Category Archives: Uncategorized

Grand Openings: Parasite Eve (Squaresoft 1998)

Squaresoft’s Parasite Eve was based on a popular Japanese book written by pharmacologist Hideaki Sena in his free time. Doing testing on mitochondria cells, producers of electrical energy in organisms, he started to wonder about the results if mitochondria decided it had had enough and took over the bodies it was residing in. 

Sena was happy with the video game adaptation of his work, an adaptation that went on to big success in its own right, and spawned two sequels. 

All NYPD cop Ms. Brea wanted was an evening at the opera without the actors and audience spontaneously bursting into flame. Unfortunately, as we see in this horrifying PlayStation game intro, she didn’t get her wish.


Grand Openings: PowerMonger

You’d be hard-pressed not to feel your blood quicken in anticipation of the coming battles as the intro to 1990’s PowerMonger unfurls like a kingdom banner. The game intro featured in this installment of Grand Openings was a revelation on the Amiga computer, telling a whole narrative of conquest through stirring music and effective animations.

PowerMonger itself was a fun RTS, offering a huge landmass to take over and varying strategies with which to do it. While it eventually became a tad repetitive as you steamrollered opposing armies over and over again, the nearly endless permutations of lands to fight on and fascinating little touches in gameplay never let it get boring. 

You knew Peter Molyneux and his game company Bullfrog Productions had something grand up their sleeves as this mini-movie played at the beginning of their exceedingly fun war RTS game. To arms!


You can follow my commentary as I play through the first few levels of PowerMonger here in this TDE WePlay video.

Grand Openings: Chrono Cross

With the start of a new video series, we look at some great intros to classic games that set an atmospheric tone for the rest of the proceedings. 

We start with Chrono Cross for the PlayStation, yet another staggering RPG by the masters of the genre, Squaresoft. A sequel to Chrono Trigger on the SNES, Chrono Cross was a big hit, both critically and at the cash register, moving over 1.5 million units.

The intro to the game is suitably epic, giving quick glimpses of young protagonist Serge’s coming adventures, and ends with him making a startling discover…. he has apparently died. It also features truly amazing music from composer Yasunori Mitsuda, that perfectly captures the emotional sweep of the game.


Logo for Imagic, a video game company

This Imagic Moment

Designing Demons

Inspired by the great success Activision is enjoying in its early years producing games for the Atari VCS/2600, Los Gatos-based Imagic becomes the second third-party software manufacturer. Former Atari vice president of marketing Bill Grubb forms the company under a $2 million business plan, founded on July 17 1981. He is joined by Dennis Koble, who in 1976 was one of the first programmers hired by Atari. Also part of the founding team is ex-Mattel Electronics alums, Jim Goldberger and Brian Dougherty. Dougherty asks Pat Ransil, a classmate of his from U.C. Berkeley, to come along for the ride. Imagic Corporation’s staff is initially made up of 10 employees, consisting mostly of former Atari and Mattel crew. The list of programmers includes Rob Fulop, who at the tender age of 21 had been hired by Atari in 1979. While toiling in obscurity at the company, in 1980 Fulop created a VCS version of the 1978 arcade hit Night Driver.  He also pumped out a version of Space Invaders for Atari’s 400/800 computers the same year. Next came his masterful adaptation of Missile Command to the VCS in 1981, into which he also hid his initials as an easter egg for astute gamers to find.

That same year Fulup leaves Atari to join Imagic, and there he designs Demon Attack over a five-month period. It debuts at the 1982 Winter CES in Las Vegas as one of the three initial cartridge offerings from the company, along with Star Raiders knock-off  Star Voyager and pool game Trick Shot. Demon Attack becomes the best-selling Imagic cartridge, moving over one million units and ported to numerous video game and computer platforms. It also plucks the 1983 Videogame of the Year award from the pack, awarded in the pages of Electronic Games magazine. Out of the “gamestorming” sessions held to create new game ideas, Fulop also creates hit Cosmic Ark for Imagic, along with the idea of linking the game with Koble’s Atlantis; when the player loses at the end of Atlantis they’ll notice a ship taking off amid the destruction. This is the Ark from Cosmic Ark, charged with collecting species from new planets to help the Atlanteans repopulate. Fulup also populates the Imagic catalog with the lesser-known Fathom and a very rare Rubik’s Cube game called Cubicolor. Also on board at Imagic is VCS Video Pinball creator Bob Smith, whose output for the company includes Riddle of the Sphinx and Dragonfire.

The company expands to a staff of 250, with sales eventually surpassing 125 million dollars. An extensive advertising campaign attempts to differentiate the company from the competition, with an aggressive (some might say, passive aggressive) series of ads insulting casual gamers and sneeringly daring hardcore players to defeat the increased difficulty of Imagic cartridges.  Not one to be outdone by “the other” third-party game maker, Imagic moves into an ambitious 123,000 sq. ft. office and manufacturing plant in 1982. Part of their plan from the beginning, Imagic expands their roster of games from just the Atari 2600, to include cartridges for the Intellivision and the Odyssey² as well as Atari’s 8-bit computer line.

The Imagic’s Over

Although their formation as a third-party video game manufacturer had been inspired by Activision, Imagic doesn’t have quite as successful a transition through the great video game crash, a result of overreaching, underperforming and just plain bad timing. Looking to raise capital to maintain their ambitious game release schedule, in late 1982 the company files with the SEC to make a public offering of stock in the company. The problem is that during the review period for the IPO, Warner Communications makes its fateful announcement that Atari has underperformed in the fourth quarter of the year. This sends a shockwave through the markets and Warner shares plummeting. This has such a detrimental effect on Imagic’s financial footing that the IPO filing has to be pulled.

As high-profile Atari games such as E.T. and Raiders of the Lost Ark languish on store shelves, buyers and distributors begin demanding that video game companies like Imagic buy back unsold inventory. The company capitulates in order to keep preferred positioning on store shelves but must burn up $12 million worth of their privately held stock to pay for it all. An announcement in the later part of 1983 indicates their intention of adding home computer software to their library of games, including ports of their more popular games like Demon Attack and Microsurgeon for the Texas Instruments TI 99/4A computer. Another announcement in October, however, reveals that Imagic has laid off most of its staff. The intention of the company is to drop the manufacturing and distribution part of their business and become a video game design house only. In the end, after having produced 25 games for various home consoles, Imagic folds up shop in 1986, one of the more high-profile victims of the big video game crash.

In the wake of high-profile game failures such as E.T. and Raiders of the Lost Ark, buyers and distributors begin demanding that video game companies like Imagic buy back unsold inventory. The company capitulates in order to keep preferred positioning on store shelves but must burn up $12 million worth of their privately held stock to pay for it all. An announcement in the later part of 1983 indicates their intention of adding home computer software to their library of games, including ports of their more popular games like Demon Attack and Microsurgeon for the Texas Instruments TI 99/4A computer. Another announcement in October, however, reveals that Imagic has laid off most of its staff. The intention of the company is to drop the manufacturing and distribution part of their business and become a video game design house only. In the end, after having produced 25 games for various home consoles, Imagic folds up shop in 1986, one of the more high-profile victims of the big video game crash.

JUMP: The Great Video Game Crash

Resetting The Dot Eaters

Welcome to the new Dot Eaters. To commemorate our 15th year in existence, we have totally revamped the site from top to bottom, in order to provide a better experience while examining our antiquities. The retro systems, games and companies we cover now all fall under the “Bitstory” section, with each article given its own page. Navigation throughout the site is streamlined and optimized to make getting to content easier. And, of course, there’s the new visual presentation you see all around you.

To celebrate, we are having a launch party, complete with classic game consoles set up that people can play. You can check out the details on our Facebook event page. I hope you enjoy the new look and feel of the Dot Eaters, and please share your opinions with us.

Groove Coaster Zero from Taito

From the company that brought you Space Invaders, and a few other titles, comes the latest mobile interpretation of rhythm games such as Tap Tap Revolution.  To put it succinctly, these types of game require you to tap on the screen along with the beat of a music track.  Their ancestry can actually be traced back to music games for consoles such as Guitar Hero and Rock Band.  In those games, you have plastic analogs to musical instruments with colour-coded keys to play in time with scrolling notes on the TV.  In the mobile world, your only instrument is your finger and the touchscreen.

Rap Pac

Apropos of yesterday’s post mentioning the ease at which popular Rap artists are rhyming “Atari”, comes Spin.com‘s  list of 50 rap songs that featured video game samples.

L’il Flip – “Game Over (Flip)”, deleted from the list due to copyright but here linked to Vevo’s YouTube upload.

Douglas Adams, a Hoopy Frood Remembered

Had famed author and raconteur Douglas Noel Adams not been so rudely taken from us in 2001, he would be turning 60 today.

Although Adams produced a wealth of material in his life, including the Dirk Gently series of books as well as scripts for the immensely popular and long-running British SF TV series Dr. Who, he will no doubt be best remembered as the author of the increasingly inaccurately named five-book Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy trilogy. Dealing with the misadventures of the hapless Arthur Dent, who narrowly escapes the destruction of Earth in order to make way for an interstellar bypass, Hitchhiker’s began life as a BBC radio comedy series originally aired in 1978.  It was the subsequently released book series that brought Adams to global prominence, and represented my first exposure to his brand of off-beat and knowing humour. It’s hard to quantify the effect that these works had on me growing up, because upon my first reading of the original Hitchhiker’s book, Adams’ attitudes towards life, the universe, and everything were instantly melded with my DNA, forever changing my outlook on the ridiculousness of what was going on around me. I’d say only the books of American humourist Kurt Vonnegut have had such a powerful impact on me, but while Vonnegut looks at the human condition as fairly hopeless and doomed, Adams’ approach was a combination of exasperation, whimsey and a kind of cross-eyed optimism.

Apropos to this site, Adams also had a profound impact on computer games. He was an early computer-phile when there was need for such a term, before computers became as ubiquitous as refridgerators in households. Starting out with text adventures, Adams progressed eventually to full-blown graphical extravaganzas, spanning the years between 1984 to 1998. Here is a look at his main contributions to the world of video games.

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Infocom 1984

Hitchhiker’s Cover
Just as the book was a smash success, so was the computer game based upon it, Adams’ first foray into the medium. Approached many times with the idea of turning his most famous work into a game, Adams rebuffed them all, until he got a taste of the exceptionally well-written and wildly popular text adventure games coming out of Infocom in the early 80’s. In late 1983, he got in contact with the company. Jumping at the chance, Infocom signed Adams to a six-game contract, with two to be based on the published Hitchhiker’s books.  It was a natural for Infocom to pair up Adams with Steve Meretzky, the latter producing some of the company’s most popular, not to mention most funny, games. In particular, it was Meretzky’s Planetfall (and later sequel, Stationfall) that made him such a perfect match, as these games were noted for having an altogether Adams-y sense of humour.  Meretzky had not heard of Hitchhiker’s before writing Planetfall, but people testing the game remarked how much it reminded them of Adams’ works.

Steve Meretsky
During the game’s six-month development time, Adams would write passages in England, and send them via computer to Infocom in Boston, where Meretsky would add additional material and then program everything into the game using Infocom’s game development system. The two writers would exchange emails daily, a rarity at the time, and phone calls weekly. In mid 1984, with the testing schedule looming in a few weeks and a release window established to take advantage of the Christmas season, Infocom sent Meretzky to England to prod the famous procrastinator Adams to finish his work on the game. At the time, the author was ensconced in the Huntsham Court country inn by his book publisher, hoping to help him focus on the fourth Hitchhiker’s book, titled So Long, and Thanks For All the Fish. Hence the two of them hammered out the remaining material for the game in four days. Returning to the U.S., Meretzky must have missed the bucolic scenery and relaxed atmosphere of the English countryside as he delved into an intense three week crunch session to finish the programming of the game. After a brief testing phase, Adams did some rewrites of the material per testing results.

Released in October 1984, the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy text adventure became an immediate success, selling over a quarter of a million copies. It rode the top of the game charts for months, and was Infocom’s second-best seller, topped only by the company’s first game, the legendary Zork.
Douglas Adams and Steve Meretzky
While faithful to the tone of the books, the game revels in breaking as many of the cardinal rules then established in interactive fiction, including outright lying to the player about available directions to travel in, and even what the player is able to see. In fact, Hitchhiker’s is cruelly obtuse, often requiring players to initiate actions outside of any offered information in the game, and at many times only those with knowledge of events in the books would know what to do. It also appears to be a favourite torture of Adams to let you miss some critical piece of equipment during a scene that would cause the game to dead-end later, with no recourse but to reload a save or replay the game. The goals of the game are unclear, except perhaps to retain your sanity as you play it. At times it seems that the game was purposefully created as a ploy to sell more Infocom Invisiclue hint books.

These brutalities aside, the game is an interesting extension of the Hitchhiker’s cannon, extending the book metaphor by  featuring the literary device of footnotes that offer asides to the action. The actual Hitchhiker’s Guide is an inventory item in the game, and features plenty of articles for the player to consult about. The game also takes a philosophical bent, with “no tea” being an inventory item that the player at one point drops after getting some real tea, and is eventually able to carry both tea and no tea at the same time after some synaptic calisthenics. Random events also serve to keep subsequent playthroughs interesting.

The game is also strangely obsessed with fluff of all kinds. It is no fluff-piece, however, but a fitting entry to the Guide. Soul-crushingly frustrating, but fitting none-the-less. As an example, I’ll leave you with video of the infamous “Babel Fish Puzzle”.



Bureaucracy, Infocom 1987

With the resounding success of the Hitchhiker’s game, it was no wonder that Infocom was anxious for a sequel.  The problem was that Adams was tiring of producing sequels of his Hitchhiker’s material, and suggested instead Bureaucracy, an original game based on his real-life frustrations at trying to get his bank and utility companies to acknowledge a change-of-address after moving households.  Infocom, having signed Adams on the idea that he would be bringing his popular Hitchhiker’s material with him, balked at the idea, but eventually came to terms with producing an original work with Adams.  

Outside of this initial concept, however, Adams began to let the project be bumped by other commitments, and he tapped long-time friend Michael Bywater to eventually finish the project.  In line with the initial concept by Adams, the game has the protagonist jumping through hoops to accomplish the most simple tasks, such as withdrawing money from a bank, purchasing an airline ticket or even ordering food at a restaurant.  The ultimate goal, of course, is to get the bank to recognize a change-of-address card.

The game starts, in true bureaucratic form, by having the player fill out a “software licence application” form for the game, providing humorous comments as you fill in lines such as your last name, name of boy/girl friend, and whether the player is male or female.  The game will then reference you using the opposite of the information provided, such as calling you Mr. if you put your sex down as female.  Throughout the game, the blood pressure of the player is shown on the top right of the screen, rising as annoyances occur or when the player enters an invalid command.  It is possible to die of an aneurysm if the player lets this rise too high without taking a cooling off period.  Following a lead from Hitchhiker’s, the game throws many random events at the player.

Unfortunately, the prose in Bureaucracy is a bit twee, and the humour often comes off as forced.  It moves from ridiculous to just plain stupid for convenience sake, offering up  the idea of having to give a long, drawn-out food order in a restaurant to the waitstaff multiple times as the height of hilarity.  It is less the Kafka-esque, paranoid nightmare it wants to be than an annoying, tortuous exercise in tedium.  That might be the ultimate point of Bureaucracy, but does that make it an enjoyable game to play?  The public didn’t think so, as the game sold well under the numbers that Hitchhiker’s did.  Filed below is a video of the iconic sequence that takes place in the game’s Fillmore Fiduciary Trust Bank.






Starship Titanic, Simon & Schuster Interactive 1998

Over ten years later, Adams returned to interactive media with Starship Titanic, a graphical adventure along the lines of the blockbuster Myst.  The titular ship had first surfaced in Adams’ second Hitchhiker’s book, Life, the Universe and Everything.  It was described as “a majestic and luxurious cruise-liner launched from the great shipbuilding asteroid complexes of Artri-factovol”, and which on its maiden voyage “did not even manage to complete its very first radio message – an SOS – before undergoing a sudden and gratuitous total existence failure.”. The game changes this slightly, by having the big ship crash into a house on earth, who’s owner, the player, enters the crippled ship, converses with a crew of robots and other characters, and attempts to find the parts needed to repair the ship.   It was developed by a digital media company founded by Adams, Richard Creasey and Robbie Stamp in 1996 called The Digital Village.  The three man writing team of Adams,  Neil Richards and Michael Bywater were backed by a 20-30 person production team, all working over two years to make the game.  

The idea was to combine the lush graphics of Myst with the textual engagement found in the games of Infocom.  To facilitate this conversation between player and computer, the game employed an advanced communication system dubbed SpookiTalk.  It featured a database of over 10,000  phrased responses, in order to allow the player to naturally converse with the ship’s characters, including members of the Monty Python comedy troupe Terry Jones as a deranged parrot, and John Cleese as a distracted bomb.  Adams himself makes several cameos in the game.  16 hours of dialog was recorded for responses given back to the player.

While the graphics are certainly luscious, and the characters humorous, Starship Titanic struck ice-comets with its inconsistent handling of player interactions and confusing-to-the-point-of-dementia puzzles, problems that would sink any adventure game.  The game was met with middling sales in contrast to the feverish hype that had preceded it, in a market that had moved on from static Myst-y adventures to the visceral action of FPS games like Doom. To many, its fate seemed as sealed as the original doomed vessel it takes its inspiration from.  Here is the debut trailer for the game:




Little did the world know that Adams himself would succumb to a “total existence failure” a few years later, leaving, as Adams biographer Neil Gaiman would note, “a Douglas Adams-sized hole in the universe.”.  But while the man is gone, his work lives on, inspiring users and game creators alike to search for what the question actually is.  




Back online.  Gleaned from the news, it looks like the blackout protest is an initial success, with SOPA delayed for retooling and the White House coming out against it as it currently stands.  Its demise is no certain thing right now, though, so the pressure must continue against U.S. lawmakers.  Here’s hoping they do right by the American people.

The site will be going down shortly, a bit premature but in support of the Jan 18 Internet blackout, protesting the railroading of the PIPA and SOPA laws through the U.S. congress.  These laws, supposedly created to curtail piracy and copyright infringement, pass unprecedented and unreasonable powers to authorities to shut down websites and seize IPs merely on the accusation of piracy or the linking to what is conceived to be such.  They are too broad and dangerous, and their loose language  will have a chilling effect on innovation and free speech on the web.