Monday, December 5, 2011

Video Games Evolve

I've recently hammered out four new videos in my Video Games Evolved series.  I pay tribute to Bump 'N' Jump, Pac-Man, Dig Dug and Zaxxon.

Usually I do a run-through with the game as practice and then start recording gameplay footage, but of course with the arcade version of Zaxxon it took maybe 5 plays before I could survive long enough to get useable footage because the game is so bloody hard.  The Atari and Intellivision versions are the most dramatic departures from the arcade, at least graphically.  Sure, you can understand why the limitations of these two warhorses require a scale-back from the cool isometric pseudo-3D of the original, but still.... belch.  That ain't Zaxxon.  They come off more as a sparse River Raid, without the river.

One game where the INTY comes off surprisingly best is its Jump 'N' Bump port.  Usually the ColecoVision runs away with these arcade translations, but here, the Intellivision definitely captures the look and tone of the original arcade better than the CV.  Heck, even the 2600 version holds its own.  Will wonders never cease?

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Writing's On the Wall for WarGames Sequel

WarGames was a seminal video game movie from 1983 that helped solidify the public's view of hackers and computer nerds, as well as introduced an entire generation to the idea of networked communities and connected computers, albeit connected by a blazing fast 300 baud dial-up modem. You can read more about the history of WarGames and two other classic early 80's video game movies here on The Dot Eaters.

In that article, I mention an atrocious direct-to-DVD sequel mounted by MGM in 2008 called WarGames: The Dead Code, released to dovetail with the 25th anniversary of the original. Currently in development, and hopefully with better prospects, is another WarGames sequel from MGM. Recently, the writer for the project has been named, one Noah Oppenheim. He is an unknown commodity in feature films, with TV producer credits on The Today Show and Hardball with Chris Matthews, as well as a few reality series. Recently, though, Oppenheim has been swept up in a recent mania over famous escape-artist and psychic debunker Harry Houdini, as the planned writer of The Secret Life of Houdini, which will add the fictional 'secret spy' to Houdini's list of accomplishments. Oppenheim has also been pegged as the writer of the adaptation of a young-adult book called The Maze Runner.

Coming in to the WarGames project with a slightly more solid film background is Seth Gordon, previously named as director. Gordon's latest outing was Horrible Bosses, released this year and garnering a 69% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. What might make Gordon the best man to helm a project updating a classic video game movie is his work directing, shooting and editing The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, a wonderful documentary that detailed one man's attempt to wrest the all-time Donkey Kong high-score crown from the flamboyant Billy Mitchell.

With King of Kong on his CV, it gives one hope that Gordon and his crew will show the classic WarGames the loving treatment it deserves in an updated sequel.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Two New Gallery Additions

Submitted for approval, two new video game ad images for the gallery. One isn't exactly an ad, but an homage to Space Invaders and the impact it had on society in the form of a Mad Magazine cover. The video games related article inside imagines games based on real life, such as "The Maddening 'Subway Rush Hour' Game where you try to stuff as many people as you can into a NYC subway train, and "The Nauseating 'Big City Doggie-Do' Game", where you try to cross the street without stepping into a pile. Yeech!

The second entry is a colourful ad for two TRON video games for the Atari 2600. Both TRON Deadly Discs and Adventures of TRON were released for the system by Mattel through their M Network label, which the company used to publish games on platforms outside of their own Intellivision console.  For more info on the TRON movie and the games licensed from it, consult your local Dot Eaters article here.

Here's handy links to the two images:

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Visual Cortex: Covering TRON

Today this surfaces in the Cortex: a scan of the July, 1982 cover of Electronic Games magazine.

EG was the premiere video game magazine of its time.  I remember strolling into the drug store with my mom and spotting the second issue of EG on the rack in 1981.  It bothered me forever more that I missed that first issue.  EG was published from 1981 to 1985, the year its name was changed to Computer Entertainment in order weather the big video game crash and focus more on the burgeoning computer game market.  EG helped form video game journalism, and its influence lives on through the myriad of print and online coverage of the scene that exist today.

The feature story here is, of course, the release of Disney's video game extravaganza TRON, which promised to transport the audience into the inner-world of these new fangled computer boxes.  The hype for TRON was pretty intense, and helped seal the fate of the movie as a curious social artifact when ticket sales were considerably less than expected.  The movie itself is fun, but muddled and disjointed.  You can read the history of it, and two other seminal video game films from the early 80's, in my TDE article here.

EG was also the reason I stubbornly always called them "videogames", before Google's search algorithm convinced me the combined term never caught on, and would punish me in search rankings if I used it.

Without further ado, the July, 1982 cover of EG:

Monday, August 1, 2011

The Gallery Opens

I'd like to announce a new feature to the site, a repository of vintage video game ads.  I'm just ramping up the entries, so bear with me as the collection expands.  You can visit the gallery through a link on the main navigation bar, or simply click here.

I'd like to thank Chadwick Gendron of Valhalla Cards and Gifts for his help in getting the gallery up and running with some great scans he made from his impressive comic collection.

BAM! The Wizard of Wor is hit! POW!

The following is a TV commercial for CBS Video Games.  Dating from 1982, it purports to show clips from what is called "Challenge of Champions", a head-to-head competition hosted by longtime football commentator John Madden.  It featured one of the company's latest wares, "Wizard of Wor", a home adaptation of the popular arcade game from Midway, released in 1980.

In fact, the clips are a dramatization of the competition.  It's not even clear if the match had an audience, although I like the American Idol set and Madden's fevered pitch.  Madden, of course, would go on to put his name on something a bit longer lasting than CBS VIdeo Games: EA's preennial Madden Football series.  The first, John Madden Football, was released in 1988.

Clip courtesy of The Museum of Classic Chicago Television.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Pac Comes Back

Lets take a look at Pac-Man Championship Edition DX, a downloadable game available on XBL and PSN.

PMCEDX, whose acronym seems like a stock index, is a follow-up to Pac-Man Championship Edition, released for XBL and PSN, as well as various mobile editions, back in 2007.  It was designed by the legendary Tōru Iwatani, creator of the original Pac-Man arcade game in 1980.  It was also Iwatani's last game for Namco before he retired in 2007.  

Both DX and the original game make a wonderful effort at bringing The Yellow One into modern gaming.  Sure, you still control the little yellow eating machine scarfing up dots in a maze while avoiding deadly ghosts roaming the playfield, but new play-modes and a frenetic, yet manageable pace make the effort much more than just a retro remake.  DX particularly shines, building on the already sturdy foundation of Mr. Iwatani by adding game mechanics that increase the fun and strategy while keeping things just as frantic.  

This is the crux of the game's success: things get insanely fast and furious,  while somehow allowing the player to remain in control of the proceedings.  Progressing through variations of the game modes, which prompt gamers to get total high scores or eat the most blue ghosts in a row,  as the player moves around the mazes, things speed up to an almost impossible tempo.  Clever mechanics keep things in check, such as keeping a subtle glow around Pac so you can keep track of him, or having things slow down a-la bullet time to let you get out of close scrapes.  

This updated version of Pac-Man is a rarity these days: a retro remake that is not made simply to cash in on the memory of a truly classic video game, but a fun and fantastic outing in its own right.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

CivWorld Launches

Legendary game designer Sid Meier's Civilization World has landed on the shores of Facebook and begins its full-frontal assault on your precious time.

While this version is scaled down from the sweeping, epic nature of the Civ series, in the realm of casual Facebook-based games it is a monumental achievement.  Starting with a few building, players must build up their cities by increasing population counts through farming, mining nearby resources for production points, amass an army, foster a blossoming culture, and all the usual Civ-type things.

Where the game breaks out is, naturally for a Facebook game, in the social aspect.  Here players can join others online to form civilizations, pool resources, wage wars, and more.  Providing incentive to spend time in the game are positions in the government to aspire to, granting special abilities and just general bragging rights.

There is always something for you to be doing, ranging from setting up your long-term strategy to chasing around your little denizens real-time to collect production bonuses that appear occasionally over their heads.  It's a bit frustrating to figure out how to do things at first, and what needs to be tackled next, but a tutorial system guides you through the major aspects of the game as you play.

Some might scoff at the thriving casual game market, but even in its current beta form,  CivWorld joins the two hemispheres of casual drop-in drop-out gaming with more hardcore strategy play with typical Meier aplomb.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Come Get Some, Finally

After 14 years of development, Duke Nukem Forever has finally materialized. Considered one of the greatest pieces of vapourware in gaming history, it's a bit surreal to actually hold the finished product in one's hands.

Critics have not been kind to the King, with Metacritic's critic reviews at 54/100, and their users score even lower at 4.4/10.  Most reviews lament about how DNF seems mired in the FPS genre's past, and it is disconcerting to play a shooter nowadays that completely lacks a dynamic cover system.  There is no Mass Effect-type strategy at work here with the combat, no ducking between cover angling for a flanking manoeuvre on your enemies.  You just load up on ammo and run at your targets with guns blazing.

In a strange way, this fits in with the blustery bravado that Duke exudes.  He isn't some pussy who hides behind crates.  He prefers a straight up fight.  There is a bit of strategy available with the various power-ups that Duke picks up, as well.

The toilet humour (literally, in some cases) that punctuated the original is ramped up to ridiculous levels here, with some jokes causing a chuckle or two, and others a sneer of disgust.  As well, the graphics and character animations are dramatically dated.

There seems to be an attitude in a lot of reviews that after a 14 year development cycle, the ultimate result is disappointing.  This is an unfair assessment; it's not like this was one game continually worked on for all that time.  There were many stops and starts as technology advanced past the developers, and the game's graphic engine was rebooted at least a few times.  Once game developer Gearbox (Borderlands) picked up the property from the ashes of original maker 3DRealms, you can be sure things were re-tooled once again.

It would have been nice to have had Duke return to redefine the shooter genre that he helped popularize.  In coming back as a balls-to-the-wall brick shithouse of bullet spewing mayhem, however, at least he has stayed true to his roots.

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Visual Cortex: Beautiful Skye

Where I flip through my image archive and ruminate on what pops up.

This time we land on Lady Deirdre Skye, leader of Gaia's Stepdaughters. She is one of the faction leaders of Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri, the stunning turn-based strategy game that also served as the first product from Firaxis, the development house that was formed by game legend Sid Meier, along with Brian Reynolds and Jeff Briggs. Meier and company had created gaming history (literally and figuratively) with the towering Civilization TBS games for Microprose; when that company changed management, Meier and his crew vacated to greener pastures.
The Lovely Lady Skye
One of the victory conditions of Civ was the colonization of Alpha Centauri by the players' civilization, so it was a natural fit that Firaxis follow up on how mankind was fairing in its new home. It's been awhile since I've played SMAC, so I can't talk much about the game, beside the fact that it had a truly massive tech tree. Also, that it was a tonne of fun to play. I don't think I ever played as Lady Skye, but Gaia's Stepdaughters were tree-hugging environmentalists whose weapons usually consisted of marshalling the semi-sentient planet's wildlife against the enemy.

In the tradition of the excellent research Firaxis puts into its games, Gaia was the ancient Greek personification of Mother Nature.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Asteroids to Crash Into Big Screen?

According to New York Magazine, there was a heated battle to purchase the movie rights for the seminal Atari arcade game Asteroids that helped create the industry back in 1979.

 Universal has come out on top, and has tapped disaster movie meister Roland Emmerich (Independence Day, Godzilla, The Day After Tomorrow, 2012, ad infinitum) to direct.

Emmerich assures that only the latest 3D technology will be used to create the A-shaped spaceship, to be rendered in outline graphics and presented in a process known as Black and White.

Okay, just kidding about that part. As per usual with these things, the storyline will be bloated up, this time into a tale of the remnants of humankind living in an asteroid belt alongside an alien race, who are not as benevolent as first surmised.

Emmerich will be assisted by Transformers: Dark of the Moon producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura, and scriptwriter Matt Lopez, of Disney's The Race to Witch Mountain. All involved are no doubt hoping rocks aren't the only things the movie breaks when it collides with audiences in 2014.

Link to New York Magazine article

Friday, June 3, 2011

Choplifter Takes Off Again

Anyone who was into computers in the early 80's and had even a tiny interest in gaming had to have tried the classic side scroller Choplifter, made by Dan Gorlin and published by Brøderbund Software in 1982. It was absolutely a seminal game for the Apple II, and was converted to countless other platforms. In it you piloted a helicopter into enemy territory, destroying tanks and fighter jets, and blowing up prison camps to release your comrades. As they milled around waving, you landed and loaded them up into your ride and headed back to HQ. After releasing them, back you went for more.

It definitely took its lead from the classic arcade game Defender by Williams, while putting its own clever twist on the premise. Developer inExile Entertainment has picked up the gauntlet to update the game as Choplifter HD. From the previews, it looks like a great remaking of the original, keeping the 2D scrolling feel while adding some new mechanics.

Look for Choplifter HD to land for PC, PSN and XBL sometime this fall. Below is a video featuring the original, followed by a trailer for the updated version.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Paperboy Delivers to the iPhone

If you hung around video game arcades in 1984, you most likely gave Atari Game's Paperboy a spin. In it, you are the titular newsie, given a route on a street with certain houses that are your customers. Then you pedal madly down the street throwing newspapers as close to people's stoops as possible, all the while avoiding speeding cars, angry dogs and bullies fighting in the streets.

Well, Paperboy has hit the iPhone in a very faithful adaptation. While it may lack the astonishing handle-bar controller that made the game in the arcade so unique and enjoyable, developer Glu Games tries its best to recreate the feel with tilt controls that take advantage of the iPhone's positional sensors.

It's 99 cents on the app store. Spread the news.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

L.A. Noire Hits the Streets

In the tradition of Sierra's Police Quest series or the Tex Murphy FMV games from Access comes the latest from the-studio-that-can-do-no-wrong, Rockstar. Acting as distributors, they have obviously given developer Team Bondi the proper lessons in how to make a completely compelling video game product.

L.A. Noire is a startlingly polished game experience, ostensibly considered an open-world TPS along the lines of Red Dead Redemption or the perennial GTA series, only this time set in 1940's Los Angeles. But players aren't really free to run roughshod over a meticulously re-created LA, mowing down pedestrians and shooting shopkeepers in the face. Instead, there is just enough range for the player to avoid feeling like they're on a Tunnel-Of-Love ride, but reigned in enough so that they can't break the storyline that Rockstar has created.

And what a storyline. As Cole Phelps, a newly-minted beat cop who works his way up through the LAPD to detective, gamers delve into a fascinating story with many facets, twists and turns, all the while hewing to police procedure and proper investigative and interrogation tactics.

The whole thing comes off wonderfully well, including the vaunted MotionScan technology, which captures a complete likeness of the various actors' faces as they read their lines. Put into practice in the game, the results are startling, and more than just eye candy; it allows players to read the faces of interviewees for tell-tale signs of fibbing.

Really, if you have any kind of interest in video games, you should sashay over to your nearest game store and pick this up. Rockstar and Team Bondi just raised the bar for video game excellence.

Friday, May 13, 2011

24hr Gaming Event for Charity

I belong to a gaming organization named The Beautiful Peoples Club.  It's a Family Guy reference, don't ask me I didn't choose the name.

We are one day away from our second annual 24 hour gaming marathon.  This year, we are staying up for, a great organization that provides an online support network for young people who are burdened with a cancer diagnosis.

If you want to help, you can swing by our charity event page for more information, press the chipin button there to donate what you can, and also join our live chat channel and video feeds we'll be streaming as we geezers try to stay up all night playing games.

Hope to see you there.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Thief 4 Steals the Limelight

Now that Eidos Montreal practically has Deus Ex: Human Revolution put to bed, the studio is ramping up the continuation of another vaunted PC game franchise, with Thief 4.

It's apropos that Eidos should follow-up a new Deux Ex game with a new Thief.  Both series were dealt a death-blow at nearly the same time in the early-to-mid 2000's with mediocre third entires.  Thief: Deadly Shadows was slightly more redeeming that the disastrous Deus Ex: Invisible War, but still seemed dumbed down from the soaring heights of  previous efforts.

At any rate, a lot of the Thief series' thunder has been stolen by UbiSoft's towering Assassin's Creed games, especially Assassin's Creed II.  It's hard to see how Eidos can possibly top that classic, but who knows?  They might just be able to swipe the crown.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Video Games Come Out On Top in Enforcement Rankings

Well, this really goes against the alarmist cry about how violent video games are corrupting our innocent youth.

The Federal Trade Commission in the States conducted an undercover shopper survey, where 13 to 19 year-olds were recruited to enter various outlets unaccompanied, and attempt to purchase entertainment items like movie tickets, video games, and DVDs which were all rated for adults only.

The big takeaway was that the lowest rate of sales of restricted materials to minors occured with video games.  Only 13% of the shoppers successfully purchased the forbidden products.  This, compared to the 64% of kids that were sold a music CD labelled with a Parent's Advisory sticker, warning of explicit lyrics.

Also interesting is the break-down by retail outlets.  When it comes to selling M-Rated games to minors, Walmart was the worst offender.  So, when it comes to grandstanding about the morality of violent videogames today, Wally World is the best.  When it comes to actually investing money into proper training so salespeople don't let kids get their hands on adults-only products, they're the very worst.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Portal Re-Opens

A little game called Portal 2 released yesterday, by some company called Valve. I guess it's big news to people.

And it should be. It is the sequel to Portal, released for the PC in 2007, and a scant 3 years later on the Mac. It was added, as what some might have assumed as an afterthought at the time, to the Orange Box bundle. This box contained Half-Life 2, the HL2 add-on packs Episodes One and Two, and the perennial team-based shooter Team Fortress 2. It's safe to say that the Orange Box will be entered into the pantheon of gaming history as one of the greatest bundles ever sold.

Portal came from humble beginnings.  It all started with Narbacular Drop, a senior thesis project by a team of students at DigiPen, the most august of video game design schools.  ND stars Princess "No-Knees", cursed with the inability to jump and kidnapped and held prisoner by a demon in his dungeon.  Turns out, however, that the dungeon is a sentient entity called Wally, and will allow the princess to form two holes, of differing colours, on any natural surface, which are then linked, allowing the princess to enter one and exit the other.

The DigiPen team operated under the moniker Nuclear Monkey Software, and at one career day at DigiPen some Valve people saw Narbacular Drop and requested a demonstration back at their headquarters.  The team eventually was hired by Valve to professionalize the game, and the result was Portal, one of the most beloved video games of all time.

Here is a video of game play from Narbacular Drop, followed by a clip of what the concept has become with Portal 2.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Jerry Lawson, of Channel F Fame, Dies at 71

Word is coming out that Jerry Lawson has died. He is known as the inventor of the Channel F home video game console for Fairchild Instrument, and with it introduced the concept of the "programmable" console, or one that takes game cartridges. Before the Channel F, users had to be resigned to playing the games that were built into their video game units. With the console Lawson designed, they could have, at least theoretically, an endless number of games to play.

For more information on the Channel F, consult your local The Dot Eaters article here.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Have You Played Atari On iOS Today?

Atari and Vancouver developer Code Mystics have dropped a metric tonne of retro joy onto the Apple App Store with Atari's Greatest Hits, for iOS devices. The app allows you to play up to 100 classic Atari games; a few of their most famous arcade entries, but the majority of games come from the catalog of games released for the VCS/2600 home console. Only a small sampling of games are available for free, with 4-pack game downloads available for .99 cents, or you can get the whole 100 game enchilada for 15 bucks.

The app is universal, and I'd recommend playing it on the iPad, as the arcade games feature a representation of the original screen bezel, which shrinks down the playfield a bit too much on the iPhone. The games offer both landscape and profile mode, but not every one has that option to switch. The control methods on offer vary as well, and some work decidedly better than others. On the whole, however, I find the sliding controls that invariably represent dials or trackballs to be too sluggish, and their speed is not configurable. This definitely needs to be addressed by a patch to make these games workable. As for joysticks, the small virtual button that stands in for the stick is small, and I find my thumb constantly sliding off of it, or worse: pressing a different direction or multiple directions as once, deadly for games like Asteroids that put different, drastic actions like thrust or hyperspace on the up and down joystick positions.  Classic video game emulation is often slagged for missing that intrinsic satisfaction that comes from holding a joystick in your hand while playing. Since precise control is sometimes the only thing going for these games, in particular those for the VCS/2600, the sluggishness on offer here is pretty close to a deal-breaker.

Sometimes the controls work, however, as evidenced by the sliders that control the paddles in PONG.  But if you really want to capture that arcade feeling, the iCADE, set for release in June, will scratch that itch.  Originally a clever 2010 April Fool's joke perpetrated by Think Geek, intense user demand has actually made the crazy idea reality.  Greatest Hits has support for the iCADE built right in, and makers ION will be releasing an API that will allow other games to support the mini-cabinet.

Even without the iCADE, however, Greatest Hits is a wonderful app for classic video game aficionados.  They will also be jazzed about the extras that come with some games, such as game artwork, scanned colour manuals, and more.  Some, however, are concerned that the package is infringing on iTune rules about apps downloading and running external code, represented by the ROM code downloaded in the game packs in order to play these classic gems.  A double-standard does seem to have been set with the acceptance of Atari's Greatest Hits into the app store.  So perhaps games looking for a little nostalgia had better grab this baby fast.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Return of Commodore?

I love the Commodore 64 as much as anyone. As the single best-selling line of computers in history, there are a lot of anyones.

That said, even I think this is going a bit far. Commodore USA is re-releasing the C64, with the same bread loaf shape, same dark brown keyboard with the same line of tan function keys on the side. It looks just the same as it did when you unwrapped the box in a frenzy while sitting under the Christmas tree in 1984.

Another thing hasn't changed either from 1984. The price. Due to the fact that they sold a tonne of them, C64 computers are not exactly collectible. In good shape, they fetch maybe 50 bucks on eBay. The base model from Commodore USA goes for $250 USD. The top of the line costs $895. Now, before you have a coronary, the higher end models come with a netbook dual core Atom processor, 4G of RAM and a 1T hard drive all shoehorned into this brown betty. You can see the feature list and prices here on the Commodore USA website.

It won't exactly run Crysis 2, but if you want to blow the minds of the friends by pulling out a C64 and playing, say, Bioshock 2 on it, now's your chance. I recommend doing so while mechanically singing "More than meets the eye".

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Max Payne 3 Pics Surface

The two Max Payne games, Max Payne (2002), and Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne (2003) were immensely fun third-person shooters. Released by Rockstar, both games were balletic bullet-fests, borrowing heavily from such influences as Akira Kurosawa and The Matrix. They weaved a tortured story of tragedy and redemption, and featured novel level design that played with established norms in the genre.

So little had been heard about their followup, Max Payne 3, that a lot of people had given up on it. Some fans had come to the conclusion that the terrible 2008 Marky Mark movie released under the Max Payne name had finally sent the project to the morgue. Recently, however, images of the game have surfaced from Rockstar. Sure, it's only two pics, but still at least something to satiate fans of one of the best third person game series around.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Duke Nukem's Butt-Slapping Mode

I am not going to prefix this post with a disclaimer that I am against violence against women, because if you think that by protesting this effort against the game I condone such actions, you are an idiot not worth stooping down to talk to.

There is currently a furore brewing over an aspect of the "Capture the Babe" multiplayer mode in the forthcoming Duke Nukem Forever. In this mode, players attempt to kidnap a woman from the opposition and take them back to home base. Slung over the shoulder, if they start resisting and slowing your progress, a slap on the butt will quiet them down.

Let the outrage commence. For instance, there is a petition to get Walmart, the world's leading retailer, to not carry the game if this multiplayer mode is included. It currently has, at this writing, over 5,600 signatures. Presented at, it demands thusly:

Refuse to Sell Duke Nukem Forever Unless "Babe-Slapping" Mode is Removed


I'm writing to ask that Walmart take a stand against physical and sexual violence against women by refusing to sell the Duke Nukem Forever game until the "Capture the Babe" mode of play is removed.

Early reports reveal the new Duke Nukem Forever game is set to be released with a "Capture the Babe" mode of play. In this disturbing version of "capture the flag" the player is tasked with kidnapping a woman from his enemy's base, throwing her over his shoulder, and carrying her back to his base to share the spoils. If she starts to "freak out," the player is encouraged to slap her on the butt until she shuts up. This is a blatant celebration of violence against women in a game that will be played primarily by young people.

Walmart is a family friendly retailer and customers will not stand for the promotion of violence against women to the young people who walk through the store doors. Please publicly state that Walmart stores will not sell the Duke Nukem Forever game unless the "babe-slapping mode" is removed.

[Your name]

Let me proffer a couple of reasons why I think this petition is wrongheaded:

First: Equating a slap on the butt to "physical and sexual violence" is overblown, and belittles women who are the victims of ACTUAL violence, as well as endangers all women by diluting the idea of violence against women. At worst, the action within the game could be construed as sexual harassment. However, Duke isn't an office manager, patting women on the butt as a sign that they better have sex with him if they want a promotion. For whatever reason (if any is even given in the game) he's trying to kidnap or rescue women from a heavily armed opposition. Context, people!

Second: Duke Nukem Forever is rated "Mature" by the ESRB. This is not a game that should "be played primarily by young people". If it is, then blame parents and retailers. Heck, blame Walmart, the company you are directing your petition to! Don't blame the game makers.

And ultimately, it is just a game. If you think some butt-slapping in Duke Nukem promotes violence against women, why not a petition against the hundreds of thousands of bloody deaths that will no doubt occur in the game, which clearly promotes murder?

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Warlords Return to Battle

Maybe you're like me, and had tonnes of fun playing Atari's Warlords with your buddies at the arcade. You all stood around the elevated table top cabinet, controlling your paddle with a spin knob, trying to prevent cannonballs from chipping away at your castle walls, while trying to knock through to your opponents to destroy the king residing behind. With proper timing, you could capture the cannonball and send it flying to chip out a larger chunk of enemy bricks. Things would gradually speed up into shouting mayhem as the balls whipped around, with you trying to save your king with the paddle as your protection melted away. The game was released to arcades in 1980, with a popular home adaptation hitting the 2600 the next year.

Atari has just announced the return of Warlords with a retro-remake for XBL and PSN. Gameplay twists on the theme include a co-op siege mode, 2 v. 2 teams and various power-ups. Look for the game to come crashing through the wall this summer.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Hawkins Trips Over Finances

Trip Hawkins was one of the founders of EA back in 1982, forming from his previous effort Amazin' Software. EA truly helped form the computer game industry into a powerhouse, though transformational attitudes towards talent and marketing.

Hawkins was also very forthcoming with information when I contacted him while researching the EA article on The Dot Eaters. And for that, I'm truly appreciative. However, he has recently been dinged by the U.S. federal government for a tax bill of over 20 million dollars. Seems he took all that money from EA stock, hid it in various dodgy off-shore tax shelters, and then declared bankruptcy while still living it up.

Uncle Sam tends to get a bit miffed when you welch on him.

Here's the story.

The Mighty Bishop Unit!

This made me laugh, despite the dodgy spelling. It also relates to my previous rant on retail-specific pre-order bonuses.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Another Day, Another New Deus Ex Trailer

As the title says, another gameplay video released for Deus Ex: Human Revolution, the prequel to the great PC game Deus Ex. And again, it focuses on the different ways to play the game. Enjoy.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

GDC 2011 Classic Game Postmortems Online & Free

To celebrate the video game industry's illustrious past, the 2011 Game Developers Conference hosted a series of talks by famous game designers, dissecting their most classic achievements. Lectures featured such luminaries as Sim City creator Will Wright discussing his first game, Raid On Bungeling Bay, and Ron Gilbert reminiscing about his game-changing point-and-click adventure game Maniac Mansion.

There's plenty to watch here, and plenty to learn. Check it here.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Deus Ex: Human Revolution Gameplay Video

I've talked about this upcoming game and its pedigree in earlier posts, so here is a recently released video showing the various paths and tactics you can employ to get things done in the game.  I'll let Mary DeMarle, Narrative Game Designer at Eidos Montreal, explain the rest:

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Tapper Remake: Tapping the Retro Love

Tapper is a game any denizen of early 1980's arcades will remember fondly. It was a very successful arcade game released by Bally/Midway in 1983, featuring a bartender slinging the game's sponsor's suds, Budwieser, to thirsty patrons in various bar settings, from old-west saloons, to far-out space-stations. The official cabinet even featured Bud labelled pull handles as controllers.  Via the obligatory outrage over a videogame peddling alcohol to the poor innocents of the local arcade, Bally/Midway pulled the game and re-tooled it as Root Beer Tapper the following year.

A remake called Tapper World Tour has just been released on the Apple app store, a version for the iPad at 1.99 CDN, and one for the iPhone at .99, although these are introductory prices so you better belly up to the bar fast.  The game was developed by Square One Studios, founded by animation great Don Bluth and his long-time business partner Gary Goldman.  Bluth, most famously known to video game afficianados as the man behind the artwork for the classic Dragon's Lair and Space Ace laser disc arcade games, also provides the artwork here.

The iOS version plays a bit different than the game you might remember from the arcades.  Here, you get multiple lives, instead of it being a sudden-death game-ender if you screw up throwing drinks or picking up empties.  Instead of using any kind of virtual joystick to move your bartender between kegs, you tap on the screen to move and then tap again to serve drinks, so this extra tapping  (kind of gives a new meaning to the title, eh?  Heh heh heh) to position yourself takes some getting used to.  There are also power-ups you are granted for playing the campaign mode, and these can be used in-game to, for instance, make a patron automatically give a tip, which if picked up will grant you another life.  Another change is that you control when the entertainment starts, used to distract the customers and give you some breathing space.  Also, while distracted, these customers will grab drinks thrown them, making things a bit easier than the arcade version, where you had to be careful not to whiff one right by someone watching the floor show.

There are lots of different locations and varied characters in the campaign mode, which has you travelling the world slinging drinks to all manner of barflys.  What might be even more fun though is the endless mode, where you can choose one bar from among thoses you've beaten in the campaign, and just keep serving it up to a constant, never-ending crowd that moves increasingly faster up the bar as you play.  It gets wonderfully chaotic after awhile.

Bluth's artwork and animation gives Tapper World Tour a lot of character, both literally and figuratively.  It's great to see him back in action, lending his inimitable style to a great update of a classic game.  For more informaton on Bluth and his most famous contributions to video game history, consult your local TDE article on the laser game craze of the 1980's here.  As well, here is a video clip of the ColecoVision version of the original Root Beer Tapper, just another in a long line of great coin-op conversions done for that console.  Cheers!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Sid Meier's Railroads! and Other Tales of the Rails.

I'll run the country like I run my RR!

I'm up North visiting my parents for a week with the kids, so I'm stuck with a dodgy Internet connection (tethering a weak 3G signal through my iPhone to my laptop), hence the lack of updates. Or at least, that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Stuck with only a laptop as a gaming rig, I'm downloading games it can run with its limited video card (thank Zod for Steam), so I snagged the Railroad Tycoon Collection. It's a great deal: the aforementioned Railroads!, Railroad Tycoon 3, and Railroad Tycoon 2 Platinum for only 15 bucks! That's a lot of spike drivin', and you don't have to be J. Pierpont Morgan to afford it.

I've been playing the heck out of Railroads! It's the definitive game for SMRR fans; the apex of the series, really. It strips out all of the annoying minutia of building your railroad, and adds a lot of graphical flourish and wonderful detail. It also features a delightful musical soundtrack that dynamically adjusts to the locale in your view at the time.

Sid Meier's Railroad games are a stalwart of computer gaming... after all, it was the first Sid Meier's Railroad Tycoon, released in 1990 by Microprose, that put Meier solidly on the track of being considered one of the gaming gods of the industry. The man-hours of productivity lost to the original in nigh incalculable, although a guess might be that you could probably ring the Earth multiple times with railway track with all the time spent building virtual ones.

With its vaunted pedigree, the release of Railroads! in 2006 was naturally eagerly anticipated. And on the whole, Meier delivered. There is, however, one glaring flaw that turned a lot of people off, nearly myself included. The problem is the absolutely atrocious AI routing in the game. You don't notice it as much at the start, when you only have a few stations connected, without a lot of multiple tracks heading into cities. But as you add more trains and their routes into the equation, you need to start putting in more and more multiple lines to avoid congestion. And once you start doing this, the problem starts driving you nuts. There is nothing quite as frustrating as having four or more lines side by side, with proper switching track connecting everything nicely so no trains should ever have a problem negotiating through a route, and still trains bunch up because they keep heading into the same fudging lines as oncoming trains. Here's four lines wide open, and still trains are halted because for some goddamn reason they want to occupy the same goddamn space! AAAAAAARRRRGGGGGGGGGHHHHHH!

Still though, Railroads! is a fun game that can burn away hours like so many shovels of coal into the tender box. All aboard!

P.S. I also noticed this while playing.  Looks like Coco's career hasn't gone too well after losing The Tonight Show.  

Proof Conan O'Brien is a time-travelling warlock

Friday, March 11, 2011

Are You A Hoopy Frood Who Really Knows Where Their Towel Is?

The Hoopiest Frood
Today is Douglas Noel Adams' birthday.  He would be 59, if he hadn't been so rudely taken from us in 2001.

Adams was not a particularly prolific writer, and by all accounts had to be bribed, cajoled and downright threatened to produce anything.  "I love deadlines.", he once wrote.  "I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.".  Thankfully, while lying drunk in a field in Innsbruck, Austria in 1971, gazing up at the canopy of stars above him, Adams came up with the idea for and subsequently wrote The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.  Starting as a BBC radio series, through subsequent books, records, and other media, Hitchhikers was a hugely influential work of SF comedy. It follows the exploits of hapless earthling Arthur Dent  and his pal Ford Prefect, who Arthur is surprised to learn is not in fact from Guildford as he previously claimed, but actually from a small planet somewhere in the vicinity of Betelgeuse.

Adams made several contributions to video game history, starting with the computer text adventure adaptation of Hitchhikers, produced in 1984 by the dominant company in that genre at the time, Infocom.  His collaborator on that project was Steve Meretzky, who himself had been hugely influenced by Adams when creating Planetfall (1983) for the company.  The game would flout several conventions of the text-adventure, including a sequence where the game would outright lie to you about what you were seeing.  Adams also did the text-adventure Bureaucracy in 1987 for Infocom, and later the Myst-like graphic adventure Starship Titanic, published by Simon & Schuster Interactive.  Titanic featured voice talent from John Cleese and Terry Jones, two members of the famous British comedy troupe Monty Python's Flying Circus, for whom Adams had contributed early in his career.

Fallout from Hitchhikers also helped shape Sierra's long-running Space Quest series, done by The Two Guys From Andromeda, Mark Crowe and Scott Murphy.  In fact, it's hard to think of any comedic foray into science fiction without seeing a touch of Douglas Adams in the proceedings.

As much as I might be a microscopic dot on a microscopic dot in terms of literary contributions to the Universe, Adams had a profound impact on me as a writer, as well as a human being.  He continues to leave a 6' 5" hole in the world, one that will never be filled.


The Kong Off

It's on like... well, you know.
If you've never seen the documentary The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, you owe it to yourself to go right now and watch it.  It's even on Netflix, go ahead, I'll wait.

Now that you've seen the brilliant story of Steve Wiebe going after the high-score record on Donkey Kong, held by the legendary Billy Mitchell for nearly 25 years, you can appreciate The Kong Off, a Donkey Kong competition to be held on March 19th and 20th at Richie Knucklez' Arcade Games in Flemington, NJ.  Knucklez's showroom boasts over 75 various working game cabinets on display, lovingly restored and available for purchase if you think you can fit one in the old hatchback.

This competition is sure to attract the cream of the crop of competitive Donkey Kong players.  One dark horse is Dean Saglio, who actually boasts a score higher than the top three favoured participants.  The problem?  He holds his high score of 1,136,400 on the MAME arcade emulator, which emulates the original arcade game CPUs using ROM information pulled right off the original game chips.  While Donkey Kong on MAME is perfectly replicated using the program, there is a huge difference between sitting in a comfy chair in front of your computer, and standing in front of an actual Kong cabinet, joystick in your sweaty hands.

It looks to shape up like a thrilling competition.  Gentlemen, roll your barrels.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

A Quick Look Back: Mail Order Monsters

Post Office refuses to
deliver to your house ever again
As part of the glorious early history of Electronic Arts, Mail Order Monsters (1985) is an intriguing and involving game that offers a metric tonne of fun, originality and replayability.  Either against the capable AI, or pitted against another human in front of the computer, MOM makes for hours upon hours of vat-bred enterslainment.

The game was designed by Even Robinson, Nicky Robinson and Paul Reiche III.  Reiche had previously designed the classic Archon: The Light and the Dark chess-like fantasy game for EA, as well as its equally enjoyable sequel, Archon II: Adept. The one-on-one battle system from these games are reprised in MOM, now with some deep creature customizations available for players to tailor their charges to their tastes.

Title Screen

EA revolutionized video game packaging in their formative years, presenting their wares in large, flat, square cardboard sleeves reminiscent of LP record albums with colourful, creative covers.  The entire premise of MOM is summed up by the image up front: a tricked-out creature bursting forth from an envelope.  The whole idea is that the player is a participant in a futuristic pastime, that of growing and splicing various beasts for sport.  It offers three types of play from which gamers can choose: the Free Trial, where one can pick from any of the 12 stock monster types without any customization, and take them for a test drive.  Choosing Rental opens up the game considerably, putting the player on the Morph Meadow and letting them walk around to the various facilities available.

You got your scorpion in my Lyonbear

Visiting the Vats lets you pick out and grant stats to a "morph" to do battle with, along with allowing as much physical changes as you can afford with the currency, or "pyschons", granted you.  Care to add a stinger to your Lyonbear?  Be our guest.  Think acid spitting is more your style?  Right this way, we have some particularly caustic toxics today.  You can then take your newly formed charge and visit the Weapons Shop for outfitting with some more mechanical armaments, like a Gas-Gun, or a perhaps a Multilaser for you tentacled types.

Leading the creature around the meadow

Then its a trip through the Transmat, and time for some one-on-one mayhem.  A battleground of varying landscape types is randomly chosen, and one of three game modes is chosen by the player: Destruction is a duel to the death, there's Capture the Flags in which the flags must be obtained in order, and The Horde featuring co-op play against a steady stream of invaders while competing for the most kills.  Once chosen, a large map appears, with the two monsters as small dots.  As the creatures approach each other, the view narrows to feature the two combatants at close range.  The players not only have to contend with each other's monsters; randomly placed among the battleground are guardians and other enemies, who come under the control of your opponent when tripped. Upon completion of the duel, the winner is presented in a graphical flourish, and the game is over.

Battle royale

M.U.L.E. cameo
If Tournament is chosen from the main menu, then the players have access to the corrals, granting the opportunity to save their creatures, and upgrade them with phychons awarded to the victorious. The corral also features a nice homage to famed early EA game designer Daniel Bunten, with one of the eponymous creatures from his classic EA game M.U.L.E. waiting inside it.

MOM is charming, deep, fun, and challenging.  The amount of creature customization available is staggering, and ensures that the game gets many a spin through the floppy drive as would-be monster handlers try their hands (or claws) at the vast amount of strategy on offer here.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Video Games Invade the Smithsonian

Roger Ebert may have famously said that video games cannot be art, but the good people at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C. know better.

They will be opening a new exhibit called The Art of Video Games, running from March 16th to September 30th, 2012.    In order to choose which games get inducted, the Smithsonian is currently requesting that the public vote for their choices.  The site currently has an online voting system active, allowing people to vote for 80 games across a pool of 240, across 5 gaming eras from the early Atari days to modern consoles.

It's not a bad selection of games, although there's always some puzzling omissions with these things.  But remember, it is an art museum, so they're looking for visually impressive or beautiful games, not just ones of historical significance.  This might explain some of the choices they made.

Go vote for your favourites here.

Deus Ex Sequel Coming Soon

The original Deus Ex, developed by Ion Storm and released by Eidos Interactive in 2000, is commonly regarded as one of the greatest PC games ever made.  It took the steadily advancing graphic capabilities of the FPS genre at the time, and paired it with an astoundingly deep level of character customization available to the player, as well as a deep and dense storyline that throws every X-Files conspiracy theory every floated onto the table.

Producer Warren Spector already had an impressive gaming resume heading into Deus Ex, having been a producer at Origin, involved in such games as Wing Commander (1990), Ultima VI: The False Prophet (1990),  Ultima Underworld games The Stygian Abyss (1992) and Labyrinth of Worlds (1993) and Crusader: No Remorse (1995), just to name a scant few. All this, but Spector also was responsible for System Shock (1994), developed at his famed Looking Glass Technologies game studio, as well as Thief: The Dark Project (2000) at same.

You would think Spector was bulletproof, but then he went and made universal ammo.  His illustrious career, which put him in the top echelon of game designers like Wil Wright and Richard Garriott, came crashing down due to one game: the release of the intensely anticipated sequel Deus Ex: Invisible War by Eidos in 2003.  It was met with wide derision among PC gamers for what was considered a massive dumbing-down of the complexities of the original, in order to curry favour (and sales) from the unwashed masses of the home console crowd.  Spector bounced back with a third game in the Thief series, Thief: Deadly Shadows (2004), but the damage had been done: he wouldn't surface again as head of a large gaming project until Epic Mickey , released by Disney Interactive for the Wii in 2010.  From a lion of the games industry, Spector was reduced to mice.

Now, a third entry in the Deus Ex cannon is on the horizon, with the hope that it washes the bitter taste of disappointment from the palates of gamers.  Deus Ex: Human Revolution, a prequel to the original, is being developed for the PS3, Xbox 360 and PC by Eidos Montreal, and has just been given a release date: August 23, 2011.  Mark your calendars, folks.  This will either be the salvation of mankind, or its greatest folly.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Skyrim Details Emerge has relayed some information gleaned from the official Skyrim forums, where a user has posted highlights from an preview of the game in the Official Xbox Magazine. Details include info on a couple of the new Dragonshout abilities in the game, one of which apparently slows down time, Matrix-style. Another interesting tid-bit is that creatures you stumble across while traversing the world, including dragons, won't immediately give chase, unless you give them a reason to notice you.

The article contains spoilers on the storyline, but they are labelled and placed at the bottom, so you can safely read it up to that point.

BurgerTime Remake

The Interwebs has been a-twitter the past week or so.  It could be that the retro-nerds have suffered a blood-sugar level crash, because the kerfuffle has been over the revelation that BurgerTime is getting the extreme makeover: retro edition.

The original BurgerTime was a highly memorable arcade game from Data East, released in 1982.  Bally/Midway licensed the game for North America the same year.  It concerns the culinary exploits of chef Peter Pepper, who must climb up and down the ladders of a giant scaffold, assembling giant hamburgers, piece by piece, while avoiding such deadly condiments as cheese slices and pickles, as well as the hamburger's natural enemy, the hot dog.  To hold off these frightening foodstuffs, Pepper is armed with just that: a pepper shaker that will stun enemies, as well as delightfully season them.

Word first came about the new version via discovery of an ill-timed ESRB listing of the game on their website, circumventing any official statement of the game by its developer, MonkeyPaw Games.  And now, IGN has released gameplay footage of BurgerTime HD, taken during a hands-on session with the game at GDC: 2011.  The remake retains the basic gameplay mechanics of the original, while giving the whole package a dramatic graphical overhaul.  Pepper now creates his gastronomical masterpieces while running around a circular, 3D platform that reminds me of the 3D chess set from the original Star Trek TV show. The game also adds new hazards for Pepper to avoid, such as flaming grills, as well as some new antagonists, including carrots and apple cores to appease the health-food nuts.

The game will be available for Xbox 360, PS3, PC and Wii, although no release date has been given yet.  Below is the the IGN footage on YouTube, as well as our own look at how the original BurgerTime evolved over various platforms during its heyday.

Monday, March 7, 2011

A Quick Look Back: PowerMonger

Molyneux, 2010.  Game designer, sheep herder
In celebration of famed British game designer Peter Molyneux receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award at GDC 2011, I want to take a look back at one of the many great games he has been responsible for creating.  But instead of picking the obvious Populous, the (literally) earth-shattering game he made in 1989 under his freshly minted Bullfrog development label,  a release that helped create the god-game genre, I'd like to go with a more obscure choice.

The followup game to Populous, released in 1990, wasn't quite as successful at cementing itself as a timeless classic. PowerMonger reduces the scope from all-seeing deity to power-hungry army general, but in my mind this helps to make things a bit more intimate.  Directly picking up arms and taking it to the enemy on the ground is much more viscerally satisfying than merely influencing your flock from above.

Gentlemen, we have located their sheep flocks.

PowerMonger's elaborate opening cinematic definitely gets the blood boiling and ready for battle.  The player, however, might give pause when he sees the task at hand after choosing  a name for himself: a giant scrolling map that represents the 195 lands he must conquer in order to win the game.   From top left all the way down to bottom right, he must spread his influence across the entire world.

A game typically plays out thusly: there are many smaller villages scattered throughout each land.  The player must take over these smaller towns as quickly as possible, recruit fighters to his cause, raid the village and surrounding sheep flock to feed his growing army, build whatever weapons he can at the workshop, and then move on to the next.  It's rinse and repeat, building his force up to a size that can take on the larger towns, culminating in a battle-royale at the city that inevitably remains.  One land conquered, dozens upon dozens remaining.

C'mon men!  Those sheep ain't gonna slaughter themselves!

PowerMonger's graphics are a mixed blessing.  On one hand, polygonal landscapes make for dramatic zooming and 360 degree rotational abilities for gamers.  However, the villagers and soldiers are reduced to nearly indistinct blobs, especially considering the larger, more distinct populace from Populous.  But as they say, the devil is in the details, and the amount of detail contained in the worlds of PowerMonger is nothing short of enchanting.  Villagers roam the lands around their communities, chopping wood and setting sail in their little bowl boats to fish.  Flocks of birds burst from the trees as your army marches across the land.  The seasons pass visibly, with springs rains giving way to summer giving way to orange leaves in the trees in fall giving way to blizzards in winter. The seasonal impact on the game is not only visual; when the snow flies you can expect villages to cease production and take shelter in their houses, burning through their stockpiles of food.

The battle for sheep rages on

Contributing greatly to the feel of the world is the game's wonderful sound design.  Troops mumble and whisper as they huddle around the crackling campfire.  There is the constant blatting of sheep, annoying enough to have you relishing ordering your army to descend upon the helpless buggers, slaughtering them to help feed the mass for the next battle.  The hammers and sawing drifting up from the workshop as your men concoct new implements of destruction.  The clash and clang as the fighting rages. The belch of acknowledgement from your general as you issue commands is a common audio cue, and one that shows early on Molyneux's obsession with providing the player with organic feedback on how they are playing; the enthusiasm with which the general replies to commands indicates whether or not he thinks it's a good idea.  Also of note is the rousing score that accompanies the epic opening, done by prolific video game music composer Tim Wright.

"Psst!  How does one sheep feed all of us?"  "Shhhh!"

The downside to all this is the mind-numbing repetitiveness of the proceedings.  Once you get the rhythm to beating the lands, it's more and more of the same. Most people probably didn't make it all the way down to the bottom of the world map; not because of difficulty, but by giving up out of sheer boredom.  Another issue is the confusing litany of buttons on the screen, taking up nearly 1/3 of the gamefield real-estate.  The profusion of buttons needed in his increasingly complex games would continue to haunt Molyneux, until his not-entirely-successful attempt to do away with them completely in his magnum opus, Black & White (2001).

You may take our sheep, but you will never take our freeedoooom!!!

However, is it really a bad thing to repeat battles that are so enjoyable?  PowerMonger is a marvelously fun game, that also provides some respite from the predictable AI by offering online multiplayer, something exceedingly rare in 1990.  The game was also given a WWI themed add-on pack the next year.  Molyneux would go on to create even more elaborate and responsive worlds with games such as the aforementioned Black & White, and Fable (2004), but some of the first steps in the march towards his amazing and amazingly hyped career were made here, with PowerMonger.