

I quickly wanted to give a shout out to all the people I worked with at Interplay. Thanks Mike, Alan, Brian, Rusty, Tim, Burger, Kerry, and way too many more to list. All of you guys helped me get started on this amazing journey and I appreciate it to this day.

Obsolete Gamer would like to thank Chris Tremmel for taking the time to answer our questions.

PIXELS by PATRICK JEAN

[youtube id=”QA2PQrDXCbk” width=”633″ height=”356″]

PIXELS by PATRICK JEAN

Alright this is just too cool, if you love classic video game characters like Pac-Man, Space Invaders and Donkey Kong you are going to love this video made for the Paris-based visual effects company, One More Production.

Pixel World

The video, directed by Patrick Jean shows the pixelation of New York. Highlights include Donkey Kong lobbing barrels from atop the Empire State building, Space Invaders descending upon unsuspecting taxis, Tetris blocks raining down on Manhattan, Pac-Man chomping up a subway and — my personal favorite — Frogger simply hopping across the street.

While I personally loved this video I couldn’t help but think of the flyover scandal that hit New York in summer 2009. Could you imagine if this was broadcasted how many people would believe it was real and go into a panic. Oh you don’t believe people would think this was real? Well they thought this was a freaking bomb!

Interview – Tomas Danko (VO Producer at DICE)

Tomas Danko at studio
Tomas Danko Studio

Interview – Tomas Danko (VO Producer at DICE)

What do you do for your job, where do you work, and what do you like the most about it?

My official title is VO Producer and I work in-house at Digital Illusions Creative Entertainment (DICE) in Stockholm where we do the Battlefield and Mirror’s Edge franchises. I am part of the audio team (which makes us all Sound Designers according to the EA matrix), and my primary focus is everything that has to do with dialogue (VO means Voice Over).

Among other things I work with writers and game designers to develop a script/story, cast actors, record and direct dialogue, post edit and design/sound effect all dialogue not to mention all the work needed to implement it in the game (i.e. scripting, logic triggers, mixing and more).

I like almost all of it, although working for a week trying to beat a 500,000 cell Excel sheet into submission is not the most fun I can think of, even though it has to be done at times. I figure I love my job because it makes me do totally different things every month or so. Some examples: One week I record and direct actors in a studio in London, or outdoors in Stockholm. The next week I edit wave files. Third week I design radio filter effects, and then I create Boolean logic tree structures to do automatic triggering of sounds in the game. It never gets boring.

What was your first computer and how did you get it?

My first computer was a Casio PB-100. I used it to program a lot of small games and demos with it, and my math teacher in school had her son (he studied computers at the University) provide me with code problems to solve. My second computer was the Commodore Vic 20, and I guess the rest is history since it steered me onto the glorious path of Commodore computing.

What was the first video game you played?

My memory eludes me, but probably Pong if you exclude all the games I programmed myself on the PB-100 and Vic 20.

What is your favorite video game platform of all time?

It has to be the Commodore 64, of course!

What’s your favorite video game?

There were too many games taking too much time out of my youth to pick just one. However, I spent an awful lot of time playing Paradroid, Pirates, Kickstart, Bruce Lee, Exploding Fist and Rally Speedway among other games.

What’s your favorite story of the computer or video game industry? (could be yours or somebody else’s)

It has to be the little bug in Kickstart on the Commodore 64 where the head of the motor cycle driver sometimes flickered one line or two into the upper border if you managed to jump high enough. Someone (1001 Crew, IIRC) took a deeper look into it and the rest is demo scene history (fully opening the borders).

What do you prefer, the present or past, considering the state of the computer scene?

The past, obviously, as far as the scene. It will never be the same again. The present and future when it comes to making computer games. It is a lot more fun nowadays as opposed to when I did games on the Sega Megadrive and Sony Playstation.

What’s the most influential video game you have ever played, that changed your life?

Tomas Danko playing tabletop games.
Tomas Danko Dice

Kung-Fu Master.

When you were younger, who were the people you considered to be legends in the computer and video game field?

There are too many to mention them all. I’ll just say Rob Hubbard and Martin Galway and call it a day.

What is your favorite old school gaming studio/developer?

It probably needs to be Andrew Braybrook (Hewson Consultants Ltd, Renegade Software).

What music inspired you to follow your career?

Jean-Michel Jarre besides all the ancient heroes making music on the Commodore 64. On the whole, I figure computer music had a more profound impression on my aural aesthetics than anything else.

What do you think the future for gaming will be?

It seems to take a couple of parrallel paths at the moment.
More platforms are moving towards as well as further developing movement based gaming such as the precursor Wii console.
A lot of gamers want to be entertained in a dumbed down way, halfway point and click and get through the experiences of a game without having to work too hard or think too much about it. Hence a lot of “shooting gallery” single player campaigns where everything runs in a linear and tubular fashion.

Finally, and this is the nice part as far as I’m concerned, some people are working hard to push the narrative aspects of gaming further in order to get on par with the Hollywood movie industry in regards to telling a story and giving the player an emotional experience as well. Merging the knowledge and methodologies created and perfected by Hollywood with the non-linear and interactive core mechanics found in games, to give the player a brand new experience in the future. This is where the frontier lies in gaming, as far as I’m concerned.

Do you prefer games that are personalized single player experience or games with a lot of interaction with other people?

I like both, to be honest. From a developer’s point of view, I find the single player campaign to be the most fun and challenging to work on. But some of the most rewarding gaming moments in recent time for me tend to be the in-house multi play tests when working on various Battlefield titles.

What projects are you involved with that you are willing to share with us? (not top secret ones!)

We just released Battlefield: Bad Company 2 and I did some VO and sound design on it. At the moment I’m working as VO Producer on the multi player component of Medal of Honor, other than that I’m working on another Battlefield franchise title and that’s all I can share at the moment.

What advice do you have for somebody that wants to be involved in the video game industry?

Start working with some friends on a small game and release it for free or work with making mods for Unreal engine games. Look into the iPhone platform and business model, and make your own career. Try and get an intern position at a studio.

***

I thank Tomas for taking the time to answer us and help us get to know better his gaming and computing past, as well as his contribution to the computer and gaming industry.