Monthly Archives: October 2013

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.

Opening screen for FurryMUCK, circa 2013

Here’s MUD In Your Eye

Long before online gaming hit the mainstream in the mid 1990′s, there was MUD. Standing for Multi-User Dungeon, it was an online version of the Adventure text game, created by Roy Trubshaw at Essex University in England in 1979. It would later be greatly expanded on by Richard Bartle, sparking an entire genre of game that still thrives today.

You can directly tie the existence of today’s MMOGs such as World of Warcraft to the original MUDs, which proved to the world that gaming online with fellow adventurers was and is incredibly compelling. For the history of the trailblazing MUD, please consult your local Dot Eaters article.

Excerpt from the ad flyer for Galaxian, an arcade video game by Taito/Midway.

Galaxian: A Video Game Formation

Out of Namco in 1979 came soaring Galaxian, a take on the Space Invaders formula where the little alien critters are not content to shuffle left and right across the screen, but break formation and come tearing down at the player, shooting at them all the way.

Gameplay snap of Galaxian, an arcade video game by Namco/Midway 1979

They’re coming for you in Galaxian

 

Galaxian not only helped usher in full RGB colour to arcade games, but also pioneered the use of sprites as graphical objects, allowing for the furious action that made the game so popular. It was as influential to video game design as its own invading inspiration, and spawned a set of sequels, such as 1981′s Galaga, as well as a plethora of remakes and ports. A particularly awesome port was made of Galaxian for the VCS/2600 in 1983, so good that it seems almost impossible to have been done within the stringent programming confines of Atari’s warhorse video game system. Of course, we can’t forget the game’s treatment at the hands of Coleco, featured as one of the company’s popular tabletop LED mini-arcade games.

Coleco TableTop version of Galaxian, 1981

Bring the arcade home with you!

 

Down another path of sequels was handheld LED game Galaxian 2 by Entex, as well as the monstrous Galaxian 3 theatre games constructed by Namco in the 90′s. These giants, starting as 28-player motion ride experiences and eventually tapered down to 6-player walk-in arcade games, give the Galaxian player a suitably epic experience.

Galaxian set the mold for the shoot-em-ups that followed in its colourful wake. For a full history on the game, please consult your local Dot Eaters entry.

Excerpt from Zork cover art.

Zorked: The Story of Infocom

I’d be hard-pressed to do a review of the computer gaming I did in my youth and not dedicate an entire chapter to the wonderful text-adventures put out by Infocom in the 80′s.

I remember that the first disk I ever bought for my gigantic 1541 floppy drive, newly attached to my Commodore 64, was a Commodore-labelled version of Infocom’s Zork.  Just a few minutes exploring the surface landscape and then delving deep into an ever-expanding Underground Empire had me hooked.

Box art for Zork, a computer text adventure game for the TRS-80, by Infocom 1980

Zork, TRS-80 version

Starting as an answer to Crowther and Wood’s original Adventure text adventure, a group of MIT students designed Zork as a program on a mainframe computer, and eventually developed a system to port it to personal computers. After an initial release by VisiCalc makers Personal Software, the Infocom team decided to publish the games themselves, and hence was a computer game giant created.

Ten Zork games were eventually produced, along with a huge library of other works spanning genres such as science fiction, history, mysteries, fantasy, and on and on.  When Douglas Adams got wind of what Infocom is doing with interactive fiction, he signed on with the company to adapt his seminal comedy science fiction book Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  From this unholy pairing of Adams and Infocom “IMP” Steve Meretsky would come one of the most cruel, diabolical computer games of all time.

Even as graphics eventually supplanted text and the human imagination as the canvas of computer game design, the great writing and intricate design of Infocom’s worlds kept me visiting them. For our full history of Zork and Infocom, consult your local Dot Eaters article.

New meaning to the phrase "interactive media"

Long Lived Is The New Flesh

There’s certain movies that immediately tickle my memory of those days of my youth, hunched over in front of the TV, tightly gripping the joystick of my Atari. Sure, there’s the ones from the early 80′s dedicated directly to the subject of video games, such as Tron or WarGames,  which I’ve covered in my series of Games on Film articles. And there’s some that are simply of that era. Then there are some that cause a deeper itch in my psyche.

There’s Videodrome.

I was a teenager when I first watched Videodrome, which actually celebrated its 30th anniversary this year.  It wasn’t my first film by Canadian writer and director David Cronenberg; Scanners had come out a couple of years earlier and had definitely made an impression on me.  Videodrome, however, changed something inside of me. It wasn’t some earth-shaking epiphany, though, where you crane your neck and cry “Eureka!”.  The movie is like the video virus portrayed in its story. It doesn’t influence you, it infects you. It literalized viral videos before anyone ever heard of Internet memes.   Before most had ever heard of the Internet, even.

photo of Marshall McLuhan, 1966

McLuhan, 1966 photo by Henri Dauman

The movie is itself heavily influenced by the works of Marshall McLuhan, a Canadian media analyst and philosopher who famously coined the term “The medium is the message”.  McLuhan’s warnings of the invasive power of television to shape reality in its own images, of how it was becoming a complete electronic extension of man, so impacted Cronenberg that the character of Brian O’blivion in the film is based on the media critic. The film is more viscerally prescient than McLuhan’s casual statements of dehumanization. Videodrome is about the first “reality” television show.

It is also about the battle of hearts and minds fought through the arena of the television set, so it’s no wonder that protagonist Max Renn, played by James Woods, has an Atari 2600 setup plugged into his TV.  What more literally represents a battle through the TV more than a video game?  They have a place in the New Flesh, as shown in this iconic scene from the film:

Cronenberg would again probe the idea of the mating of reality and fantasy, of technology and the flesh, in eXistenZ (1999). Dealing directly with video games and virtual reality, the movie would not be quite so prescient this time; its thunder would be stolen by the mind-bending, time-stopping pyrotechnics of The Matrix, released earlier the same year.

With crushing casualness, McLuhan said “The medium is the message”. Cronenberg has a rejoinder:  “The medium is the flesh”.  Long live the New Flesh.

For anyone interested in director David Cronenberg and his wonderfully weird body of work, I highly recommend picking up the book Cronenberg On Cronenberg.

 

Electronic Arts “We See Farther”

Where we give you the famous “We See Farther” ad, heralding a new kind of video game company… Electronic Arts.

"We See Farther" magazine ad for Electronic Arts

One of the famous “We See Farther” ads

Founded by Trip Hawkins in 1982, the company is originally named Amazin’ Software.  With the new name of Electronic Arts, Hawkin’s venture would revolutionize the industry with flashy packaging and bold advertising, lessons Hawkins probably learned at the knee of Steve Jobs as an early employee of Apple Computers.  In a lot of ways, Hawkins is a lot like a video game version of Jobs, although not quite as lastingly successful.

To find out how one of the largest game companies operating today got its noble beginning, please check out our Electronic Arts article here.

Valhalla, I am coooominggggg

Visiting Valhalla

Local to me here in Toronto is a great store called Valhalla Cards & Gifts.  Its main trade is a wonderfully eclectic collection of greeting and post cards, most of which owner Chadwick Gendron designs himself.  Accompanying the cards is a wealth of knick-knacks and paddy-whacks on the shelves; Pantone mugs, off-kilter children’s books (Go the F**k to Sleep, why don’t you?), board games, fridge magnets, note books, ect. ect..

Of course, the products that catch my attention are retro game themed.  Here’s a couple of snaps I took of some while visiting the store:

Image of Pac-Man plug-and-play video games

Pac-Man plug-and-play video games

These Pac-Man plug-and-play video games apparently sell really well.  Even though the joystick makes Pac look like he has an orange goiter on his face.

Image of Space Invaders candy

Space Invader candy

An arcade of Space Invader candy.  What’s funny is that, back in its heyday in Japan, storeowners actually did move out all of their stock and installed all-Invaders arcades to ride the game’s immense popularity.  Here, though, Snake Plisskin seems to be scaring the customers away.

Image of Space Invaders candy

Invaders side art

Even the side art on these little guys is great.  Note the Pac-Man greeting card behind the cabinets.

Taking a trip to Valhalla is always pretty cool, with one never failing to find something they didn’t expect.  The store is located at 791 Queen Street West in Toronto, with operating hours between 11am and 7pm on weekdays and 12pm to 6pm on the weekends.  They also have a web store at ValhallaCards.com, as well the Twitter handle @ValhallaCards.

If you want to find out more about the history of the video games featured in these pics, consult your local Dot Eaters articles here:

The History of Pac-Man

The History of Space Invaders