Monthly Archives: September 2013

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.

The gang from S.H.I.E.L.D.

There’s No Dopes Running Marvel

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. had its triumphant television premiere tonight. It’s going to be an interesting ride, judging by the pilot episode. While on the surface it appears to be a well-produced science-fiction series with lots of action and special effects, underneath it is a winking deconstruction of genre TV, with a cracking sense of humour and a solid anchor in Clark Gregg as the enigmatic Agent Coulson.

It is also quite obvious that there are no dopes running the Marvel empire. It’s pretty amazing to be witness to what the comics giant has pulled off over the last five years. Comic book hero movies had been through a rough patch leading up to Marvel Studio’s experiment called the Marvel Cinematic Universe; a string of mega-budget movies based around individual major characters from Marvel Comic’s Avengers series, issue #1 of which hit the stands in 1963. Starting with Iron Man in 2008, these would culminate in 2012′s The Avengers movie, featuring the group assembled together to ward off an invasion of creatures from another plane of existence. The experiment has been a grand success; it cost over a billion dollars to pull off the first six movies, but has raked in billions more in revenue and continues to spin off more films.

Now Marvel has set its sights on the small screen with AoS, and from what we’ve seen so far, they very well might have the biggest hit of this season on their hands. Of course, to further prove their brilliance, an ad featuring the next entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Thor: The Dark World, aired during the show. What’s the deal with all this perfect comic, movie and television synergy? It’s simply Marvelous.

Hiroshi Yamauchi, 1927 - 2013 (photo circa early 80's)

Former Nintendo President Hiroshi Yamauchi Passes Away

Hiroshi Yamauchi has died. Yamauchi came to power at Nintendo in 1949 at age 22, replacing his grandfather as head of the company after the elder suffered a stroke. Even so young, Yamauchi showed the iron will he would become infamous for, insisting that other family members in the company be fired, as well as quickly purging executives who refused to take him seriously.

Nintendo’s fortunes had come from the manufacture of playing cards ever since its inception in 1889. In the later part of the 60′s, Yamauchi took steps to expand the company into toys and games, creating an R&D department within Nintendo to develop such products. At the head of this group Yamauchi put a maintenance man with the name of Gunpei Yokoi, an enthusiastic tinkerer with an uncanny knack at creating new products out of older technology. With success after success, Nintendo would come to dominate the toy market in Japan. Later, as Yamauchi took notice of the new technology coming out of the States in the mid-70′s, they would do the same with video games.

With an almost preternatural ability to pick both talented designers and the games and systems they produced, hardly anything made by Nintendo reached store shelves without Yamauchi’s approval. When the company’s U.S. subsidiary floundered in the early 80′s and begged for a new hit game to sell, it was Yamauchi who took the chance on a young artist unproved in game design to come up with a product. The game was named Donkey Kong, and its creator was Shigeru Miyamoto.

After issuing orders to create a cartridge-based home console called the Famicom (Family Computer) that met with great success in Japan, Yamauchi would set his sights on conquering the American market. Undaunted by the toxic landscape created by the total collapse of the U.S. video game market in 1983-84, Yamauchi insisted on selling the Famicom to American homes as the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) in 1985. The system would single-handedly resurrect the video game industry from cindered ashes back to billions of dollars in sales, and make Nintendo a word synonymous with video games, as Atari had been before it.

After 55 years at the helm, Yamauchi was succeeded as Nintendo president in 2002 by Satoru Iwata. He remained the company’s largest individual shareholder until his death, at the age of 85.  While he may have ruled Nintendo with an iron fist, the company he drove from Japanese playing card manufacturer to globally dominating video game giant is now mourning his loss.

You can read the history of two great products with Yamauchi’s stamp on them here at The Dot Eaters:

The History of Donkey Kong

The History of the Famicom

Three characters in search of an explosion

GTA V: Rockstar’s Magnum Opus

Grand Theft Auto V has hit stores, adding another chapter in the historic GTA franchise developed by Rockstar Games. Starting as a top-down, open-world pseudo-3d action shooter in 1997, the series progressed into full-blown 3D graphics in 2001′s Grand Theft Auto III and has continued forward in visual prowess and player interactivity ever since.

Old school vehicular slaughter: GTA 1997

Old school vehicular slaughter: GTA 1997

GTA V continues this tradition of progress, offering a further advanced graphics engine that renders a spectacular and expansive landscape for gamers to traverse. It also offers a narrative featuring three separate protagonists, whose lives can be jumped into by the player at nearly any time. In 1980, arcade game Defender created a world where events transpired outside of the player’s immediate view, giving just a hint of being inside an actual place where things are happening elsewhere and you better do something about it. The appeal of open-world games such as GTA hinges on the complexity and verisimilitude of the worlds they construct, but none have succeeded in crafting such a living clockwork like GTA V. There is something truly wondrous about flipping back to a character you had left at one location and finding them somewhere else on the map and involved in some other bit of chicanery. It truly feels like Los Santos is alive. The GTA games have always lent themselves to hilarious situations that players report about the crazy goings on in their various cities. In GTA V… well, to paraphrase the opening of an old TV drama, there are a million stories in the city of Los Santos.

Moon over Los Santos

Moon over Los Santos, GTA V 2013

Such stories abound in the overwhelmingly positive critic’s reviews the game has received. As of this writing, the Xbox 360 version of the game is the highest ranked game ever on the Metacritic review aggregate site, with a score of 98. You only need to play for a short while to know all the perfect scores are not being thrown around lightly. It’s not a perfect game… I don’t know that such a thing could even exist. There’s still some weirdness to the controls, a lack of precision that has persisted all the way from the original GTA III. This is especially accentuated in GTA V, which has multiple actions mapped to the limited set of buttons and keys that consoles can offer. However, it’s nothing that you don’t quickly get used to as you ravenously consume this incredible feast that Rockstar has provided. “A living, breathing world” is a phrase often bandied about concerning open-world games.  In GTA V, it’s enough to take your breath away.

Another amazing story is how the GTA series, one of the most successful video game franchises of all time, almost never got out of the gate.  It is related in this video from The Guardian, here.  Of course, The Onion has to chime in too.  I’ll close with this compilation of all the trailers for the game:


The God Game Genre Born Again

Molyneux’s Latest: Godus on Steam

Late last year I posted about Peter Molyneux’s Kickstarter project called Godus. It is a reinvention of his classic game Populous, which created the God game genre back in 1989. The Kickstarter campaign was successful, pulling in £526,563 from an initial £450,000 goal.

Godus is now available on Steam Early Access, which allows you to pre-order the game and get access to a playable beta version. It is available for Windows and Mac for $19.99.

To get you in the mood for some Godly blessings (or smitings), I’ll leave you with video footage of Molyneux demonstrating Godus to Adam Sessler, as well as TDE footage of the original Populous in action:




MVGS2 Inside

Behold, the Ultimate Emulation Cabinet!

Auric Goldfinger, mineralogist and supervillian, once said:

Man has climbed Mount Everest, gone to the bottom of the ocean. He’s fired rockets at the Moon, split the atom, achieved miracles in every field of human endeavor… except crime!

The same could be said for video game emulation. People have built cabinets to house computers running game emulators, complete with sturdy joysticks, buttons and even rollerballs, all in the attempt to replicate that authentic arcade game feeling.

Well, nobody has ever built anything like the MVGS2 Dream Station, made by Frenchman Patrice Daubaire. The system runs a custom emulator called Multi Video Games System 2, reproducing 34 retro game consoles. This is impressive in itself, but the kicker is that the system handles 75 separate game controllers, that have been adapted with unified connections so they are interchangeable between systems. Emulation is all fine and dandy, but the ability to easily plug in authentic controllers in order to play makes for a near-perfect classic gaming experience.

Borne-et-Vitrine-Mvgs2

I love the revolving controller case, like you’re shopping at Birks Jewelry.

In 1887, the French gave us the Eiffel Tower.  in 2013, they give us the towering MVGS2 Dream Station.  It’s a treasure even Goldfinger would covet.  I’ll leave you with a video of the system in action.  Normally I’d think that the kind of music in this video is a tad overblown, but in this case it is suitably epic:



Images from The MVGS2 website:

Game shelves at the University of Michigan Computer + Video Game Archive, 2013

A Visit to the Computer & Video Game Archive at UM

In The Round River Drive, a short story written by James MacGillivray and published in the Detroit News-Tribune in 1910, legendary lumberjack Paul Bunyan and his rowdy crew march through the wilds of Michigan, in search of a cache of virgin trees to fell.  Tucked away in the basement of the Art, Architecture & Engineering Library, Duderstadt Center building at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor is a treasure-trove of classic video and computer games that, while not virginal, is of such size and breadth as to give even the most looming, Bunyanesque gamer pause. In a large spacious room, those wishing to count the rings of video game redwoods can run the gamut from first-gen to latest-gen systems, all available for hands-on play.  It is the UM Library Computer + Video Game Archive, and it is a must-visit if you’re ever in the Ann Arbor area.  You can check their hours of operation and what services they offer here at their website.

As mentioned, there is pretty much every classic and modern game system, along with most of their available games, ready to play… although everything has to stay within the archive.  I spent some time there recently, and here are some pics from my visit:

The CVGA is a colossal collection of gaming goodness, which no one with even a passing interest in video game history should miss.  The public is welcome to come in and play, with visitor parking located nearby the Duderstadt Cente at UMich.  You won’t regret exploring this video game museum of Bunyanean proportions.