Anna Anthropy’s ‘Rise of the Videogame Zinesters’ is pretty awesome

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This book right here is one of the best I’ve ever read about videogames. And I’ve read a whole bunch of them. It’s such a tightly-written, enthusiastic, motivating manifesto, it only takes about two chapters before you’re eye-buggingly pumped full of revolutionary energy and optimism about the future of videogames.

Anna “Dys4ia” Anthropy’s simple but excellent point throughout is that games are catering to a horribly narrow group, because they’re being made by young men who like the videogames that are (and have always been) made for men who like videogames. That needs to change. Anna wants game creators to proliferate now, and she’s dragging you along with her: almost literally, because about half the book is a DIY guide/clarion call to getting the reader started building their own games. It’s hypnotisingly hard to resist, as though Paul McKenna had written “I Can Make You Write Videogames”.

Unlike many books that drone on about their simple agenda forever, and many videogame books that tread slowly and predictably along the well-worn paths of familiar industry lore, Anna stomps purposefully along the shortcuts and the desire lines, racing through videogame history while effortlessly sucking you into the idea of the democratization of the medium. It actually makes you excited about playing all the amazing, surreal, groundbreaking, ingenious games that Anna’s dream community of hobbyist game makers hasn’t even invented yet.

Midway through, there’s an almost throwaway but incredibly profound point about how Blockade/Worm/Nibbler has, thanks to endless knock-offs and Nokia saturation, become generically described as “the snake game” wherever it appears — it’s become a kind of “folk videogame”, in the same way that we treat Chess as a generic, ever-present concept rather than the singular idea of long-forgotten inventors. I’ve never read anything that’s given me such a sudden and magical certainty that videogames are, one day, destined to match the cultural importance of traditional art forms.

Oh, and very early on Anna’s careful to namecheck the late, great Fukio “Rainbow Islands” Mitsuji (who amazingly didn’t have a Wikipedia page until yours truly created one). Full marks all round.

Goodbye Nintendo Gamer – director’s cut

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My little goodbye for the final issue of the late, great Nintendo Gamer/NGamer/NGC/N64 was shortened a bit for space reasons. Which means my amazing joke about the R-Type robot on issue 7′s cover was lost to the ages. Until now! Here, I give you the uncut version, and get a little bit sad again about the closure of the mag.

And I meant “space lips”, not “space moustache”. Tsk.

Cripes, I’d forgotten that the cover logo once featured the robot from R-Type, of all things. That’s the beauty of being the Editor, readers — you can do what you want!

I miss it, you know.

Helping launch NGamer and steering it through its first couple of years was an absolute honour. Scary, too — how was I going to live up to the legacy of Super Play, N64 and NGC? The answer: cheat. I had the best team and the best readers in the world — so I could basically just sit back and watch 100 pages of peerless magazine magic materialize in front of my eyes every month.

What I loved most were the tiny things that took a preposterous amount of work, like Chrissy wearily photographing all 97 Nintendogs costumes or Matthew trawling through blurry Mario Galaxy preview video for a scoop (and only finding a “space moustache”). That was the special stuff, because it made the mag feel as full of secrets, surprises, love and care as a Nintendo game.

So I’m sad as anything to see it all end. But Nintendo Gamer’s spirit lives on, readers — in your hearts and in your souls! And on your bookshelf if you keep your old copies of the mag, natch.

TimeSplitters 2 retrospective for NGamer

viewerMy TimeSplitters 2 retrospective for NGamer magazine is up on Computer And Video Games.

You know, I don’t think I ever did complete the Robot Factory level. But I still loved that game to death. It’s the only GameCube game I’ve kept to this day. That dinky little GameCube disc looks really silly slotted next to all the proper-sized games and films in my DVD wallet.

I was thrilled to be able to speak to the legendary David Doak and Stephen Ellis for this feature. And I have to apologise to the lovely Karl Hilton, who contacted me after reading the feature and made me wish I’d had the foresight to ask him for an interview too. Once I get some time, I’ll upload the complete interviews.

MinecraftEdu feature for Edge

Minecraftedu-1My feature about MinecraftEdu from the September issue of Edge has been published on the magazine’s website: Minecraft in the classroom. (The print version has the proper headline: ‘School of rocks’. Possibly my best ever work.)

Ed Logg’s GDC 2012 talk on Atari’s Gauntlet

Photo by Spyderella

I’ve got a real soft spot for Gauntlet. The 4-player coin-op seemed monstrously big to me as a child, and I loved the resounding bass of the music and the “Wizard is about to die” speech. I was so desperate to own US Gold’s ZX Spectrum home conversion, I swapped my precious copy of Pete Cooke’s Academy, which I’d won in a C&VG competition.

So I was fascinated by Ed Logg’s talk at GDC a few days ago about the making of the game. I’ve embedded it below. And in the hope that his insights don’t disappear into obscurity, I’ve transcribed the early game concept document he showed – with its original name ‘DUNGEONS’, and the original idea for the player to descend into a ‘Hall of Death’ and grab treasures there – and included a few screenshots of his slides showing early artwork. G4TV and IGN wrote up some of the talk details. [Update: the actual slides are up on the GDC site now]

The design document

The original concept document for Gauntlet. Click for big.

Text from above:

COMPANY PRIVATE

‘DUNGEONS’
January 4, 1984

Game Initiation: October 18, 1983
Last Revision:
File: [ziegler, dandy]init.mac
Prepared by: Robin E Ziegler, Ed Logg, Chris Downend

Suggested Project Team:
Team Leader = Chris Downend
Project Leader = Ed Logg
Game Design = Ed Logg / Robin Ziegler
Programmers  = Robin Ziegler / Ed Logg
Engineer = Gary Stempler
Technician = Rich McCoy
Illustrator = ? Debbie Hayes ?

Brief Storyline:

The noble knights and magicians of the realm must rid the Castle Morda-nima of the evil demons and monsters and restore it to its original glory.

1-4 players act and react in a multi-level maze/dungeon/castle. Part action, part real-time adventure game with players cooperating with each other to stay alive. Players must navigate the maze, kill the nasties, eat food, collect treasures, open doors and find their way deeper into the dungeon. Until they reach the Hall of Death. This is the final resting place of lost goodies. They will then grab as much treasure as they want and try to escape back to daylight, thus ending the game. (Or possibly the player could start another trip at this point..)

Brief Character Description:

Player characters will be player selectable. Eight different starting characters will be available for the player to choose from. The characters will all be somewhat different but yet be relatively equal. Some would have good short-range abilities but lack some long-range power or speed of another. They would be dressed and/or color coded to distinguish them as to player ownership. The player-pawns would move around the maze controlled by the player. They will need to find keys, food, treasure and assorted other items while trying to kill opponents.

They would have three offensive capabilities:

1. Long-range: Some missile weapon (arrow, fireballs, rocks… whatever) does damage to opponents (similar to Centipede)
2. Short-range: Sword or other close in weapon does damange to opponents (similar to Joust, UltimaII, Ali Baba…)
3. Smart: Smart-bomb would kill all (with exceptions) opponents within screen area (similar to Defender and Dandy)

Brief Playfield Description

Playfield will consist of walls (brick, rock, steel and other wall materials), doors (single and double) and other castle/dungeon items. These will be laid out to form a large (up to 3×3 screens) maze/level. Levels will be connected via transporter devices. There can/will be many levels (64, 99, 128?). The view will be from 3rd person NQTD. NQTD = Not Quite Top Down.

Getting started:

Players will start by inserting coins for credit and then selecting his/her player-pawn. The selection is done in the player status window. This action can take place during game play and not affect other players. Once the selection has been made, the player-pawn will be transported to a clear area near the center of the screen. This transportation will use the “Star Trek” sparkle effect.

Slide screenshots

Early character artwork. Ed only has black-and-white photocopies of the original colour versions.
Early versions of the Gauntlet characters, with different names. Ed Logg wasn’t sure why the character names changed.
Report from an Asteroids focus group. Ed Logg does not like focus groups.

Text from above:

The focus group findings indicate mixed overall reaction to the ASTEROID game. General confusion was observed in game play, although this will most likely diminish with repeat play. The primary confusion area was relating to the use of the thrust feature.

It is clear that this game was considerably more favorable to the younger age group. This may or may not be indicative of its market potential.

We would highly recommend field testing this game at a Game Center location to observe player reaction and competitive collections prior to final product development and production decision.

Fascinating slide: the data from the ‘field tests’ of various Atari games, showing how much money they made in a test location (in this case, Milpitas Golfland in California) prior to release. Each pair of columns is for a different week (starting at the right: 25 September 1985, 2 October 1985, and so on).

Patents

Ed mentioned that there were 5 patents issued for Gauntlet – his first ever patents. Here’s one of them from Google Patent Search, Patent #4738451.