Monthly Archives: January 2013

Marquee for Marble Madness, an arcade video game by Atari and Mark Cerney

GDC Marble Madness Postmortem Talk With Mark Cerny

Available at the GDC Vault is a wonderfully informative video of a talk game creator Mark Cerny gave in 2011 about his greatest work, Atari Games’ Marble Madness.  This was a game I fell in love with in the arcades in 1984, with its M.C. Escher-esque graphics and dangerous-feeling physics.  Cerney gives a frank and entertaining talk about the immense technical challenges and innovations required to produce the game in the dying days of the arcade.

You can view the video at the GDC Vault here:

Marble Madness arcade marquee via KLOV.com:

What Nolan Said: Dissing GTA

Nolan Bushnell helped to form the video game industry by creating Atari and PONG.  These days he’s like the curmudgeonly neighbour who sits on his porch shaking his fist at people passing by and making pronouncements like in today’s “What Nolan Said”:

 

The quote is taken from yesterday’s Bloomberg’s “Inkblot” session with Bushnell, a kind of word-association interview they occasionally conduct. It’s not too surprising that he would disparage Rockstar’s notorious flagship title, as he has always shown a distaste for violence and sex in video games.  In a mini-interview conducted by Newsweek in 2003, Bushnell noted a rule under his tenure at Atari, that while a programmer could destroy tanks and cars in a game, never a human figure directly.  Perhaps this is his Mormonism peeking through.

During the Bloomberg interview, Bushnell’s one-word response to an image of stacks of GTA IV cases was “Dystopian”.

Sign from Flynn's arcade featured in the video game themed movie Tron

The Verge Offers a Lament to the Lost Arcade

The Verge has published a wonderfully written and presented paean to the video arcade on their website, titled “For Amusement Only: the life and death of the American arcade”.

For me, thoughts of the dark, stuffy and endlessly bloopy and bleepy arcades of my youth are akin to an older generation thinking about drive-in restaurants with roller-skating waitresses, or sock hops.  It was a vibrant social scene that has all but gone extinct, although modern movements like Barcades are perhaps heralding a comeback for the idea of a place to gather and belly up to arcade game cabinets.

The Verge offers a thorough and thoroughly engaging history of the video arcade, one that should not be missed.

Image of the control panel for Pac-Man, an arcade video game by Namco/Midway 1980

The Gravity of Not Pacman

Not Pacman, by Maurice Ltd., is an interesting take on the venerable dot eater formula.  It resembles the classic game, appropriates the sounds, but here the play is the thing.  Here, you don’t play by moving Pac around directly, but spin the maze in which he and his dreaded ghost antagonists reside.  Gravity does the rest, and the characters roll around while you try to keep our yellow hero from tumbling into an enemy.

There are a few control options, including using joysticks or even a steering wheel if you have one, but I find I like the mouse option the best, spinning the maze clockwise and counter-clockwise by moving the mouse right or left.

What the game is really crying out for, of course, is a tablet version that uses accelerometer sensors to let you tilt the device to roll Pac-Man around.  Unfortunately, we only have Windows, OSX and Linux versions so far.  Also, you can only finish the maze once and then the game records your points and time taken to finish, then resets itself, so the goal currently is to finish in the fastest time.  But hey, it’s free!  You can download the different versions of Not Pacman here at stabyourself.net.

Here’s our video of gameplay using a mouse in the OSX version:

As always, for more information on the history of Pac-Man, consult your local Dot Eaters entry.

Screenshot of Death Race, an arcade video game by Exidy, 1976

Violent Video Game Controversy!

With all the summits and task forces currently considering stronger new gun control legislation in the U.S. and the possible reasons for the rash of mass shootings plaguing the country, how about a look back at directly where all this violence began? With video games, of course! Duh.

It dates back to 1976 and the release of Exidy’s Death Race, an arcade video game loosely inspired by Roger Corman’s ultra-violent B-movie Death Race 2000.  In Exidy’s game, one or two players drove a vehicle around a playfield chasing running stick figures.  When a figure was hit, it would let out an electronic shriek and turn into a cross, creating a permanent obstacle for drivers to avoid.

Directions for Death Race, an arcade video game by Exity 1976

Wait, they’re gremlins. Yeah, that’s the ticket.

 

Considered quaint by today’s standards, Death Race caused a national debate on the cultural ramifications of the burgeoning video game market, was labelled “sick” and “depraved” by various groups, and of course enjoyed a healthy run in the arcades.

For more information on Death Race and its fallout, consult your local Dot Eaters entry.

The Visual Cortex: Joust An Ad

Today the Visual Cortex hatches an ad for the Atari 2600 and 5200 versions of Williams’ arcade hit Joust:

Click to enlarge

Running in periodicals in 1984, it’s short on actual screenshots of the game, and heavy on artist renditions of the action. I also find it humourous how it tries to sex-up the “beasts of the air” you fly in the game, the ostriches from the original arcade game.   The ad copy starts off with an unusual, confusing take on the classic opening words of the Star Wars movies:

 

Well, which is it?  Long ago, or a distant future?  Anyway, I don’t think I want to purchase a game that spits eggs out of my TV screen, from whence evil, sharp-taloned dragons attack me.

The Death Star from the SF movie Star Wars

Imperial Stooges Slam U.S. Death Star Decision

It all started with a petition submitted to the U.S. government via the “We the People” website, designed to give voice to citizens about pressing matters to the people.  Any petition that receives at least 25,000 signatures within 30 days of being submitted will get an official response from the White House.

Of course, the idea of “pressing matters” differs among people, and so a petition to secure funding and begin construction of a Death Star, the moon-sized orbiting battle station first revealed in 1977’s Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, passed the response threshold with 34,435 signatures.  Hence, the Chief of the Science and Space Branch of the White House Office of Management and Budget Paul Shawcross issued an official statement of how such an appropriation of funds would be fiscally irresponsible ($850,000,000,000,000,000), not to mention immoral and the results easily destructible by a one-man starship.

Darth Vader, a character from the SF movie Star Wars

Pray I don’t alter it further

 
Now in response to the response, the official Star Wars Blog has presented a PR release by the Galactic Empire, slamming Earth as primitive and cowardly.  I, for one, think we need to get cracking on updating the International Space Station.  Perhaps Lord Vader could think of some ways of motivating us to get back on a Death Star schedule.

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.

1978 "Fuji" logo for Atari, a video game company

Have You Referenced Atari In a Rap Song Today?

In recent days, popular Rap artists have discovered the ease of rhyming the word “Atari”.  To wit:

Yeah I’m sorry, I can’t afford a Ferrari
But that don’t mean I can’t get you there.
I guess he’s an XBox and I’m more Atari
But the way you play your game ain’t fair.
Cee Lo Green – “Forget You”

She wanna go and party, she wanna go and party
Nigga, don’t approach her with that Atari
Nigga, that ain’t good game, homie, sorry.
Kendrick Lamar – “Poetic Justice”

In a nice bit of synergy from the Atari company, they are taking advantage of this pop-culture phenomena to sell a line of headphones in the U.K..  Of course, the bad news is that every reference to the company name is in a negative light, playing on the obsolescence of Atari consoles.  But still, any pop-culture reference is a good reference, right?

Atari headphones page at HMV:

“I’m more Atari” T-shirt referenced in the social media hooks for this post available from Cee-Lo’s website: