Matt Chat: The PLATO computer system

Matt Barton's picture

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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Rowdy Rob
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Joined: 09/04/2006
I'm late to the party here, forgive me, but many comments.

First of all.... Matt, another fine video, well produced and informative. You look very relaxed and jovial, which works very well as a counterpoint to a very old and obscure gaming platform. The use of cut-scenes was also very appropriate and interesting. Somehow, you made this relatively unknown platform and its apparently obscure and technical games fascinating. I had no idea that these sorts of games were available for the PLATO platform. Your parting comments at the end of the video puzzled me at first until I made the PLATO connection, then I had a hearty chuckle over it! :-)

My response to critics in the hardcore PLATO community: What'd you expect? If someone who is near-totally inexperienced in the PLATO platform tried these games, this is what they'd see. If anything, Matt (a well-known hardcore gamer) was more diligent than I would be, because I would be TOTALLY lost in these games, especially considering that I have no experience in the PLATO platform. If there are better, more inviting games (or other attractions) on the PLATO platform, then I'm all for seeing a sequel to this PLATO Matt Chat. Although I've never experienced the PLATO platform, I came away from this video with a sheer sense of respect for it, thanks to Matt's video. Perhaps the PLATO community should be more open and inviting. From what I've read here, it sounds like even the PLATO forums are closed off to outsiders.

For those of you in the PLATO community that viewed this Matt Chat favorably, I'm sure we "non-initiated" would love to hear your experiences, anecdotes, and advice on this fascinating platform!

Calibrator: "Dumbing down" games makes them more palatable to people like me. There's NO WAY that I want to have to study a PHD-level course manual to play a game. I don't want to worry about all the nitty-gritty details of most gaming subjects, nor do I have the time or patience; I just want to PLAY. If the game is inherently complex, I want an interactive, in-game tutorial that holds my hand while teaching me the deep workings of the game. I've tried to play several games in my time that seemed that you have to come to the game with a PHD in the subject ("Virtual Skipper 3," for example) with no in-game tutorial. At some point, micromanaging and studying REMOVES you from the game fantasy, rather than immerses you in it. A flexible game engine is preferable to a super-technical/realistic game engine, in my opinion.

LarryLaffer: Let's see, Matt Chat sucks, he should hang it up, Matt and Bill's books suck (which I doubt you've even read), etc. etc. Why are you here if you don't enjoy it? Perhaps you don't understand what we're all about here. Constructive criticism is warranted, but not just "hang it up." Would YOU want to be told that you should "hang it up" in your endeavors? Steel sharpens steel, but fire melts steel. Are you steel, or are you fire?

Bill: I agree wholeheartedly with your assessment of the "Lode Runner" series. I played "Space Panic" and "Apple Panic," and clearly they were progenitors to "Lode Runner." And the "updated" versions of Lode Runner were inferior, play-wise, to the original. Even with it's comparatively colorless, featureless graphics, I still get a kick out of the simple but mesmerizing animations of the original. The arcade version was too cutesy, and the larger blocks meant simpler levels. The original "Lode Runner" had something that I'm not sure can be improved on, and I'm saying this as a HEAVY Lode Runner player, and I designed many levels which my friends greatly enjoyed back in the day. Lode Runner WORKED, and I had a blast playing it. None of the later incarnations had the same impact for me, although the Japanese arcade gamers loved the arcade version of Lode Runner.

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Calibrator
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Joined: 10/25/2006
Dumb and Dumber
Rowdy Rob wrote:

Calibrator: "Dumbing down" games makes them more palatable to people like me. There's NO WAY that I want to have to study a PHD-level course manual to play a game.

First of all not all gamers are created equal ;-)

Quote:

I don't want to worry about all the nitty-gritty details of most gaming subjects, nor do I have the time or patience; I just want to PLAY.

So you are more of a casual than a hardcore gamer: You don't want to read manuals, you want quick successes, you like action games more than adventures and RPGs - and you probably hate strategy games or simulations that involve a large investment of time.
Don't worry - you are a pretty normal fellow! ;-)

Quote:

If the game is inherently complex, I want an interactive, in-game tutorial that holds my hand while teaching me the deep workings of the game.

This is one method to make the interface easier to understand and it's exactly what I meant with making a game more accessible - which I said is the only "dumbing down" I tolerate.
What you don't exclude with your statement is that you don't reject a game that is complex but easy to control - which is more or less what I said.
Give me complex games like the Thief-series anyday, but don't expect me to calculate the arcs my arrows should fly by hand and enter the numbers manually - I also want an easy to use interface with a mouse and some buttons/keys.

Some people claim that (PC) games are often dumbed down for games consoles which is a statement I don't plainly support. There are many very complex RPGs on games consoles and when comparing them to a PC classic like Baldur's Gate they don't seem to be "dumber" at all.
People confuse the ability of console games to be controlled with a small gamepad with less game complexity (and maybe content).

Quote:

I've tried to play several games in my time that seemed that you have to come to the game with a PHD in the subject ("Virtual Skipper 3," for example) with no in-game tutorial. At some point, micromanaging and studying REMOVES you from the game fantasy, rather than immerses you in it.

There are people - and you made yourself quite clear that you aren't one of them - who love to indulge into such stuff. Hardcore-sim-freaks are just one example, strategy game fanatics are another bunch, learning all the data about the units etc.
These folks already enjoy such a game while reading the manual. You maybe would call it "work", they call it "pleasure".

Quote:

A flexible game engine is preferable to a super-technical/realistic game engine, in my opinion.

It was always my opinion that you can perform the most complicated procedures (like flying a space shuttle) with a simple enough interface. As the interface is part of the game engine I agree with you.

take care,
Calibrator

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Matt Barton
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Joined: 01/16/2006
Thanks, Rob and Bill, for

Thanks, Rob and Bill, for your comments and ideas. I am feeling stronger about Lode Runner, and knowing about the earlier game will add depth to the review for sure. I'll hunt it down and make sure it gets due attention.

The PLATO community is a fine bunch of folks, but like any sizable community there are some who lack tact. In any case, I did the best I could, and if that's not good enough for everyone, so be it. It's a free internet--no one is forcing you to watch videos you don't like, and you are always able to make and publish your own as time and interest permits. I have little tolerance for folks who seem to thrive on hurting others. Disagreement is fine and welcome, but not incivility or rudeness.

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Matt Barton
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Joined: 01/16/2006
Plato for tablet PCs/touch screens

I thought I'd post this here for now. My colleague and friend Andy Anda (a computer scientist here at SCSU) just asked me a great question--is there a version of a PLATO emulator (extant or in the works) that supports touch screen or tablet PCs? A lot of PLATO apps took advantage of the touchscreen capability.

Anyone have any idea?

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Catatonic
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Joined: 05/20/2006
Computer History Museum

The Computer History Museum just hosted a big conference on PLATO. They have posted 6 feature-length videos to their YouTube channel. Here is the talk on multiplayer games:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dEyppAb_6ag

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