Feature Article

warning: Creating default object from empty value in /home/buckman/public_html/neo/modules/taxonomy/taxonomy.pages.inc on line 33.
Full-length feature articles.
Bill Loguidice's picture

Violence in Videogames: The Second Person Perspective

Author: Buck Feris
Editing: Lori Feris, Bill Loguidice, Matt Barton
Artwork: Buck Feris (Screenshots taken from the author's collection unless otherwise indicated)
Online Layout: Buck Feris

The progression of videogames is very singular compared to other art forms. The videogame medium seemed destined to do one thing: allow people to simulate and experience violent fantasies. The idea of one game/three lives has become so prevalent in Western culture that a sort of violent terminology has emerged when discussing videogames, whether the games themselves are violent or not. Even when playing a game such as Tetris, it is common to exclaim, “I died!” when the game ends. In fact, most videogames end upon the death of the protagonist.

Bill Loguidice's picture

A Reader’s Guide to the System Ranking Matrix -Technical Statistics and Ratings for U.S. Game Capable Systems

Author: Bill Loguidice
Application Development: Matt Barton
Data Entry: Elizabeth Katselis, Matt Barton and Bill Loguidice
Additional Fact Checking: Elizabeth Katselis
Article Editing: Matt Barton
Article Layout: Bill Loguidice
Special Thanks: Matt Barton and Buck Feris

View the matrix via the link on the main menu (System Matrix) or by clicking here

Matt Barton's picture

Sequential Access: Essay Nybbles

Sequential Access: Essay Nybbles

Author: Bill Loguidice
Editing: Buck Feris and Matt Barton
Online Layout: Bill Loguidice
Scans: All images come from the author’s private collection
Special Notes: This first series of five short essays has been inspired both by the author’s recurring thoughts and interactions with others on popular newsgroups and forums over the years. In relation to Armchair Arcade, the author would like to thank the other editors and regular forum goers such as Fractalus!, crcasey, majortom, Rowdy Rob, Mark1970, Dragon57, mrCustard, davyK, PoloPlayr, ryuhayabusa, PearlJammer, OldSchoolGamer, joe_jet and classic gamer for making discussions on the Website so interesting and informative. The author encourages everyone looking for a mature and stimulating discussion environment to check out Armchair Arcade’s forum.

ESSAY 01 - Exploring Emotions and Sophisticated Themes in Videogames
In 1983, magazine ads for the newly formed Electronic Arts asked, “Can a Computer Make you Cry?” In 1984, magazine ads for Infocom’s Planetfall, offered, “How to Make Friends on Other Planets.” What do these two early advertisements have in common?

Scan of Infocom’s advertisement for Planetfall from Family Computing magazine, August 1984, Volume 2, Number 8

Both ads make the assumption that computer and videogames then and in the future would have the ability to make us think, care and feel. Based on what’s been made available then and now, I’d say for the most part, this assumption was wrong.

Think of this as a call to arms to game designers everywhere. Let’s cast aside for a moment the business or profiteering aspect of the industry, which often dictates what gets made. Let’s assume that even if a developer’s hands are tied – for instance they’re asked to make yet another first person shooter – (wait for it) set in space – where the player kills zombie mutants (I’m giving this idea away for FREE), the designer has enough creativity to make it the best damned first person zombie shooting game set in space ever. How could this be accomplished? One answer lies in Planetfall.

Planetfall was a text adventure (Interactive Fiction or IF) that made you laugh, made you think, and yes, made you cry. I think 20 years after the fact I can give away the surprise. Floyd, your mischievous robot buddy and faithful in-game companion, dies. This made many players cry because the game made you take an interest in that character. He wasn’t just a generic character programmed to spew canned responses. He was programmed to simulate a personality, and it worked within the context of the well-designed game world. While some will argue that being a type of interactive book, such a game has an advantage over graphical adventures. I say nonsense. When was the last time one of your favorite television shows made you cry, made you identify with a character, made you feel for a character? How about a movie? Visuals or lack thereof are obviously no indicator of a creator’s ability to tug at the heartstrings or make you relate to a character’s angst. Even the right type of music can make us feel happy or sad. Since a modern game can incorporate some of the best elements from books, music, movies and television, and mix it all in with compelling gameplay, shouldn’t videogames then logically be at the forefront of thoughtful art in media?

This emotional advancement cannot be accomplished through non-interactive cut-scenes either. Gaming should not be about watching, it should be about doing. Newer games like Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto 3, show there is as much doing and flexibility as ever, but do these games also evoke emotions or explore sophisticated themes? Not necessarily. It’s a problem that should be addressed by at least a few mainstream games if we ever want to get more out of our favorite entertainment experience than we have for the past 25 years.

Scan of the manual cover for Sword of the Berserk: Guts' Rage from Eidos for the Sega Dreamcast


There are the proponents of Japanese-created role-playing games, like the latest Final Fantasy titles, who will contend that these embody a lot of what I seek. I agree that if you can stomach the Final Fantasy world you will find an exploration of some of the themes I speak of, but titles like these are so stylized that its overall message is often lost on people like me, and key story elements still take place through non-interactive cut-scenes. I can’t help but think there’s a better way.

Scan of Rocky Special Edition (MGM) on DVD

Finally, I leave you with something perhaps a bit unusual. By my casual count, from 1983 to the end of this month, there will have been at least five different Rocky games produced for systems like the ColecoVision, Sega Master System, GameBoy Advance, Sony PlayStation 2, Nintendo GameCube and Microsoft Xbox. All of these games over the past 20 years have only been about boxing. Was the original Rocky movie, the 1976 Academy Award winner for Best Picture, about boxing? Yes, it had wonderfully choreographed boxing in it, but it also had wonderful characters and an interesting story. You cared about the good natured, but deeply flawed boxer, Rocky Balboa. You cared about the cripplingly shy love interest, Adrienne. You disliked but understood Adrienne’s loser brother, Paulie. You were fascinated by but rooted against the arrogant champion, Apollo Creed. The list goes on. By the time the fight takes place at the end of the movie, you have an emotional interest in the event’s finale. It’s telling that in the final scene of the movie, the announcement of the fight’s outcome is downplayed (muted) in order to focus on the embrace and words between the battered Rocky and the hatless Adrienne. So again, was Rocky really just about boxing? Since we’ve had at least five Rocky boxing games, maybe the designers of the next one will try to tap into what the movie was really about.

For our industry to truly advance and be taken seriously, the production of at least a few games that explore sophisticated and emotionally charged themes is the least we should expect. Maybe then, other popular media like movies will start to be compared to games, rather than the other way around.

ESSAY 02 - Defining Videogame Eras
With the System Ranking Matrix, I rate the relative capabilities of the various computer and videogame systems released through the years in the United States. While I feel it does its job well (and will get even better over time with feedback), a lot is made in casual discussion of eras, or time periods when certain systems or types of technology ruled. What is lacking when these discussions take place is an agreed upon definition of what these eras encompass. Here is one attempt. Separate definitions of computer, arcade and handheld eras will be topics for another day as I will now focus solely on defining videogame (console) eras, as follows:

PONG ERA (1972 – 1977, Paddle and Ball Games) – This era began in 1972 with the original Odyssey and lasted right through the introduction of the first programmable (removable cartridge) consoles in the late 1970’s. These pong systems were self-contained devices that played a pre-set number of games. There was little that could be done with bars and moving blocks (“balls”) and most games were of the "deflect and don’t miss" variety.

ATARI/CARTRIDGE ERA (1976 – 1986, Shooting Games) – This era began in 1976 with the release of the first cartridge-based system, the Fairchild Channel F. However, the system that defined the era and videogames in general was Atari’s Video Computer System or VCS, which later came to be known as the 2600. In the beginning, these systems were barely more promising than the Pong systems before them, but by the end of 1984, the potential of these systems was made clear, with many of the game genres we know today first introduced, like shooting, racing, flying, maze, adventure and first person. In fact, technology that never saw the light of day because of the arcade and console industry crash of 1984, like save game battery backup on the ColecoVision or cartridges with eight times the typical capacity for the Atari 2600, only became evident years later. The first arcade-to-home translation, Taito’s Space Invaders (Atari), classified as a shooting game, set the tone for this era and was among the most often released type.

NES ERA (1987 – 1990, Side-scrolling Platform Games) – This era, post-crash, began in late 1985 with the return of console videogames to the US following the release of the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). In the beginning, these systems would feature nothing more than better arcade translations, but ultimately would lead the way for modern consoles. Examples include requiring a license to publish games, releasing console-style role-playing games (RPG’s) that introduced Japanese cultural influence in design, battery backups and large cartridge capacities. With Nintendo’s Super Mario Bros., the influx of 2D scrolling platform games began, and is what ultimately set the tone for this era.

GENESIS ERA (1989 – 1993, 2D Refinement) – This era began in 1989, with the introduction of the Sega Genesis, and to a lesser degree, the NEC Turbo-Grafx 16. This was the era of more—more action buttons, more graphics and sound, and larger cartridge capacities, building heavily on the advancements of the previous era. When Nintendo began releasing its last few games for the Super Nintendo (SNES), such as Rare’s Donkey Kong Country, it is clear in hindsight that this was to be the peak of sprite-based 2D gaming.

CD ERA (1992 – 1995, Vast storage and FMV) – This era began in 1992 with the introduction of CD add-on units for the Genesis and Turbo-Grafx 16, right through to systems like the 3DO Multiplayer, and stopped right around the release of the Sega Saturn. The defining characteristic of this era was, in comparison to cartridges, the virtually limitless storage capacity of the CD media that was often underutilized for actual gameplay. Instead, developers mostly used the extra space for things like CD-quality sound within the same type of games available on cartridge and the ever controversial Full-Motion Video (FMV). Nevertheless, as with the introduction of removable cartridges, the release of a new type of media into gaming would have important repercussions for future eras.

PS1/POLYGON ERA (1994 – 2000, 3D Gaming) – This era began in 1994 with the introduction of the Sega Saturn, but really took off with the introduction of Sony’s PlayStation (PS1) in 1995. As with the NES ERA, rather than simply introduce new technology, this era introduced a new type of gaming: 3D. All the usual genres that were in 2D and used sprites, eventually found their way to 3D polygonal versions. This was still early technology with several problems like low resolution and poor in-game cameras, but it caught on in a major way with the buying public at the expense of 2D.

PS2 ERA (1999 – PRESENT, 3D Refinement) – This era began in 1999 with the introduction of the Sega Dreamcast, but is defined by the success of Sony’s PlayStation 2 (PS2). As the GENESIS ERA brought additional polish and sophistication to what was established by the NES ERA, the PS2 ERA does the same for the PS1/POLYGON ERA.

Matt Barton's picture

Atari 2600 Mega Mini Reviews: Part I

Author and Production Credit: Bill Loguidice
Musical Theme to Armchair Arcade: Matt Barton
Online Layout: Bill Loguidice
Special Thanks: Albert Yarusso and AtariAge for providing access to additional information and scans required for the article

Atari 2600 Mega Mini Reviews: Part I
Chopper Command (by Bob Whitehead, ©1982 Activision)
Defender (by Bob Polaro with Alan Murphy, ©1981 Atari, Inc.)
Fantastic Voyage (by David Lubar, ©1982 Sirius Software, Inc. and Fox Video Games, Inc.)
Space Cavern (by Dan Oliver, ©1981 Games by Apollo, Inc.)
Space Jockey (by Garry Kitchen, ©1982 Vidtec and U.S. Games)


Do a “Save Target As…” or similar to download the .WMV video file above to your local system
File size: 17.5MB
Running Time: 10:56 minutes

SUMMARY

Chopper Command
Advantages – Great presentation and control.
Disadvantages – High difficulty level. Not a great deal of variety.
Overall – Excellent (4 out of 5 stars)

Defender
Advantages – Fun play mechanic, especially when rescuing humanoids.
Disadvantages – Poor presentation, mediocre control and some unusual play conversion decisions from the original arcade version.
Overall – Fair (2 1/2 out of 5 stars)

Fantastic Voyage
Advantages – Simple, solid graphics and sound. Interesting setting and gameplay.
Disadvantages – Perhaps a little too simple in both presentation and play variety.
Overall – Good (3 out of 5 stars)

Space Cavern
Advantages – Simple to play.
Disadvantages – Boring, repetitive, too easy, and a poor presentation with sound effects that seem lifted from other, better games.
Overall – Poor (1 1/2 out of 5 stars)

Space Jockey
Advantages – Great graphics and customizable play variations.
Disadvantages – Repetitive, overlapping sound effects. Only single player.
Overall – Good (3 out of 5 stars)

Guide to Game Rankings:

Matt Barton's picture

The Rise and Fall of Game Audio

Author: Matt Barton
Editing: Bill Loguidice
Artwork: Seb Brassard
Online Layout: Matt Barton
Special Thanks: Jon Appleton, Jan Harries, Rob Hubbard, Rafal Kazimierski, Barry Leitch, George Sanger
Matt Barton's picture

Scorched Parabolas: A History of the Artillery Game

Author: Matt Barton
Editing: Bill Loguidice
Online Layout: Matt Barton
Special Thanks: Bill Loguidice, Erwin Bierhof, Gavin Camp
All screenshots by the author using various emulators.
Matt Barton's picture

Songbird Productions: An Interview with Carl Forhan

Author and Interviewer: Bill Loguidice
Editing: Matt Barton
Online Layout: Bill Loguidice
Special Thanks and Notes: Carl Forhan for being the subject of the feature and providing use of the images
Also see: Songbird Productions (About), Jagu-Dome Interview, Tomorrow's Heroes Interview, Good Deal Games Interview, Alive 4 – LynxUK Interview and MyAtari Interview
Bill Loguidice's picture

Good Deal Games: An Interview with Michael Thomasson

Author and Interviewer: Bill Loguidice
Editing: Matt Barton
Online Layout: Bill Loguidice
Special Thanks and Notes: Michael Thomasson for being the subject of the feature and providing use of the images
Also see: Good Deal Games (Staff), Game Informer Magazine Interview by Matt Helgeson, Planet Dreamcast Interview by BenT and Totally Retro by Jim Lenhan
Matt Barton's picture

The Power Glove Lives!

Author: Matt Barton and David Torre
Editing: Bill Loguidice
Online Layout: Matt Barton and Bill Loguidice

The history of videogame controllers is a pretty dull affair. We truly haven’t come very far since the first videogame controller—a simple device rigged up by the Spacewar! team to spare them elbow pain while playing the first videogame, which ran on a giant mainframe computer. Though many early games used paddles or trackball controllers, the winning majority of pre-NES (Nintendo Entertainment System) games favored joysticks, while the majority of post-NES games favored game pads. Modern joysticks and game pads offer various degrees of analog and digital circuitry with very precise control. Still, one wonders about the future of videogame controllers. Have we reached a plateau, or are more intriguing possibilities on the horizon? What we are concerned with here is a peculiar strain of what seems to be a very promising type of controller: An electronic glove that detects hand movements. Conceivably, such a device would allow players a stunning degree of control over their avatars.

Matt Barton's picture

The Videogame in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

Author: Matt Barton
Editing: Bill Loguidice
Artwork: Buck Feris and Elizabeth Katselis
Online Layout: Matt Barton

Creative Commons License
The following text (not including illustrations) is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Syndicate content