Monday, May 31, 2010

Game of the week: SimCity for SNES

Since its original release in 1989, SimCity has been one of the most popular video games of all time. It first was created for the Commodore 64 computer, but since it has been ported to other home computers, PCs, Macintoshes and all kinds of home and handheld video game systems. There also have been numerous sequels to the original SimCity game, as well as many other games similar to or based upon SimCity.

SimCityIt's easy to see why the game is so popular and down-right infectious. You work as an architect of sorts, building a city from scratch. You put down the power plants, the roads, the parks, the residential districts, industrial areas, just about everything you can think of for a city.

Over the years I've played multiple versions of SimCity, but my favorite version always has been the one for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System.

I think it has to do with the control scheme and the ease of use of those controls. You don't have to jump all over a keyboard or click a billion times on a mouse like you have to do with computer versions of many games. It's just you and the SNES controller. Click a button or two, move around on the screen, and you can do everything you need to do.

Super Nintendo NES System - Video Game ConsoleAnd maybe I always just got lucky or maybe I always had a good television screen, but for some reason the SimCity colors seemed brighter and sharper to me when I played the SNES version hooked up to my TV than when I played computer versions.

Another great thing about SimCity was it could last seemingly forever. I know there were nights back in the day when I would turn off my TV but leave my SNES on, then I'd go to bed and wake up the next day with SimCity still playing away by itself (in truth the game didn't technically play by itself, but the turns within the game would continue while I collected money and my city would grow or decline). That way, I could play the same city within the game for days and days, sometimes week.

SimCity for the SNES. Truly a classic game.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

What was the very first video game?

In January of 1947 a patent was filed in the United States by Thomas T. Goldsmith Jr. and Estle Ray Mann for an interactive electronic game called the Cathode Ray Tube Amusement Device. It used analog circuitry to display a missile game on a cathode ray tube (basically an early television screen). Basically this was a simple missile simulation game in which a player could move a dot on a screen. The Cathode Ray Tube Amusement Device was a gigantic, bulky early computer hooked up to a cathode ray tube. The patent was eventually approved in December of 1948.

Does this qualify as the very first video game? Some historians suggest it does, and I tend to agree with them, but others argue the Cathode Ray Tube Amusement Device is only a precursor to video games and not a true video game because it did not utilize raster (bitmap) graphics nor did it use a digital display. Personally I think this is skipping the point since the term "video game" has become a semi-generic term to mean many different types of electronic games that make use of a viewing screen.

But to go further a few years, in 1952 University of Cambridge Professor Alexander S. Douglas created the first game to use a digital display. The game was known as Naughts and Crosses, and is basically the game to tic-tac-toe.

Then in 1958 the game Tennis for Two was created by physicist William Higinbotham for the Brookhaven National Laboratory. Used was an analog computer with an oscilloscope as the display device utilizing vector graphics.

Then in 1961 along comes Spacewar! It even sounds like a video game, doesn't it? Two MIT students, Wayne Wiitanen and Steve Russell are credited with making this game with vector display graphics.

So far, none of these games mentioned were ever released to the general public.

Now we got to the first home gaming system for sale to the public. It was originally known as the Brown Box, but when it hit the stores in 1972 it was officially called the Odyssey, made by Magnavox. The Odyssey, created by Ralph Baer who had been working on the project off and on for nearly 20 years, could be hooked up directly to a television. The earlier prototype, the Brown Box, then is the first video game system to use raster graphics.

So, does the Brown Box or the Odyssey qualify as the first video game? Opinions will vary, of course, and you can make your own decision, but I'll stick with the Cathode Ray Tube Amusement Device from way back in 1947.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Video game of the week: Satan's Hollow

In the early 1980s, the arcades were full of spaceships defending the Earth, spaceships defending the moon, spaceships defending Mars, and spaceships defending ... well, you get the picture. There were a lot of video games with a lot of spaceships shooting down a lot of bad guys.

Then along came Satan's Hollow from Bally Midway in 1982. Right away gamers could tell there was a difference. Not only were the colors fresh and strong, they were bright. Lots of warm colors, reds and oranges and yellows. Most shooting games at the time were on a dark deep-space background of little more than floating and twinkling stars.

And the villains of Satan's Hollow were different. No longer was the gamer saving some planet from alien invaders. No, no. Here you faced off with Satan himself, perhaps for the very souls of all mankind. Or maybe not. Who knows? It was just a game, but it was a ton of fun.

It had some typical shooting-game action. You piloted a craft at the bottom of the screen, moving left and right while shooting at falling gargoyles in the burning sky above. Yes, I said gargoyles. And yes, I said burning sky above. But so far it seemed like a typical shooter. But you also had a shield you could use, though it only lasted for a few seconds.

And you had to build a bridge on the right side of the screen. How did you build this bridge? First, you had to shoot one of the bad guys. Then a piece of the bridge would appear at the bottom left of the screen. Next you move your craft over to pick up the new piece of bridge, and then you carry it to the right of the screen to drop it off. Eventually, once you killed enough gargoyles and captured enough bridge pieces, your bridge was completed and you could cross the bridge over to another screen.

Which is where you faced Satan. Which, to be honest, was kind of a disappointment. Yes, Satan was fast. And yes, he dropped little missiles really, really fast. But the graphics for Satan were kind of lame, which sucked considering how awesome the graphics were for the rest of the game. Satan looked like a little red square, little better than something you'd find on one of the home video game systems of the day.

Still, it was awesome game play, and it wasn't something new and different in the arcades of the time.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Movie Versions of Classic Video Games in The Works

ATARI ASTEROIDSRemember the arcade game Asteroids? Where you flew a tiny triangular spaceship around an asteroid field while blasting away at asteroids and enemy spacecraft?

What about Missile Command? Where you protected a planet's bases by launching missiles into the sky to knock out enemy missiles?

If you do remember those games, you're probably pretty old, at least if you remember playing them in actual arcades or at home on your Atari.

But apparently you are right in line for a demographic Hollywood is attempting to tap into, those in their 30s and 40s.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, a movie version of Asteroids is currently in pre-production after Universal Pictures earlier this year won a four-studio bidding battle over the game originally released in 1979. As the film is still in pre-production, there have been no public releases on a possible plot nor information on who will star in the movie.

Atari Pocketware: Missile Command (Jewel Case)A film version of Missile Command is not quite that far along yet. The Los Angeles Times has reported Atari, the company which released Missile Command in 1980, is still shopping around the game, pitching it to various studios in hopes of finding interest. Will they? Time will tell, but the studios might be waiting to see how well Asteroids will do at the box office before biting on another arcade classic.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Pac-man Video Game Celebrates 30th Birthday

Retro Arcade Pac Man TV GameMay 22, 1980, was the date thirty years ago when the Japanese company Namco released one of the most popular video games of all time. I'm talking about Pac-Man, the game where you control a little round yellow ball around a maze while munching dots. And let's not forget the four colorful ghosts who chase Pac-Man around the maze.

Soon released in the United States by the company Midway Games, Pac-Man became an enormously-popular icon of the 1980s, and to this day is still one of the most recognized video games of all time.

The game was originally called Puck-Man in Japan, but renamed Pac-Man in the U.S.

Pac-Man has proven so popular it has spawned 16 sequel arcade games, two pinball games, at least a half dozen versions of the original game for classic (1980s) home gaming systems, at least 16 spin-off games for modern home video game systems and 11 games for mobile phones. Also, there have been several hand-held Pac-Man video games and even a small tabletop version of Pac-Man. There has been a Pac-Man animated cartoon television show, a Pac-Man board game and the song "Pac-Man Fever" which went all the way to number 9 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts in 1981.

Ms. Pac-Man / Galaga Classic Cocktail Table Arcade Game with 19-Inch MonitorBesides its sheer popularity, Pac-Man had a huge influence on video games of the day and continues to have an influence today. Pac-Man might not have been the first maze game, but it definitely was the first popular maze game, and it changed the faces of video games during a time when the majority of games where science fiction or military shooting games.

So, Pac-Man, I salute you. Happy 30th birthday!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Classic Gaming Expo draws video game fans

Pac-Man lives! So does Donkey Kong, Frogger, Mario and all the Space Invaders. How can this be?

Thank the folks in charge of the Classic Gaming Expo. They keep alive the video games of yesteryear through the annual event, in its eleventh year this year.

With dozens of arcade games available to play, setups with the classic home video game systems such as Atari and Intellivision, guest speakers, representatives from video game companies, and much, much more, the Classic Gaming Expo provides plenty of fun for those seeking a blast from the past.

For the 2010 event, the Classic Gaming Expo is scheduled to run July 31st and August 1 at the Tropicana in Las Vegas, Nevada. The festivities are open to the public with children 8 and younger getting in free.

Also available will be live music, a Classic Gaming Expo Museum, a swap meet, a live auction and other fun events. Also attending will be numerous celebrities from the classic video game world, including designers of some of the original games.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Video game of the week: Burgertime for Intellivision

BurgertimeBeans, eggs and pickles, oh my! Beans, eggs and pickles, oh my! It’s a mantra out of a nightmare, a nightmare in which you are trying to build the perfect hamburger but are being thwarted by evil beans, eggs and pickles who have only one goal of their existence, to exterminate you. Your main weapon? A pepper shaker.

Sounds like something out of a crazy kids’ book, right? It’s not. It’s the plot for a 1982 Data East arcade video game known as BurgerTime.

And BurgerTime was quite popular in the arcades at the time, and it was a load of fun. You play a little chef known as Peter Pepper who climbs up and down ladders and across various levels to create giant burgers by walking across the burgers’ ingredients. Once you walk across an ingredient (the buns and lettuce and burgers, etc.), the ingredients fall below you, stacking up until you’ve got a complete burger. Most levels you have to create four burgers. Along the way, it’s the enemy beans and eggs and pickles who attempt to stop you by catching you and causing you to lose a character. You can fight back by tossing pepper on your foes, by walking across a burger ingredient and having it fall on your foes, or by walking across a burger ingredient while your falls are right behind you, because then they’ll fall as the ingredients fall.

Make sense?

It was awesome.

But while the arcade version of this game was a hit, it also made it’s way onto many home video game systems of the time. The Intellivision port was always my favorite.

The graphics weren’t as solid as those on the original arcade game, but they are still pretty strong. After all, the Intellivision was known for good graphics, especially early on when it was competition for the Atari 2600.

Besides decent graphics, what really drew me into the game was the strength of gameplay. I bet I logged in hundreds upon hundreds of hours thumbing away on my Intellivision II while running from eggs and beans.

Burgertime was a hit game for the Intellivision, and deservedly so. Good colors, strong graphics and fantastic playability combined to make up one of the best home versions of an arcade game.
Outside of the Intellivision, Burgertime was so popular it spawned tons and tons of sequel games, though none of them ever did as well as the original. There was Super BurgerTime and Peter Peppers Ice Cream Factory for the arcades. Then Namco came out with the 2007 mobile game BurgerTime Delight. Even the Game Boy Color had a game called BurgerTime in Bedrock.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Economy Taking Toll on Video Game Sales

Sales of video games have tanked over the last few months, especially in the month of April, according to the NDP Group, a retail market research organization which follows the sales of many products, including video games.

Software sales alone were down 22 percent in April, which meant a loss of almost millions of dollars for the video game industry. Overall the industry was down 26 percent, still accumulating $766 million dollars though expectations had been better.

Hardware sales also were hit hard, though the Nintendo Wii continues to lead the pack with 277, 200 sales despite the fact those sales were down a whopping 50 percent. Overall, hardware sales were down 37 percent. Sony's sales dropped 48 percent while Microsoft was down 45 percent.

Why are video game sales down so much?

According to the NDP Group, there were a couple of reasons. For one, there were few new releases of games in April. Secondly, the Easter holiday was moved, which threw off gift sales somewhat.

Maybe the weak economy is finally catching up to the video game industry. Or maybe it was just a blip. Either way, expect cheaper video games later this year as companies try to reel back customers.

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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Game of the week: Yars' Revenge for Atari 2600

Atari 2600 - Video Game ConsoleOne of the greatest home video games is still loads of fun to play today especially on the original Atari 2600 system.

1981. Reagan hadn't been president long. Blondie was on the radio. Alien insects were using giant laser cannons to attack enemy bases.

Wait! What?

Yes, alien insects were using giant laser cannons to attack their enemy's bases. At least that was what was happening in thousands upon thousands of homes throughout the U.S., if not the world.

How could this be?

Yars' Revenge for Atari 2600The game was Yars' Revenge, and you could only play it on the Atari 2600, the hottest home video game system in the world at the time.

The object of Yars' Revenge was to fly your little alien insect, the Yar, around the television screen to shoot at or eat a shield around the enemy Qotile base. Once you had a hole in that shield your Yar had to line up the Zorlon Cannon on the left side of the screen with the enemy Qotile base on the right side of the screen. Then you fire! If you missed, nothing much happened and you had to try again. But if you hit, BLAMO! There was a big explosion on the screen.

Then you moved on to the next level and had to repeat it all over again.

Sounds boring by today's gaming standards.

It wasn't. It was a blast.

Longtime Atarigame collectors and home video game enthusiasts have often considered Yars' Revenge as one of the best games ever created for the Atari 2600 system.
Who made the game for Atari? A programmer by the name of Howard Scott Warshaw. Howard's initials are immortalized as an easter egg within the Yars' Revenge game, but unfortunately once you see that easter egg your game is over and you can't continue playing. Originally the game was meant to be a home version of the Star Castle arcade game, and you can see basic similarities between the two games, but there's not enough of a similarity for Yars' Revenge to have truly been a Star Castle remake. Which is probably why Atari gave the game a different name.

Again, by today's standards the graphics for this Atari game weren't great, but actually they were pretty good graphics for home systems at the time. The colors were solid, too, and the sound was excellent.

Another cool thing about Yars' Revenge was that when you purchased it new, it came with a comic book telling the story of the Yars and their reason for seeking revenge against the evil Qotile. The reason? The Qotile had destroyed one of the Yars' planets.

There was even a Yars' Revenge album with music and a story, but it's quite rare and sought by collectors of video game rarities.

Atari Flashback 2 Plug and PlaySurprisingly enough, as popular as this game was, there was never a sequel to it. In 1999, a version of the original game was made for the Game Boy Color, and then Yars' Revenge was released again in 2005 on the Atari Flashback 2 home system. So even if you don't have an old Atari 2600, you can still find ways to play this classic game!

Related links

20 Classic Atari 2600 Games

10 Classic Games for Intellivision

10 Awesome Arcade Games of Yesteryear

20 Classic Arcade Games

Simple game, right? No. You're floating in space, shooting at a bunch of giant rocks flying by. Every time you shoot the rocks, they don't just explode. That would be too easy. Instead, the rocks just get smaller and smaller. And if you touch one of the, your ship explodes. And to add to the fun, every once in a while an unfriendly enemy UFO cruises by to shoot at you. Still sound easy? It wasn't, at least once you got past the early stages of Asteroids. Sure, it might not have the flashy graphics and AI of today's games, but Asteroids was still loads of fun to play.

When Battlezone first came out in the early 1980s, it was like "Wow! A game that really puts you right into combat!" It seemed pretty real at the time. Even the military thought it was pretty realistic. Atari, the creators of Battlezone, created two special versions of the game for the U.S. Armyfor training. The Army's version of Battlezone was called The Bradley Trainer and was named after the military's Bradley Fighting Vehicle.

This was kind of a goofy but fun game. In Burgertime, you played a chef who climbed around the screen while making giant burgers. Hot dogs, pickles and eggs would try to stop you. Your only weapon was a pepper shaker to stun your foes. Though you could also topple giant burger buns on them. Yes, it sounds kind of ridiculous, but Burgertime provided hours of entertainment.

You're shooting bugs. Centipedes. Spiders. Lady bugs. And mushrooms are constantly growing in your way. What do you do about the mushrooms? You shoot them, too. A fairly simple game, but it wasn't easy. A lot happened very quickly in Centipede, and the various enemies came at you from all sides.

Defender seemed like a somewhat realistic game of space combat when it was released. Why? Because there were so many different friggin' buttons to push, and each one did something different. It almost felt like you were actually flying and shooting a fighter jet in outer space. All those buttons looked scary and confusing to those of us raised on one joystick, one button, but everyone soon learned the controls and Defender became a favorite.

Dig Dug
You dig, you use an air pump to kill your enemies, and you drop rocks on your enemies, all the while hoping they don't catch you and don't escape from you. Again, simple by the standards of today, but Dig Dug was loads of fun. I could usually make it to 7 or 8 levels, but beyond that the game was just too fast for me.

Donkey Kong
Donkey Kong was one of the early big arcade successes, right after Space Invaders and Pac-Man. It's a fairly simple game of climbing and jumping, with a little hammering from time to time, but when it came out it seemed like science fiction was coming to life before our eyes. All those colors! And different levels and fireballs and, and ... it was an exciting time, let me tell you.

Donkey Kong Jr.
The sequel to Donkey Kong seemed even more fantastic than the original. There were more colors, and they seemed brighter. The game's levels were more difficult than those of the original game, and the action seemed more inventive.

Another simple game. You're a frog. You're trying to cross the street without getting hit, then you're trying to make it across a river without drowning or being eaten. Despite its simplicity, Frogger was a big hit at the arcades. The only video game I could ever get my dad to play.

This game was like Space Invaders on acid or something. The enemy ships flew around in crazy spirals and came at you from crazy angles. The stars in the background moved down the screen, almost making it look as if you were really looking into space. But of course you weren't. Galaga is also the first shoot-em-game I can remember where you could potentially have a ship that shot two shots at a time at your foes.

The next big shooting game after Space Invaders came out, and in a lot of ways Galaxian put Space Invaders to shame. For one thing, there was color, a lot of color. For another thing, the enemy ships didn't just move across the screen, but they actually flew down at you. Scary stuff!

Joust was a different kind of game. You sit on the back of a giant ostrich while flying it around to take out your enemies. Weird. Different. But lots of good times. I never could master this one. Hitting that flapping button all the time was just a little annoying to me, but I still liked the game.

Missile Command
This was a game that had a lot going on on the screen. And everything happened quickly. Tons and tons of missiles were constantly bombarding you, and to make thins worse a UFO would float by every so often to cause mischief. The first major arcade game I can remember that had a track ball instead of a joystick, and that track ball took some getting used to.

Mrs. Pac-Man
When Mrs. Pac-Man came out, it was a thrill to see all the different levels the game provided. No more of the same maze every level like in Pac-Man! And the short video stories between some of the levels were fun to watch, too. Still a classic game to this day.

Pac-Man might have been the grandaddy of all the arcade games. It seems this one was the most popular game ever. Or at least it seemed that way in 1980 and 1981. Everyone was playing Pac-Man, and the game could be found everywhere, even outside the arcades in places like laundromats and restaurants and plenty of other places. People lined up for this game. And then the experts showed up, those players who had worked out a pattern that would allow them to play the game for what seemed like hours. I had my own pattern, and it worked pretty good. I was never the best player, but I could rack up at least 3 or 4 of those little keys that showed you were in the higher levels of the game.

Q*bert was an odd game in that all movement in the game was diagonal. It's the only arcade game I can remember that had such a feature. It took some getting used to, but once you did you could keep those points rising. Q*bert also had some of the funniest sound effects of its day.

Space Invaders
In a lot of ways, Space Invaders is where it all began. Sure, there were a handful of other arcade games around before, games like Pong, but Space Invaders is the first game I remember that seemed to be a big hit. It was everywhere in the late '70s and on into 1980. A simple game. You shoot the aliens UFOs without getting shot yourself. Didn't have a lot of color, but that didn't matter. At least not until Pac-Man came around.

Star Wars
Star Wars was huge in the '70s and early '80s, and this arcade game made you feel like you were taking part in the first movie. It made you feel like you were flying an X-wing fighter yourself. Not the best of graphics, but there was color. And anyway, the gameplay was so good, you didn't mind the lack of great graphics.

A different kind of game. Sort of a shooting game. Sort of, kind of a mazey game. But not exactly. Tempest stands alone in a lot of ways. Once again, not great graphics, but they seemed to fit the game appropriately.

Tron was a great arcade game because it was like playing four games in one. You actually had four different games you had to play to pass a level, and each game was unique in and of itself. I miss this game. Been a long time since I've played it, or even seen it anywhere.

More on Classic Games
20 Classic Atari 2600 Games
10 Classic Games for Intellivision
Remember Those Awesome Mattel Handheld Games?

Remember Those Awesome Mattel Hand-Held Games?

Auto Race
This game goes down in history as being not only the first Mattel Electronics handheld game, but the first-ever handheld electronic game. It hit the stores in 1976, but it wasn't a huge hit right off the bat. The first big handheld electronic game that was a hit? It's the next one up.

Football (aka Football I)
This game was the first huge hit in the handheld electronic games market, and it was released in 1977. If you were a kid or teen back then, it seemed like every boy had one of these things. And what fun it was! Sure, it was just a bunch of little red light running across a tiny screen, but it almost felt like real football what with the tackles and yardage and points. A tough game to replace. Mattel re-released this game just in the last few years, calling it Mattel Classic Football.

Football II
But Mattel tried the nearly impossible. They tried to improve on their original Football game with Football II, and they did a pretty good job of it. You still had that small screen, and the game buttons were a little smaller though easier to push, but there were some great new features, being able to run backwards and being able to pass the ball. I'm sure many a grade school kid went crying to their parents at Christmas time in 1978 for this awesome game. This game, too, has been recently released as Classic Football 2.

Missile Attack / Battlestar Galactica Space Alert
This was the same game but released under two different titles. The Missile Attack version came out in 1977 and the Battlestar Galactica game came out in 1978 during the science fiction craze that was hitting after Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica. I had the Battlestar Galactica version, and to this day it's my favorite of these Mattel games. Basically, missiles are fired at you from above and you have to shoot them out of the sky; the higher in the sky (ie. the higher on the screen) you hit the missiles, the more points you get.

Ah, baseball. It brings back memories of hot, summer days at the ballpark, hotdogs and popcorn. And it brings back plenty of memories of sitting in the backseat of the school bus while your fingers punch away at little buttons. Yes, Mattel Electronics came out with a baseball game. It didn't quite have the fast-playing action of Football or Basketball, but that's the nature of the sport. And this game was still a joy to have and play. This game originally came out in 1979 and was re-released in 2002 under the title Classic Baseball.

This is another great Mattel handheld game from the late 1970s. It too was recently re-released under the title Classic Basketball, and they added a three-point shot! This Mattel game might have the fastest action of all their handheld games. It's non-stop running and shooting, and it wasn't easy on the higher level.

This game wasn't nearly as well known as some of the others, but it still provided plenty of hours of great gameplay. It's been reintroduced into the market recently, and even a tiny version for keychains is for sale.

This game played a lot like the hockey and basketball games, but you had to have it. Every boy in the world wanted a complete set of all the Mattel Electronics handheld games if they could get the, but mom and dad usually had something to say about that.

Soccer 2
Yep, Mattel made a Soccer 2 game in 1979. This is a pretty rare game, and it was always lots of fun. Good luck finding one of these online anywhere.

Basketball 2
Another rarity. I never got to play this one myself, but by the time these more rare games were coming out, everybody already had the earlier versions of the games and were pretty satisfied with them. Besides, it was the late '70s and Atari was beginning to hit the video game scene really big.