Matt Chat: The PLATO computer system

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This week, I take a look at the PLATO computer system, originally developed in the 60s and refined in the 70s and 80s. This system had a touch-screen plasma display and was at least a decade ahead of the competition. The games are very hard but definitely innovative and well worth a look!

Take a look and let me know what you think about PLATO. Is the system simply underrated and ignored, or are the games simply too difficult to interest more gamers? Sound off about PLATO!

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Bill Loguidice
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Mark Vergeer wrote:

Well not all the commentary was positive though. I've left an invitation for more contact with us on the Plato system as a reply on the thread. Lets see what happens.

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Armchair arcade Editor | Pixellator | www.markvergeer.nl

I'd be curious what they said. Without knowing a thing about what they might have said, all I could guess is that they might be offended that there was no mention of the site in the video, and that there were some egregious factual errors. I can't imagine the latter. Were they upset about how he played the games? He already said he couldn't really figure them out. That's not *his* fault, but more a fault of the games themselves. They're not especially user friendly by any stretch of the imagination. With that said, if it was something along those lines, they're welcome to do something video-wise themselves. It's a free Internet.

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Bill Loguidice, Managing Director | Armchair Arcade, Inc.

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Matt Barton
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I expected some hate for

I expected some hate for making the games look difficult, but these guys are pretty lame. No doubt they'd be easy if you were intimate with PLATO and had friends around to help you learn the games. It's easy to forget how intimidating such things can be to folks who lack that extensive background. Again, it's so very easy to say "I could've done better," quite a different thing to actually put the time and energy into making it happen. :)

I realize they don't need me to promote their work, but honestly...How will insulting me and my work help people learn to appreciate this wonderful system--much less encourage others to join their community? Lame, indeed.

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Mark Vergeer
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Matt / Bill - just log in and see what they wrote

Discussing what they wrote and why they wrote it without knowing what they wrote is rather pointless and is not very constructive. Matt/Bill - just log in and see what they wrote.
I could capture some more screens containing replies to the above message and post it here if you want. The overall sentiment was positive though - just some negative remarks as well. Sounded like someone didn't like newcomers invading the world of Plato.

Xbox 360: Lactobacillus P | Wii: 8151 3435 8469 3138
Armchair arcade Editor | Pixellator | www.markvergeer.nl

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Matt Barton
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I did log in to read what

I did log in to read what they wrote. No need to make a big deal about. They didn't like the video; enough said; let's move on to other things. It's just sad to me that something that could have been fruitful was shut down by bad attitudes.

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Bill Loguidice
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Matt Barton wrote:

I did log in to read what they wrote. No need to make a big deal about. They didn't like the video; enough said; let's move on to other things. It's just sad to me that something that could have been fruitful was shut down by bad attitudes.

I'm confused, what was shut down? What didn't they like about the videos. I used to have an account, but let it lapse. No reason for me to re-join at this point.

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Bill Loguidice, Managing Director | Armchair Arcade, Inc.

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Matt Barton
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One of them basically said the same thing our own "Laffer" had to say--I didn't know how to play the games. I think some of it misses the point--one of my themes was that these aren't games that you can pick up and play. They take lots of study and patience. I agree to a point, though. I was disappointed that I couldn't show off the gameplay more, but I don't have unlimited time, and don't feel too good about just using someone else's footage. I like to have hands-on experience with a game before I talk or write about it.

They're not all negative, mind you. Check your email, Bill. :)

p.s. I overreacted; it's really only one guy who really didn't like the video. The rest are just glad to see someone like me trying his best to show off their favorite platform. I am thankful for that.

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Calibrator
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Pioneers
Matt Barton wrote:

it's really only one guy who really didn't like the video. The rest are just glad to see someone like me trying his best to show off their favorite platform. I am thankful for that.

If it weren't for you guys - and especially Matt's RPG book and this video - I probably would have never known *how* advanced some of the early Plato games were!

IMHO you demonstrate quite nicely that these games are difficult to play which is not exactly a sensation as their developers weren't experienced designers of commercial games which try to maximize their target audience. Instead these guys tried to program for the fun of it and/or to play that stuff themselves.
Compare these guys with a hobbyist sitting at his C64 (or whatever) and cloning an Ultima-RPG and you see what those Plato guys achieved: They simply had no popular RPG like Ultima or Wizardry to look up to! They had to be creative and invent stuff which is the hardest work of it all!

I think this is outstanding stuff and most games today are so severly dumbed down in user interaction (capabilities) and complexity that it is sickening! The only thing worthy to "dumb down" is the user interface to make a game more accessible, IMHO.

While I think that some clever, polished on-screen menüs or a tiny help-system may have helped these early gems - especially as these weren't commercial games with printed manuals & stuff like maps - one should keep in mind that the system was limited and there are already so many innovations that one cannot expect everything to be perfect.

take care,
Calibrator

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Matt Barton
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I agree, Calibrator, one

I agree, Calibrator, one should never forget the audience (neither the author nor the critic!) These games weren't made for the average Joe. They were made for highly literate, college educated, computer wizards, many of whom had extensive training in advanced mathematics and engineering. I wouldn't be surprised at all if Airfight was designed by a real aviator. That said, to be fair, the games do have pretty extensive help files available if one cares to read them. Most of the information is there if you really want to take the time.

Ultimately, though, I think you have to always think about the common person. If you ever start thinking in terms of "this is only intended for specialists," your actual influence will be severely limited. In my opinion, there is nothing so complex that can't be broken down into enough steps for the common person to climb them. You just have to make sure you aren't taking things for granted, going over someone's head or moving too quickly. In my experience, someone who claims that X can't be explained because it's too complex doesn't have a firm grasp of it in the first place. Anyone who really knows a subject can easily teach it to anyone who sincerely wants to learn it, given the time and motivation to do it.

Coming back to the topic, though, you had mentioned Ultima clones. I think that's a great example. If you want to make a very successful Ultima clone, you should start by thinking about gamers who have never played Ultima or never even a CRPG, period. Think about what it is about the game (getting down to the very core) that makes it appealing. Then, once you've figured that out, you're basically just building a bridge between yourself and what you find enjoyable and the average gamer and what he or she already knows how to do. The game itself will be greatly improved if you have taken the time to fully understand it; not just the code, mind you, but what makes that gameplay worth coding in the first place.

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Matt Barton
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I'm thinking of Lode Runner

I'm thinking of Lode Runner for the next video. What do you guys think? I could tie it into a discussion of user-generated content and maybe look at some of the other early platformers.

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Bill Loguidice
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Universal's arcade games and Lode Runner
Matt Barton wrote:

I'm thinking of Lode Runner for the next video. What do you guys think? I could tie it into a discussion of user-generated content and maybe look at some of the other early platformers.

If you do, don't forget the first platformer and one that is hard to argue didn't influence Lode Runner, Space Panic, which had home versions as Apple Panic, among others. I believe top of my head I got that one in the book in the Super Mario Bros. chapter.

The newest Lode Runner, the one on Xbox Live Arcade is pretty nifty, but I still have a strong preference for the original Apple II/Atari 8-bit/C-64 versions and the later Sierra reimagining (PC/Mac/PS1) that added cooperative play. I just loved the small sprites/single screen look versus the oversized Japanese/scrolling look.

Books!
Bill Loguidice, Managing Director | Armchair Arcade, Inc.

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