Category Archives: innovative

Blast… or be blasted!

The more I play Blaster, released by Williams in 1983, the more the game amazes me.

Designed by Defender creators Eugene Jarvis and Larry DeMar, it features a startling 3D perspective as you soar over an alien landscape, blasting giant robots and rescuing floating astronauts. The visual effects are nothing short of astounding, especially considering the time at which the game was made. It’s no surprise that several designers at Williams would eventually move on to work on the ground-breaking Amiga computer at Commodore, known for its graphical and aural prowess. Added to the allure of this and several other Williams games, such as Bubbles and Sinistar, is that it came in an indestructible plastic cabinet, named Duramold by the company.  Rumour has it, however, that the plastic would shrink over time, causing the monitor inside to eventually be ejected like a champagne cork. Talk about 3D effects!

Enjoy the following video we made of Blaster gameplay.

As always, for more information on Blaster, Jarvis, Defender, and other things Williams, please consult your local Dot Eaters entry.

This article was originally posted on The Dot Eaters on Nov 14, 2012

A screenshot from Space Panic

Space Panic: Drilling Down a Genre

I remember being fascinated with Space Panic when I first spied it in the arcades in 1980. A game genre will eventually become so ingrained over time that you lose sight of what it really meant, but the idea of platforms and ladders introduced in Universal, Ltd.’s Space Panic helped video games construct worlds that you could clamber around in, like an electronic equivalent of an Erector Set. Combine this world with an ever more difficult puzzle element where you dig holes to trap and dispatch angry aliens, sometimes requiring planning over multiple levels, and you get the perfect kind of gameplay, something that is easy to grasp but difficult to master. Added into the mix is a frenetic pace as your antagonists get more and more quick at chasing you around the screen, and a deadline to accomplish your mission as your oxygen slowly runs out.

Space Panic cleared the way for a myriad of platform games, from Donkey Kong to Dig Dug and beyond. You ever climb the side of a building and run across the rooftops in an Assassin’s Creed game? It all started here, dig it? For more information on Space Panic, consult your local Dot Eaters entry.

Valve’s Steam Controller – What Goes Around…

Venerable game developer, publisher and distributor Valve Software introduced their new Steam Controller yesterday, and the shrill whistle of those blowing their stacks was deafening.  People were pretty steamed, if you will.  Gamers were taken aback by the design of the controller, which eschews traditional user interfaces such as analog joysticks or a pressable D-pad with two round, flat trackpads. Players use their thumbs on the surface of the pads, which also serve as buttons since they are clickable. Valve promises the high-resolution trackpads give players a much higher degree of control over previous methods. Haptic feedback and a large touchscreen are also thrown into the design for good measure.

Gamer response was quick and furious. It reminded me of another unique control scheme that was met by derision from gamers back in the day…

Meme featuring the Steam Controller and Intellivision controller

Steam Controller, seems familiar…

As always, for more information on the history of the Intellivision, consult your local Dot Eaters article.

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:

Nolan Bushnell and quote

Nolan Bushnell and quote

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.

Keyboard from Thayer's Quest, an arcade laserdisc video game by RDI 1984

Retroclip: Thayer’s Quest

After the enormous success of laser arcade game Dragon’s Lair, Rick Dyer and his RDI Video Systems company created another groundbreaking laser coin-op game in 1984, called Thayer’s Quest.  Its story was more closely based on Shadoan, the Tolkien-esqe source material that Dyer had conceived earlier and from which he had spun off Dragon’s Lair.

Rick Dyer, one of the creators of Dragon's Lair, an arcade video game by Starcom/Cinematronics

Rick Dyer, circa 1982

 

Thayer was an astounding attempt to produce a sword & sorcery RPG epic for the arcades.  Eschewing joysticks and buttons, Thayer had a full-size membrane keyboard mounted on the cabinet, which players used to input choices during the game.  At the start, you could enter your name, and then be personally referred to via speech synthesis.  Shown on the keyboard were various inventory items that Thayer could use at certain spots to advance the plot.  The game even had a save game system, where the last ten players could return to continue their progress after losing their last life.

The innovation found in Thayer’s Quest makes it a very special and unusual arcade game indeed.  Posted below is our gameplay video.

For more information on Thayer’s Quest, Dragon’s Lair and the rest of the 80’s laser game craze, consult your local Dot Eaters entry.

L.A. Noire Hits the Streets

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

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

Shot from L.A. Noire, a video game by Rockstar

Cruisin’

 

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

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

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

Photo of Jerry Lawson, inventor of the Channel F home video game console 1976

Jerry Lawson, of Channel F Fame, Dies at 71

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

Channel F with the cover on, a home video game console by Fairchild 1976

Channel F, with smoked-plastic cover

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