Here are the latest ravings, ramblings and rumblings from retro video game enthusiasts with a passion for 8-bit Atari and Nintendo games & consoles. We have a general distaste for gaming that involves yelling into a headset over an internet connection. Thanks, but fuck that noise no thanks.
You may have seen documentaries about various aspects of video gaming and arcades, but this film concentrates on those who collect arcade games. Anyone who dropped quarters in the early 80s knows the insane joy of Galaga, BattleZone, Asteroids and Defender. The home gaming consoles of that era brought many arcade classics into living rooms, but every kid knew there was nothing better than the full size cabinets :)
Long ago I had Stargate, Dig Dug and Moon Patrol in my living room and my roommate had Mr.Do and Zaxxon. There wasn't anything I could compare that to... except my childhood in local arcades. I was really excited to have a cache of arcade cabinets, but I knew that there were other collectors who could rival many of the actual arcades I had played in.
The Space Invaders: In Search of Lost Time website is full of great info and insight about the film and the collectors who participated in it. They collect arcade games, but their collections can be so vast they've really become arcades in themselves. Some have rec rooms, garages or basements full of glowing cabs all playing those enticing attract-mode sounds & images.
Collecting Atari, Coleco and/or Intellivision carts is one thing, but having 30 full-size arcade cabinets in your home is simply magical. I can attest that it is also a labor of love - from repairs to the fact that cabinets weigh a lot!
Filmmaker, Jeff Von Ward said, "most of the arcade game collectors I spoke with are more interested in acquiring, restoring, preserving, and passing on their nostalgia for these old games to the next generation. Theirs was a story that hadn't been told before and one that has a wide appeal beyond the collecting community."
The filming began in July, 2007 with a travel plan enabling filming in many amazing private game rooms hidden in homes around the country. The title's reference to Space Invaders is two-pronged. We all know it was one of the first games to really take off and inspire the industry, but it's secondary reference is to the massive size of the average arcade cabinet and the fact that collectors are all too happy to allow these behemoths to invade what little space they have in their homes.
The movie is screening in various locations and is available as an Amazon download. There is also word that it will be available on DVD at some point. Check out the trailer below and the Space Invaders: In Search of Lost Time website for more info about the film, it's contributors and process. Lots of great info!
Game manuals are far more important to video games than the Save-A-Tree crowd knows
The concept of an "instruction manual" came into my life when my Dad was assembling my first bicycle. I found manuals quite helpful when I was building model cars in Middle School. Without those instructions, there was no way to know how/where every single part was supposed to fit. You could make assumptions, but the manual was there to ensure a proper result. Hence, manuals began as important documents that were beneficial to the proper completion of a project. There's nothing more frustrating than completing a project and wondering about the few leftover parts that didn't seem to go anywhere.
Somewhere along the travels of time, manuals became less important, but more prolific. Suddenly, simple appliances came with manuals for those who didn't know how to plug in a blender or were uncertain how to insert bread into a toaster. Nearly every product that came packaged in a box had an instruction manual of some sort. Some were for assembly, while others demonstrated how to use the product. For a majority of products, manuals were unnecessary.
As we became a more litigious society, manuals began to boldly profess, "Read before using this product," and we found them full of legal disclaimers and jargon hardly relevant to the use of your new waffle iron. At the same time we also noticed a lesser comprehension of their native language - it seemed as though many manuals, for english-speaking consumers, were not written or proofread by someone fluent in the english language. I'm sure the same is true for any of the multilingual manuals too. The days of useful information had given way to shoddy instructions and legalese known only to law school grads.
Some have suggested that offering game manuals as PDF files on the developer's website is a "greener" way of providing their info. I'm not sold on that although every little bit helps. So many people still print such PDFs as well as all of their email. Yikes!
Video Game Manuals
Even today, nearly every packaged video game on a retail shelf includes a manual. Sometimes they are only a few pages while others are beefy tomes of useful information. These days, manuals are less necessary since optical game discs have enough space to include tutorial segments or even in-game hints. Every time I go back to Skylanders, I have to look up the character I chose and figure out what powers they possess and what key-combos activate all the powers. Conveniently, this can be done in-game.
Let's go back to the days of the Atari 2600. Manuals were very important even though game play was relegated to a joystick and one button. Think about Space Invaders for the 2600. Popping in the cart and playing gave you more than enough info to begin playing and have a good time. But Space Invaders has 112 game variations
Without the manual's matrix of game options, it could take a long time to find the co-op game with Moving Shields and Fast Bombs. The manual made finding your favorite variation easy with no frustration - keep in mind you couldn't Google these game options in 1980 :)
The Art in Video Game Manuals
Today's games are photo realistic to the point that the likeness of a professional athlete is easily recognizable during play. Backgrounds, once depicted with a meager handful of colors (or just one color) are now lush picturesque vistas full of detail and often motion. In the late 1970s space themed games were popular - which was convenient. Space is black... one color :)
In the early years of video games, 8-bit sprites did little justice to the individual characters & enemies and the backgrounds were not very detailed either. However, back in the day, game manuals offered realistic artwork depicting characters, spacecraft, vehicles and places. These few, sometimes in color, images helped paint a picture of game aspects and attributes giving you a mental image of the characters and terrain. Seeing the details of the lesser 8-bit representations added to the interest and excitement of the game itself.
The Story Arc in Video Game Manuals
I think there's a similar phenomenon with the story arc to various games. Many games from the 8-bit era are simple in structure and game play, but have really interesting back stories that are quite interesting and add to the overall experience of playing them. Rather that being in some unknown craft that is shooting at enemies, it's more fun to know who the enemies are and what their mission is and how your heroic character fits into the experience.
Overall, I think manuals are far less useful in supporting today's games, but they offer both visual and story elements to 8-bit games who's pixels didn't really tell the whole tale.
May 20, 2013
Golden Age math & memory gave precision to the elusive arcade Kill Screen
It's not uncommon to hear someone say they beat, completed or finished a particular video game. They could be referring to a PC or console game. Modern games can have several different types of "endings". A player can successfully complete all the levels or perform all side-missions or find all the hidden artifacts. Developers present several scenarios toward completing a game to give the title replay value. After all, most games had NO ending in the early days!
As a kid playing Space Invaders, Donkey Kong or Asteroids at the arcade, I played until I ran out of quarters or energy. Like many games of that era of the early 1980s, games didn't have an ending - players persevered until they ran out of lives. The coin-op nature of arcade games were for-profit. Arcade owners wanted players to drop more quarters or tokens into these machines. Giving a player the idea that they had won or were finished might diminish their desire to drop more quarters. The concept of high scores was actually created as a tactic to increase a player's desire to beat the top score - more quarters.
High scores first became popularized on pinball machines, but later transfered to video games. Midway's Seawolf, originally released in 1976, was one of the first video games to use the term high score. Arbitrary scores were determined in the game and players strove to surpass this number in an allotted time frame. This was before games had the ability to save information, thus it was simply a mathematical calculation during game play. Taito's Space Invaders (1978) was the first game to save a player's score. This created a competitive aspect as players would return to beat or defend their high scores. Not long after, video games also allowed players to enter their initials which would aid in identifying them on the scoreboard.
The Kill Screen
The term kill screen is actually a generic term for any game in which a programming glitch causes the game to crash or become unplayable at a consistent point in the game. We've all become accustomed to computer bugs that happen randomly without giving the user any indication of what went wrong. These sort of software bugs also existed in video games, but their randomness is what differentiates them from being labeled Kill Screens. Kill Screens appear in a consistent manner often due to an oversight in development.
In this modern era, we're used to downloading patches that fix glitches and bugs as well as add more functionality to a game. This is due to consoles and computers being able to connect to the Internet as well as store game info to a writable device like a hard drive. Now, contrast that with an arcade PCB that is solid state and fairly permanent - bugs and all.
You may also be thinking that Quality Assurance testing would reveal most consistent glitches that cause kill screens. This is true to an extent, but think back to all the Y2K woes. What would existing computer systems do when date-based calculations suddenly saw the year decrease from '99 to '00. Many programmers of the 1960s and 70s never thought their programs would still be in use at the turn of the century, so many date fields were relegated to 2-digits assuming we would be in the 1900s. That's the sort of oversight that caused Kill Screens in the Golden Age of arcade games.
Much like programmers figured their applications would be extinct before the year 2000, game developers of the late 70's and 80's never imagined that gamers would be able to maintain game play long enough to cause memory errors as memory registers reached maximum values. A mathematical glitch began to appear as gamers stood playing for endless hours in fron of an arcade cabinet - integer (or arithmetic) overflow. Think of 1999 turning into the year 2000 or a car's odometer going from 999,999 to zero! These feats were not outlandish, but they are not always anticipated. People upgrade software yearly (if not more often) and people lease cars for 3 years at a time. So, who imagined a player lasting for 20+ hours playing an arcade game?
High score competitions often lead to insane hours of continuous game play. Integer overflow occurs when a calculation results in a number above the allotted memory space. Adding 1 to the largest possible value creates a mathematical anomaly that can't be resolved and the computer (or arcade game) crashes or freaks out making continued game play impossible. Such things happen to older arcade games in terms of maximum levels. When a player attempts to go pst the last mathematically feasible level, the game fails. The logic behind this comes from our cherished term, 8-Bit.
The register width of a processor dictates the allowed values that can be presented for calculations.
8 bits: the maximum value 28 - 1 = 255
Very often arcade games flip-out when a player completes the 255th level and the game can't calculate the next level - 256. The resulting on-screen behavior due to such mathematical oddities results in a variety of bizarre visuals as seen in the Pac-Man Kill Screen above. The resulting game behavior may seem random and peculiar, but the circumstance of it's occurrence is a mathematically predictable. this predicability is what defines the term Kill Screen and clearly defines player achievement when they reach this point in a game.
A quick jaunt over to the Sugar DVD website (NSFW) revealed that ALL the current and upcoming gaming consoles (along with any net-capable device) can join the porn bandwagon. There's nothing about the Xbox, or PS3 for that matter, that enable porn in any specific manner. It's all about the Internet. The same way a child can mistype a Disney URL and wind up on an adult site, one can purposely point a browser at porn and open the floodgates of rampant nudity.
If you look at the list of Sugar DVD compatible devices, it reveals that even the family-friendly Wii U can enable streaming porn via it's built-in web browser. Nintendo has a long history of software control via lock-out tech requiring most Nintendo games to pass their screening process. This applied to cartridge, disc and online shopping on WiiWare.
You wouldn't think it possible to go from Super Mario Bros or Mario Kart to streaming pornography, but the adult industry has always been on the forefront of mastering technology for their own purposes.
We're avid fans of PhotoShop, but we honestly did not add the ladies to this Wii U image. It's straight off the Sugar DVD website.
SugarDVD spokeswoman Rebecca Bolen said that game consoles are basically "multimedia entertainment delivery systems. Any console would benefit from having unlimited HD adult content at the click of a button."
The gamer demographic is definitely showing a rise in age, but game consoles are still pretty synonymous with kids. I'm not sure parents are ready to have gaming consoles deemed porn-ready.