Category Archives: 2013

Screenshot of gameplay from the Brown Box, precursor to Magnavox's Odyssey 1972

The Odyssey – What a Long, Strange Trip It’s Been

Today, Nov. 15, 2013, the latest in modern console gaming drops. The Playstation 4 features 8G of RAM, a 1.84 teraflop graphics chip, a 500G hard drive and an eight core CPU running somewhere in the neighbourhood of 1.6 GHz per core.

Now, follow me back through the murky mists of time.  Here, just put your hand on my arm, I’ll lead you through. Watch out, don’t trip over that original Playstation, it’s grey and hard to see in this fog.  Look, there’s Panasonic’s 3DO Real console, that monster is hard to miss. Be careful not to trip over those joystick cords for the Atari VCS.  Wait… ah, here we are.

The Odyssey, released by Magnavox in 1972. Developed at military contractor Sanders Associates by Ralph Baer, it was the very first home video game console. The Odyssey didn’t have gigabytes of RAM, nor a graphics processor, nor a multi-core processing unit.  It didn’t have ANY CPU or any of that other stuff; inside it was a board made up of discreet components like capacitors, resistors and transistors. Its black and white graphics were so rudimentary that packaged with the console were mylar overlays you would slip onto your TV screen to simulate various backgrounds.  You then played virtual Ping Pong, or shot at dots with an available light gun accessory. The Odyssey didn’t transport you onto a fully-rigged sailing ship as you plied the green waters of the Caribbean, nor did it place you on a frantic battlefield full of soaring jet fighters or rumbling tanks.

The Odyssey did, however, take the first tentative step towards those later worlds.  It was the starting point, with the PS4 and Microsoft’s Xbox One as the current destination. We will keep moving forward, but on these occasions, it’s good to also take a look back at where we’ve been.  For more information on the Odyssey, consult your local Dot Eaters article.

Logo for Gamercamp, and indie video game festival in Toronto 2013

Gamercamp 2013: Some Highlights

Gamercamp, a festival for independent video games from Canada and around the world, has wrapped up for another year here in Toronto. It was a fantastic amount of fun, with a wide array of games that pull you in and keep you wanting more. The public portion of the event was called the Pop-Up Arcade, and the name is apropos: You might remember walking into a video arcade back in the day and being welcomed by a room full of games that were incredibly diverse, where it wasn’t just a bunch of one-on-one fighting games or lightgun shooting galleries like today.  The collection of independently produced games on display every year at Gamercamp brings back that feeling of wonder and excitement of the classic arcade. Here’s some highlights of my visit:

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Logo for Gamercamp, an indie video games festival in Toronto 2013

Gamercamp Spotlights Indie Games in Toronto

I’m excited about Gamercamp starting today.  It’s a giant indie video games festival here in Toronto, running from Friday, Nov. 1 to Sunday Nov. 3.  It’s so big, that this year it is taking up all the floors of Hotel Ocho, located just north of Queen Street on Spadina.

From the intimate Salon Series of lectures from people in the games biz, to Friday’s all-day summit conferences, to the rollicking arcade and demo areas… there is lots to do and see for anyone even remotely interested in the indie games business, heavily influenced by the classic video games that came before. You can even get a taste of next-gen with some time on the Playstation 4.

Things that go around, come around, and in the art and sensibilities of today’s independent video games one can definitely trace a line back to classics like Williams’s Defender and Konami/Stern’s Tutankham.  At Gamercamp, you can see where it all has led.  Hope to see you there too.

Screen shot from Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures, a home video game by Bandai Namco 2013

The Time For Ghosts

While the little ghosts and goblins are trick-or-treating tonight for halloween, Pac-Man himself is having more trouble with ghosts in Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures, released yesterday for PS3, Xbox, and Wii U. by Bandai Namco, with a 3DS version to come soon.

The game is based on the animated TV series of the same name, which premiered in June on the Disney XD channel. It is a platformer in the same vein as the earlier Pac-Man World games by Namco, where Pac roams freely around worlds haunted by his ghostly enemies. Ghostly Adventures  adds a myriad of power-ups to the formula, granting Pac some Mario-like abilities such as fire and ice throwing, but adds some new ones like turning into a long-tongued chameleon, or a giant stone ball that rolls around squashing enemies. The game also features a 4-player online component where the screen is split into quadrants, each housing a player controlling a ghost, on the hunt through the classic maze for Pac-Man.

What’s not scary is that a game from 1980 continues to have such relevance in 2013. To read the storied history of Pac-Man and his ghostly enemies, consult your local Dot Eaters article.

Steamed

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.

Jolly good show

Sony Drops the Hammer On Microsoft at E3 2013

The Electronic Entertainment Expo, or E3 as the hep cats like to call it, is underway in Lotusland. It is here where game makers flaunt their upcoming wares to industry insiders, and this year the show has a particularly keen edge due to the unveiling of the next generation consoles for Sony and Microsoft that will hit the market later this year. Yesterday, the stage at Sony’s E3 press conference was awash with a series of uncannily wise moves by the company.

It’s exciting for a video game historian to watch as a new generation of game consoles is unveiled, as so many have been before.  For sure, we all want to find out about the specs under the hoods, and about the new games that will use all that fancy tech to bring new experiences to our screens. New IPs are marvelled at, and continuations of old favourites are warmly welcomed.   Amid endless sturm and drang, systems and games are paraded across giant screens to the accompaniment of driving soundtracks amid flashy stage lighting, all designed to get a rise out of the crowd.  The biggest audience reaction, however, came during the Sony E3 conference.  For a lot of people, E3 2013 was Sony’s show to lose, after Microsoft had unveiled their new console, the Xbox One, earlier in the day.  The reason?  Not a lack of hardware specs on the new Xbox’s part.  Not a dearth of exciting games.

No, the talk of MS having already fumbled this next video game console cycle comes because of the draconian DRM system for the Xbox One.  While video games may not stir passions quite as much as Mel Gibson’s famous speech in Braveheart, the people in the audience watching Sony explain the lack of any extra DRM on their machine, and likely those around the world watching the live stream, were standing and cheering their freedom.  The freedom to trade in, buy and play used games without additional fees.  Freedom from being denied the ability to play your games, even in single player mode, if you lose your internet connection or otherwise can’t authenticate your honesty with a company’s servers.  The freedom to sell or lend your legally bought game to a friend.  They may take our free multiplayer, but they’ll never take our FREEDOOOOOOOOM!!!

Oh SNAP!

Oh SNAP!

Even President and CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment of America Jack Trenton seemed suprised at the visceral reaction of the crowd. The other devastating broadside Sony launched at MS towards the end of the conference, that the PS4 will be $100 cheaper than the Xbox One, was the only other announcement that got a similar response. It goes to show that while gamers want the latest and greatest in games, they also want the ability to play those games. Without onerous restrictions.

In this day and age, with the twisted type of “free market” capitalism we’ve grown accustomed to, where there never seems to be anything approaching a level playing field, there always seems to be fair amount of industrial collusion going on.  This time, though, Sony is not playing ball.  They came on strong at E3 with a big FU to DRM, and I think Microsoft just got Xboned.

Here is video of Sony’s E3 2013 press conference.  The fireworks start at 1:24:24.