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?