Monday, March 18, 2013

Big Changes Ahead for The Dot Eaters

Hello there.  I wanted to give anyone reading the blog and history articles a heads-up that we are in the throes of a redesign of the site.  The relaunch will be happening on May 1st, but there is a lead-time to get everything up and running.  To that effect, I have exported  the Blogger blog to the hosted TDE blog, and hence will not be making any further major updates to this one.

You can still keep tabs on us through our social media hooks, a la:



As for the redesign, you can expect a much better navigational scheme, and a much cleaner, more dynamic and just plain better-looking presentation of the content.  We will also be doing some giveaway contests when the site launches in May, so keep an eye out on those social media sites above for your opportunity to win some TDE swag.

To facilitate your winning of said loot, as well as receiving a heads-up when the new site (still goes live, you can hit our contact page through the link at the top of the screen, leave your email, and we'll give a shout out when it happens.

Thanks for reading the Blogger blog, and for continuing to relive video game history at our site throughout the 15 years of its existence.  Game on, people!

Friday, March 15, 2013

Amazon Opens Retro Game Store

Having long since moved on from just being a simple online bookseller, Amazon has gradually expanded to become the Wal-Mart of online businesses, shilling everything under the sun.  The company has recently made a move to become a one-stop shop for retro game collectors with their new Retro Gaming store.   From Atari to Zelda, mint boxed systems to boxes of motherboards, they seem to have it all.

If you want to skip the hassles of online auctions and relive your video game memories with quick, impulsive one-click purchases, check out the store here.

Source: MTV Multiplayer

Friday, March 8, 2013

Game On 2.0 Lands at the Ontario Science Centre

Coming across the pond from London, England is Game On 2.0,  an interactive exhibition featuring the history of video games.  Starting tomorrow, it will run at the Ontario Science Centre here in Toronto until Sept. 2.

The exhibit contains over 150 playable games from across 60 years of amusement gaming history.  Along with featuring a section of early video game standard-bearers such as PONG and Space Invaders, Game On also studies important game and system entries by genre, as well as taking a look at the creative process and  marketing side of gaming.  A look into the possible future of video games rounds out the exhibit.

This will be the first appearance of this exhibit in Canada, and looks to be a can't-miss proposition for aficionados of video game history, as well as for gamers in general.  Look for a more detailed review of  the show from TDE in the coming days.

Ontario Science Centre Game On page:

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Just Say Yes, An 80's Drug Message Remixed

Reverberating throughout the 80's landscape of bleeping arcades and flashing colours of home video game consoles is Nancy Reagan's simplistic anti-drug slogan "Just Say No".  Every First Lady needs a bugaboo to pursue while the President rules in office, and Reagan's was youth drug use.  I'm not saying that trying to reduce drug abuse among youth is akin to merely chasing a boogeyman, but if you reduce your anti-drug campaign down to a catch-phrase, well then that's how the public is going to perceive it.  It no doubt went in one ear and out the other of kids impatiently waiting to drop a quarter into Dragon's Lair and Afterburner.

 On the evening of Sept 4th, 1986 Americans turned on their TVs and were visited by President Reagan and his wife Nancy, sitting on a couch in the West Hall of the White House, espousing the dangers of drugs to the nation's youth.  Known as the "Just Say No" speech,  it reverberated particularly fiercely a couple of years later inside the head of a man named Cliff Roth.

At the time Roth was teaching audio engineering at the Millennium Film Workshop in New York City, and gave his students an assignment to re-edit the audio track of the speech to reverse the message and have the Reagans espouse the benefits of drug use.  Subsequently getting ahold of a film reel of the speech, Cliff then took two years to painstakingly edit the visuals to the joke audio track.  Released in 1988 to film festivals and public television stations, the video Roth named The Reagans Speak Out On Drugs slowly became an underground, viral sensation; a meme before easy access to editing technology and the global distributing power of the Internet made such creations commonplace.

Roth's video is both amazing and hilarious to watch.  Naturally, it has circulated on YouTube for quite awhile, although Roth has now uploaded a high-quality version of it to celebrate the 25th anniversary of its creation.  It is a pinpoint example of culture jamming in a fun, important and creative way, one every lolcat mememaker should take note of:

Source: io9

Image from swanksalot's Flickr photostream.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Monday Meme: Family Portrait

If it's Monday, it must be another video game retromeme:

Source: Ry-Spirit via Reddit

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Hard Wares: Star Wars/Pac-Man iPad Back Cover

Hey, you got Star Wars in my Pac-Man!

Hey, you got Pac-Man in my Star Wars!

Hey, I have a cool iPad back cover!

You can pick them up at Redbubble.  May the force be absorbed by your iPad cover.

Source: a_man_oxford via Reddit

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

What C. Everett Koop Thought About Video Games

As the first "superstar" Surgeon General of the United States, C. Everett Koop held a lot of sway over public opinion when it came to health issues in the 1980's.  With his passing on Monday at the age of 96, one figures he must have had some knowledge on the subject of longevity.

Koop took what was previously a relatively obscure governmental position and used his pulpit (pun intended; Koop was an evangelical Presbyterian), to push some important health issues into the fore, including critical education on the subject of the then burgeoning AIDS epidemic, as well as the lethality of smoking.  It's hard to criticize a man who fought so tirelessly in his surgical career to correct infant birth defects, who then went on to evangelize against stigmatizing AIDS victims and the promotion of inherently dangerous products by the tobacco industry, but when it came to the topic of the effect of video games on children, Koop was dead wrong.

He addressed a conference of public-health workers at the University of Pittsburg in 1982 on the topic of family violence, and afterwards during a press conference he directly implicated video games as a main contributing factor of intrafamily violence, along with television and the poor economic conditions the country was facing at the time.  For video games, he said:

[children] are into the games body and soul - everything is zapping the enemy.  Children get to the point where when they see another child being molested by a third child, they just sit back.

 It was the ever-popular "desensitized to violence" argument, and it flew in the face of reputable studies that refused to reinforce the idea that consumption of media can be said to be a main cause of real-life violence, either in adults or children.  Koop himself, of course, did not cite any evidence to back up his claim, and it seems wildly irresponsible for such a notable public figure, who relished the ability to effect dramatic changes on U.S. health issues, to so baldy present the public with a red-herring as to the causes of family violence.  Koop knew he could address any of the real factors: exposure to abuse as a child, alcohol abuse, an indifferent education system, personality disorders.  There's a shopping list of societal ills that could have accompanied poor economic conditions as reasons for family violence.  Instead Koop decided to demonize video games as a causative factor.

His comments helped take America's eye off the ball as to solving the real causes of societal violence in the country, and for that it should be considered a grave misdiagnosis in Koop's career as "America's Doctor".

For more information on the history of video game violence, consult your local Dot Eaters article.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Game Over Tinies

The Gashlycrumb Tinies is an infamous 1963 book written and illustrated by Edward Gorey.  In it 26 children, each one with a name that starts with the next letter of the alphabet, die from various causes, all put to rhyme.

Over at brentalfloss, they have adapted Gorey's work as the Game Over Tinies, where various video game characters meet their demise in similar fashion.  It is a masterfully done tribute to both the original work and the dangerous lives of video game characters.  Here's a sample:

Monday, February 25, 2013

Monday Meme: A Simple Plan

It it's Monday, it must be another video game retromeme:

Source: Imgur, via Reddit.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

What Nolan Said: Innovation

Nolan Bushnell founded Atari in 1972, sold it to Warner Communications in 1976, and was eventually ushered out of the company in 1978.  The writing had been on the wall for awhile, for the man who had kept Atari alive by constantly innovating, by constantly swimming forward in a sea of ravenous competitors.  By then, Atari had gone from a company about innovating to a company about marketing past successes, and that attitude eventually helped sink the entire industry in 1983-84.  What Nolan Said:

Quote comes from a 2007 interview of Bushnell by Benj Edwards for Vintage Computing and Gaming.

Image is of Bushnell at the Campus Party Brasil Expo in Jan. 2013.  By Camila Cunha.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Ad Game: Vanguard for Atari VCS/2600

Vanguard was an arcade game developed by "shadow" developer TOSE, and released in Japan by SNK in late 1981 and licensed for North America by Centuri.  It was an important intermediate step towards modern side-scrolling shoot-em-ups such as Gradius and R-Type, improving on a genre first formed by William's seminal Defender.

Today in the Ad Game we feature a TV commercial for the Atari 2600 port of Vanguard:

Vanguard was definitely a great arcade game, and the 2600 version a spectacular port that demonstrates the amazing things Atari programmers were able to pull off with the platform as it matured.  This ad, however, doesn't do any of that justice.

For instance, who trades off the joystick to their buddies in the middle of a game?  Hard to keep your concentration and momentum going with some jerk begging for the joystick.  Just wait until he crashes, it won't be long to wait.  Try shouting "The wall, the wall!" into his ear, that oughta speed up his destruction.

One of the big innovations touted in Vanguard was the ability to shoot in four directions, but in the ad the shooting looks pretty spastic.  The key to any successful shooter is the precision of your shots, and here it looks like the gunner is having a seizure.

Then, of course, we have the hulking Luthor, who's sole responsibility is to defeat the Gond, the boss at the end of the round.  A man of few words, it is rumoured that Luthor once, when a kid refused to give up the joystick to him, stuffed the poor bastard's hand completely into the cartridge slot.  We can only know his moods by his demented chuckling.

Perhaps Luthor is related to Beavis?

Monday, February 18, 2013

Monday Meme: Super Effective!

If it's Monday, it must be another video game retromeme:

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Hard Wares: Minimalist Tron Poster

This poster is freaking fantastic.  It has a great feel to it.  I was thinking that this is the way Disney should have gone with the promotion of their groundbreaking CGI video game movie from 1982.  Be mysterious with it, low key... instead of the "computerized Fantasia" they pushed.  Although, thinking about it, the poster feels a bit too 70's, a vibe that would probably have given the public the idea that the movie was dated even before release:

Still though, a great poster, designed by Mark Welser.  You can pick up a print over at Etsy.

For more information on Disney's seminal Tron, consult your local Dot Eaters article.

Friday, February 15, 2013

The Walking Dead as a C-64 Game

It's impressive to me that I've been able to watch Zombies shamble into the pop-culture landscape, lurch past the "played out" label, and become a new,  timeless horror genre akin to vampires and werewolves.  AMC's The Walking Dead is a cable TV series that premiered in 2010, designed to bring Zombies to the small screen, and was wildly successful in the process.

The series spawned a point-and-click adventure game from Telltale Games in 2012.  One of the writers on the project, Mark Darin, has recently published some image mock-ups of how the game would have looked if released on the Commodore 64, the classic home computer of the early 80's.  They are the thing to behold:

You can check out the rest on the German gaming blog Shaffigames.


Thursday, February 14, 2013

Valentine's Day, Gamer Edition

Happy Valentine's Day, from Kirby and Friends:

source: Cloudfenrir94 via Reddit

image used for social media hooks from xQUATROx on deviantART

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Retro Games Easter Egg in Black Ops II Map

The Call of Duty series has been a bit of a hit for Activision.  It started as an entry in the WWII PC first-person shooter sweepstakes of the early 2000's with the original Call of Duty, released in 2003.  This was followed by a, well, army of sequels and spin-offs for every gaming device of any note, eventually shaking off its historical warfare roots and moving into modern times.   The most recent iteration of the series is Call of Duty: Black Ops II, released in late 2012, netting Activision $1 billion dollars in sales within the first 15 days.

Those who pre-ordered BLOPS2 (as it is affectionately nicknamed) or picked up the special Hardened or Care Package or downloaded the Digital Deluxe editions received a free bonus map called Nuketown 2025.  A re-do of a map contained in the previous Black Ops game, it is a 50's style "Model Home of the Future", giving more than just a nod to the ominous, retro-paradise feel of Bethesda's recent Fallout games.

What's pertinent here is that if you run through the map at the start of the level and decapitate all of the lifeless mannequins that litter the landscape within a certain timeframe, a TV suddenly shows the classic Activision logo, and with an Atari VCS/2600 controller appearing in the players' hand rendered in Doom-style graphics, they can play four classic 8-bit games from the company's storied past:  Kaboom! (1981), River Raid (1982), H.E.R.O. (1984), and Pitfall II: Lost Caverns (1984).

A nice little nod to their past by Activision, appropriately hidden in a retro-styled map. Don't worry about your team-mates getting upset by you hogging the joystick:  you are invincible while you play.  Here's a video of the easter egg in action:

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Quote Mining: Lining Up for Success

Can you guess the unique video game system Electronic Games magazine was so jazzed about in this quote?

Image used in the social media hooks from Dr. Stephen Dann's Flickr Photostream

Monday, February 11, 2013

Friday, February 8, 2013

A Choose-Your-Own-Pokemon-Adventure

Gotta love Dorkly.  Chose wisely, Ash:

Image used in the social media hooks from Mrs. Gemstone's flickr photostream:

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Instant Video Game Collection. Only Half a Million Bucks.

But wait, look what else you get!

Got some discretionary spending money burning a hole in your pocket?  If so, you could buy this game collection on eBay.  It's the culmination of 30 years of collecting, and as the seller mentions in the description, even though he has spent the last two months working eight hours a day to catalog what he has, he's still not sure he's covered everything!

The collection is composed of over 6850 games, over 330 game consoles, and 220 controllers.  He seems to be like me and doesn't like to throw out packaging (who knows when you might need to sell this stuff on eBay?), so the vast majority of equipment comes boxed.  There's also tonnes of promotional items such as game-related action figures and soundtracks, books and strategy guides.  Even arcade games are represented, with a collection of PCB boards available so you can finally come out of the dark alleys and play games legal on MAME.

As the sellers says, you could make yourself an instant video game museum with a one-time payment of only $500,000.  Start yours, today!

Thanks to @freemantim for the heads up.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Just the Laughs, M'am: L.A. Noire and the Gag Reel

Featured in today's post is a video fascinating to me.  It was released by Depth Analysis, the Australian sister company to Team Bondi, developers of L.A. Noire for Rockstar.  DA was formed to do the ground-breaking motion capture work for the game.

L.A. Noire was a great title released in 2011, a third-person police procedural set in 1940's Los Angeles.  While it appears on its face to be a historical version of an open-world game in the style of  Rockstar's flagship Grand Theft Auto series, the guts of the game actually harken back to classic dialog-tree games such as Accolade's Law of the West.  While the gamer does find themselves tooling around L.A. in classic cars chasing cases, once a suspect is approached the game moves into an interrogation mode where questions are posed by the player.  Depending on the attitude tack chosen with each question, those being grilled either clam up or spill the beans.

While the interrogation scenes may have reminded one of games of yore, the facial capture technology on display was a look into the future of gaming, startling in its realism, and not just another pretty face.  Dubbed Motionscan, it played a key role in gameplay, allowing the subtle ticks or stoney stares of the actors' performances to give clues to the player about guilt or innocence.  To achieve the effect, actors were put in a chair surrounded by a rig of cameras capturing their performance; not just the front of their face, but all around and even from above and below.  All this tech allowed for a perfect 1 to 1 recording of facial movements without any subsequent processing needed to complete the look in the game.  The actor's emotions are wonderfully exposed via this technique, and as I said it is startling to behold.  Before we get to the main event, the following is a short video on the process, produced for the game's release:

Team Bondi unfortunately went belly-up in the later part of 2011, having burned their bridges with Rockstar during an incredibly long development time, and accruing a large amount of debt through owed bonus and payroll to the staff.  I lament the loss of Team Bondi; they created a new, original IP that has great potential.  It reminds me of the case of Red Dead Revolver.  This was another Rockstar game set in a historical period, this time the old West, released for the Playstation 2 and original Xbox back in 2004.  It was a kind of on-the-rails shooter that also harkened back to earlier gaming days, and was met by a middling reception from critics and gamers.  That game did, however, spawn a sequel:  the astounding Red Dead Redemption, for my money one of the greatest video games of all time.  Team Bondi's IP has been picked up in liquidation by a multimedia firm co-founded by Mad Max creator George Miller, so something interesting might happen there, but it seems unlikely we'll get a game sequel based on the material akin to an RDR blockbuster.

On a lighter note, however, we are still left with a great game that helps bridge the gulf between real life characters and computerized ones, with a slight detour into the uncanny valley.  At this point in this article, a lot of people right now might be thinking that the real mystery is when is this guy gonna get to the video in the title!?  Well, here we are, a blooper reel of the game's actors flubbing their lines during facial capture sessions.  The spontaneity on display here is perhaps the best demonstration of what happens in the attempt to inject as much humanity as possible into video game characters.  It is both wonderful and weird at the same time:

What Nolan Said: The 70th Birthday Edition

Today is Nolan Bushnell's 70th birthday.  Before co-founding Atari and the video game industry, a previous job had held while a student attending the University of Utah was as a carnival barker.  It was a job he ended up doing his whole life.  Today's What Nolan Said:

 Photo via kandinski's flickr photostream

Monday, February 4, 2013

Monday Meme: Skyrim on NES

If it's Monday, it must be another video game retomeme:

Yesterday we posted an image of the massive open-world RPG Skyrim as an Intellivision cart.  That was pretty silly, heck a standard Intellivision cartridge only holds 4K of memory.  No, such an old system could never have run a Skyrim game.  Now, the NES on the other hand, there was an advanced console...

source: dangerousPyro via Cheez Burger

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Visual Cortex: Skyrim for Intellivision?

Consider: They did a few AD&D games on the mighty Mattel Intellivision.  Bethesda Softworks' Elder Scrolls series of RPGs goes back a loooong way.  Imagine if these two titans of history met...

(cue wavy lines)

source: Bridgit Scheide at Deviant Art.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

The Ad Game: Isaac Asimov and Some Fantastic Deals!

Isaac Asimov.  He was one of the most influential writers of our time, having written the Foundation series, along with other SF and non-fiction works, a list of which would be too exhaustive to repeat here.

He also knew a good deal when he saw one:

I have a feeling Mr. Asimov didn't say all those things. It must be a weird thing for an ad copy writer to put words into the mouth of Isaac Asimov, but they give it the old college try here.  "An exciting entertainer"?  "Just one of many fine computers from Radio Shack".  I also like him holding the joystick like someone just plopped it into his hand,  with a rictus grin thinking "What the heck is this thing?".

But still, you have to take it from Isaac.

source: knmoor, via his flickr stream

Friday, February 1, 2013

Quote Mining: Some Amazin' Software

Can you guess the pioneering computer game company described in this quote?

Thursday, January 31, 2013

1982 TRS-80 Product Catalog

Tandy's TRS-80 computer, lovingly called the "Trash-80" by aficionados, was an early home computer released in 1977, that same magical year that established the idea of computers in the home with the Commodore Pet and a little number called the Apple II.

Nothing quite gets the nostalgic fires burning as a product catalog.  So here we feature a link to a 1982 Radio Shack (owned by Tandy) catalog, profiling all the wonderful programs and games you could get for the system.  Not only is the content great, but the whole thing is presented in such a tactile way that your can almost feel your grubby hands sliding across the slick paper, drooling over the new games rolling in for your machine:

Click to see catalog

I also recommend checking out the whole site, Radio Shack Catalogs.  It is an astounding repository of promotional materials from Radio Shack's history, and you can't think of 70's electronics without harkening back to the Shack.

source: tetujin via Reddit

TRS-80 image used in social media hooks from Easterbilby's flickr stream.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

What Nolan Said: Who Was First?

There has been a long-standing debate between Nolan Bushnell and Ralph Baer as to who was the inventor of video games.  Speaking strictly chronologically, one would have to give the title to Baer, who developed a TV video game system at defense contractor Sanders Associates in 1968,  a system which was bought by Magnavox, named the Odyssey, and produced as a commercial home video game system in 1972.  Based on its novelty, the Odyssey sold fairly well but didn't exactly set the market on fire.  That same year, however, Bushnell founded Atari and produced Pong, a similar, coin-operated video ping-pong game who's runaway success firmly established the video game industry.  To muddy the waters further, there is evidence that Bushnell was influenced by Baer's invention when he conceived of Pong.

So for our purposes, we consider Baer to be the inventor of video games, and Bushnell to be the father of the video game industry.  Such semantics and differing definitions of which is what gets muddled as time advances on, and so we are left with sniping of the sort we see in today's What Nolan Said:

The quote is taken from an 2007 interview of Bushnell by the online arm of famed German newspaper Der Spiegel.  The link points to the English version of the interview.  The image is of Bushnell at the Bay Area Maker Faire in 2011, a festival celebrating invention and DIY culture hosted by Make magazine.  It comes from cclark395's flickr feed.

For more information on the early beginnings of the video game industry, consult your local Dot Eaters article.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Video of Douglas Adams Demoing HHGTTG Game in 1985

When Douglas Adams paired with text adventure giant Infocom to do a computer game version of his much-beloved satirical SF book Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, it seemed an idea too good to have come from the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the Galaxy.  Infocom was the biggest player in the market, and Adams a computer-literate author who's works matched the sensibilities and episodic nature of the genre.  All the more so when Adams was matched with Infocom "IMP" or Implementor (what the company called its game designers) Steve Meretzky, author of some very Adamsy games for the company such as the Planetfall series.

So it came to pass that Infocom released the HHGTTG game for a myriad of home computer systems in 1984, and it was a huge success, a top-seller that dominated the game sales charts for months and became Infocom's best-selling product.  You can read more of the HHGTTG game's development and Douglas Adams' other major contributions to the video game landscape in a previous entry in this blog, written to celebrate what would have been his 60th birthday if not for his passing in 2001.

As for the video mentioned in the post title, here is Adams demonstrating the electronic version of his novel on the U.K. TV show Micro Live.  He very cheerfully points out how diabolically obtuse and unfair his game is, as well as takes the host through the opening passages of it:

For more information on the history of Infocom and its seminal text adventure Zork, consult your local Dot Eaters article:

source: Anna Black, via The Galamoon retrogaming Daily

Monday, January 28, 2013

Monday Meme: A Pac of Flowers

If it's Monday, it must be another video game retromeme:

via Facebook page The Secret to Humor is Surprise

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Website Featuring Ultima Remakes

Ultima: The Reconstruction is a website listing known remakes of Ultima, the classic RPG series by Lord British (Richard Garriott).  Some of the projects are abandoned, some are in active development, and some are completed.  One or two are homegrown engines, but most are mods or reskins that require having the computer versions of games such as Dungeon Siege or Oblivion.

All of them, however, are loving testaments to one of the most revered RPG series of all time.

Ultima: The Reconstruction:

For more information on Ultima, consult your local Dot Eaters article.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Soundcloud List of Classic Video Game Music Remakes

Musician Jeff McGowan has a large list of video game music he has remade on his SoundCloud stream, and the results are fantastic.  The service is free of charge, so you have nothing to lose to check them out, and your ears have everything to gain by listening to some great interpretations of some wonderful music.

You can check out Jeff's stream here:

thanks to 7upbottle, via Reddit

Friday, January 25, 2013

Conan Mocks Atari Bankruptcy

Sure, the recent bankruptcy of what was left of pioneering video game company Atari was sad, but who says we can't kick 'em while they're down?  So thinks Conan O'Brien, with this jab from his TBS show.  The bit would be even more cutting, if it wasn't on TBS.  Zing!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Nintendo Offering Classic Games in the Wii U eShop for $0.30.

This July, the NES, or the Famicom as it was known in Japan, will turn 30.  To commemorate this event, Nintendo is offering a game a month at the apropos price of 30 cents, up to and including July.

Here is the list:

Jan - Balloon Fight (NES)
Feb - F-Zero (SNES)
Mar - Punch-Out! Featuring Mr. Dream (NES)
Apr - Kirby's Adventure (NES)
May - Super Metroid (SNES)
Jun - Yoshi (NES)
Jul - Donkey Kong (NES)

They are the full versions of each game.  Pick up one of these classics each month on the Wii U eShop and get yourself psyched for the summer celebrations!

via and post it gamer

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

What Nolan Said: Needs vs. Wants.

Nolan Bushnell founded Atari, and when he left the company he tried his hand at a myriad of start-up attempts.  He had a particular obsession with robotics, from developing the animatronic animals in his Pizza Time Theatre restaurant chain, to household robot company Androbot, to the Axlon company responsible for the oddball scheme he is shilling here in the picture used for today's What Nolan Said:

The picture is of Bushnell presenting a "Petster" to a crowd at the New York Toy Fair in 1985.  You can see the Catster version rolling around at the bottom of the image; they also released a dog, hamster and even spider edition of the toys.  The idea was to sell robotic animals to people who want to have a pet, but don't care for the shedding or the pooping or the bringing of dead mice to the door as an offering to the master.  At the time, Bushnell was barking up the wrong tree, and the prohibitively priced Petster line went nowhere.  Petster did, however, help sow the seeds for spatially aware household robotics such as the Roomba and other robotic vacuum cleaners.

In the picture, even Nolan seems perplexed he's standing there trying to sell the idea that people would have this particular want.  I'll leave you with a TV spot showing the Petster in action:

For more information on Bushnell and the foundation of Atari, consult your local Dot Eaters entry.

source:  Computer Entertainment magazine, "Bulletin Board, Bushnell's Pet Project", pg. 8 June 1985

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Ad Game: Pre-Internet

Our ad today serves up an ad for a service that gave many people their first taste of electronic mass communication: CompuServe.  Back in the "good" old days, you had a couple of options if you wanted to go online: a local dial-up BBS, or a nationwide equivalent like CompuServe, one of the larger players in the forming market.  Here is the ad, from a 1985 issue of Compute's Gazette:

The "videotex" mentioned in the copy was an early system to deliver interactive text to users.  It's funny to me how the base uses of the Internet were all understood and ready to be delivered to a potential user base: news, banking, online shopping, email, games... all the concepts of what we do on the Internet today.  Of course, CompuServe has to couch things in a way people of the 80's would understand, so they compare their chat service to a "multi-channel CB simulator".  10-4 good buddy!  I'm also impressed by the image of a Zardoz-type video warrior armed with not only a hand blaster, but a light-sabre as well.  Guy's ready for a fight!

The CompuServe service still lingers on today as a web portal, in a collaboration between it and another prehistoric Internet fossil: Netscape.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Atari Files for Bankruptcy Protection

Founded by Nolan Bushnell and the maker of PONG, the arcade video game that established the industry in 1972, the Atari brand has bounced around more than the ball from its first title.

The latest iteration of the company was established in 2001, when Infrogrames Entertainment from France picked up the remains of Atari from the Hasbro bankruptcy proceedings, with the parent company eventually changing its name to Atari S.A. in 2009, the initials after the company name standing for "Societe Anonym", the French equivalent of Ltd..

The new entity had some success with titles such as Rollercoaster Tycoon, some disasters with games like the remake of Alone In the Dark, and accrued a massive amount of debt in a seemingly endless series of acquisitions.  In recent days, the U.S. division of Atari found its stride by abandoning the retail sector and concentrating on the hugely profitable, digitally distributed casual and mobile game markets. Therein lies the crux of this latest filing:  detaching itself from the drowning-in-debt French holding company, and striking out on its own with renewed investment capital in order to exploit the new freemium gaming economy.

Expect Atari to bounce back.  For more information on the beginnings of the company that started it all, consult your local Dot Eaters article.

Monday Meme: New Games, Old Format

If it's Monday, it must be another video game retromeme:

via Cheezeburger

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Quote Mining: Dangerous Driving

Can you guess the controversial game this quote describes?


Saturday, January 19, 2013

GDC Marble Madness Postmortem Talk With Mark Cerny

Available at the GDC Vault is a wonderfully informative video of a talk game creator Mark Cerny gave in 2011 about his greatest work, Atari Games' Marble Madness.  This was a game I fell in love with in the arcades in 1984, with its M.C. Escher-esque graphics and dangerous-feeling physics.  Cerney gives a frank and entertaining talk about the immense technical challenges and innovations required to produce the game in the dying days of the arcade.

You can view the video at the GDC Vault here:

Marble Madness arcade marquee via

Friday, January 18, 2013

What Nolan Said: Dissing GTA

Nolan Bushnell helped to form the video game industry by creating Atari and PONG.  These days he's like the curmudgeonly neighbour who sits on his porch shaking his fist at people passing by and making pronouncements like in today's "What Nolan Said":

The quote is taken from yesterday's Bloomberg's "Inkblot" session with Bushnell, a kind of word-association interview they occasionally conduct. It's not too surprising that he would disparage Rockstar's notorious flagship title, as he has always shown a distaste for violence and sex in video games.  In a mini-interview conducted by Newsweek in 2003, Bushnell noted a rule under his tenure at Atari, that while a programmer could destroy tanks and cars in a game, never a human figure directly.  Perhaps this is his Mormonism peeking through.

During the Bloomberg interview, Bushnell's one-word response to an image of stacks of GTA IV cases was "Dystopian".

The Verge Offers a Lament to the Lost Arcade

The Verge has published a wonderfully written and presented paean to the video arcade on their website, titled "For Amusement Only: the life and death of the American arcade".

For me, thoughts of the dark, stuffy and endlessly bloopy and bleepy arcades of my youth are akin to an older generation thinking about drive-in restaurants with roller-skating waitresses, or sock hops.  It was a vibrant social scene that has all but gone extinct, although modern movements like Barcades are perhaps heralding a comeback for the idea of a place to gather and belly up to arcade game cabinets.

The Verge offers a thorough and thoroughly engaging history of the video arcade, one that should not be missed.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Gravity of Not Pacman

Not Pacman, by Maurice Ltd., is an interesting take on the venerable dot eater formula.  It resembles the classic game, appropriates the sounds, but here the play is the thing.  Here, you don't play by moving Pac around directly, but spin the maze in which he and his dreaded ghost antagonists reside.  Gravity does the rest, and the characters roll around while you try to keep our yellow hero from tumbling into an enemy.

There are a few control options, including using joysticks or even a steering wheel if you have one, but I find I like the mouse option the best, spinning the maze clockwise and counter-clockwise by moving the mouse right or left.

What the game is really crying out for, of course, is a tablet version that uses accelerometer sensors to let you tilt the device to roll Pac-Man around.  Unfortunately, we only have Windows, OSX and Linux versions so far.  Also, you can only finish the maze once and then the game records your points and time taken to finish, then resets itself, so the goal currently is to finish in the fastest time.  But hey, it's free!  You can download the different versions of Not Pacman here at

Here's our video of gameplay using a mouse in the OSX version:

As always, for more information on the history of Pac-Man, consult your local Dot Eaters entry.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Wellspring of Violent Video Game Controversy

With all the summits and task forces currently considering stronger new gun control legislation in the U.S. and the possible reasons for the rash of mass shootings plaguing the country, how about a look back at where the controversy of video game violence began?

It dates back to 1976 and the release of Exidy's Death Race, an arcade video game loosely inspired by Roger Corman's ultra-violent B-movie Death Race 2000.  In Exidy's game, one or two players drove a vehicle around a playfield chasing running stick figures.  When a figure was hit, it would let out an electronic shriek and turn into a cross, creating a permanent obstacle for drivers to avoid.

Considered quaint by today's standards, Death Race caused a national debate on the cultural ramifications of the burgeoning video game market, was labelled "sick" and "depraved" by various groups, and of course enjoyed a healthy run in the arcades.

For more information on Death Race and its fallout, consult your local Dot Eaters entry.

The Visual Cortex: Joust An Ad

Today the Visual Cortex hatches an ad for the Atari 2600 and 5200 versions of Williams' arcade hit Joust: 

Click to enlarge

Running in periodicals in 1984, it's short on actual screenshots of the game, and heavy on artist renditions of the action. I also find it humourous how it tries to sex-up the "beasts of the air" you fly in the game, the ostriches from the original arcade game.   The ad copy starts off with an unusual, confusing take on the classic opening words of the Star Wars movies:

Well, which is it?  Long ago, or a distant future?  Anyway, I don't think I want to purchase a game that spits eggs out of my TV screen, from whence evil, sharp-taloned dragons attack me.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Imperial Stooges Slam U.S. Death Star Decision

It all started with a petition submitted to the U.S. government via the "We the People" website, designed to give voice to citizens about pressing matters to the people.  Any petition that receives at least 25,000 signatures within 30 days of being submitted will get an official response from the White House.

Of course, the idea of "pressing matters" differs among people, and so a petition to secure funding and begin construction of a Death Star, the moon-sized orbiting battle station first revealed in 1977's Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, passed the response threshold with 34,435 signatures.  Hence, the Chief of the Science and Space Branch of the White House Office of Management and Budget Paul Shawcross issued an official statement of how such an appropriation of funds would be fiscally irresponsible ($850,000,000,000,000,000), not to mention immoral and the results easily destructible by a one-man starship.

Now in response to the response, the official Star Wars Blog has presented a PR release by the Galactic Empire, slamming Earth as primitive and cowardly.  I, for one, think we need to get cracking on updating the International Space Station.  Perhaps Lord Vader could think of some ways of motivating us to get back on a Death Star schedule.

Have You Referenced Atari In a Rap Song Today?

In recent days, popular Rap artists have discovered the ease of rhyming the word "Atari".  To wit:

Yeah I'm sorry, I can't afford a Ferrari
But that don't mean I can't get you there.
I guess he's an XBox and I'm more Atari
But the way you play your game ain't fair.
                                 Cee Lo Green - "Forget You"
She wanna go and party, she wanna go and party
Nigga, don't approach her with that Atari
Nigga, that ain't good game, homie, sorry.
                                 Kendrick Lamar - "Poetic Justice"

In a nice bit of synergy from the Atari company, they are taking advantage of this pop-culture phenomena to sell a line of headphones in the U.K..  Of course, the bad news is that every reference to the company name is in a negative light, playing on the obsolescence of Atari consoles.  But still, any pop-culture reference is a good reference, right?

Atari headphones page at HMV:

"I'm more Atari" T-shirt referenced in the social media hooks for this post available from Cee-Lo's website:

Monday, January 14, 2013

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Witness an Ad for the Atari Jaguar Version of Doom

This is a holy-rolling TV spot from 1993 for id Software's seminal FPS game Doom, which I'm sure Atari had pinned as a system-selling port for their 64-bit Jaguar console.  I don't think you'd get away with selling a video game with such imagery these days.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Video Games as Penguin Book Covers

This tickles me. It's a gallery that presents some popular video games and re-imagines them as book covers in the style of Penguin classics.   They have the wonderfully abstract yet impactful feeling of the 60's.  Here's a taste, see if you can guess the classic third-person shooter it represents:

Imgur gallery of covers:

Friday, January 11, 2013

Can This Wizard Save Pinball?

From its modern incarnation with the advent of the flipper after WWII, pinball enjoyed a long run as the go-to electronic amusement pastime.  It lasted until the 70's, when the shimmering graphics and bloop and bleep siren call of video games lured players away from mechanical playgrounds to ephemeral worlds comprised of phosphors on a screen.

Pinball limped along, the market steadily shrinking until a few old warhorse manufacturers remained, companies like Williams, who attempted to resurrect  the genre with a daring video/pinball hybrid system in 1999 called Pinball 2000.  As detailed in the excellent documentary TILT: The Battle to Save Pinball (Two-Disc Set) , this gambled failed, Williams moved to the more lucrative slot machine market, and so pinball has languished as a niche collector's market.

But now former arcade operator and online pinball machine retailer "Jersey" Jack Guarieri has hopes to propel the silver ball back into public consciousness with a new machine of his own design, based on a slightly dated property... The Wizard of Oz.  Guarieri's sense of timing might be spot on though, riding the buzz of the upcoming Disney prequel to Wizard, Oz: The Great and Powerful.  Only time will tell if Guarieri is truly the wizard who can save pinball.

Slate has the story here:

via Digg