Tag Archive: video games

Atari box

Atari, the company that brought us the Atari 2600–the game system that revolutionized what it meant to be a zombie–offered families in the early 1970s the benefit of the neighborhood arcade without that annoying quarter-gobbling component.  Adults who shake their heads today at kids zoning out over their smartphone games forget what it was like when they first zoned out over  Combat, Air-Sea Battle, Duck Hunt, Asteroids, Yar’s Revenge, Berserk, Pitfall, Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, and all their pixelated friends.

When Space Invaders was introduced, kids lined up at Woolco stores for hours on end to play the in-store demo model to try to beat the current high score.  The earlier Pong and Breakout games were revolutionary–and addictive–but Space Invaders was exciting, nerve-wracking, and required a different take on an old skill.  Hand-eye Coordination became a new, finely-honed, almost magical power.  Wielded the best by teenagers.

Then something strange happened.  We got distracted by something else.  Most of us didn’t even notice when Atari vanished.  When modern video games playable on PCs via compact discs came around we all went searching for the original Atari games and for years, nada.  What happened to Atari anyway?

Pac-Man game over    ET video game

If you didn’t track the business pages for Atari back in the 1970s and 1980s, a new documentary will get you caught up.  Atari: Game Over is a nostalgic look back at the first video game designers and how one designer created the first great game for Atari, and later the last, and then vanished into anonymity.  His journey parallels several die-hard fans’ strange and curious search to prove or disprove an urban legend–that Atari lost so much money on the E.T., the Extra-Terrestrial video game for the Atari 2600 (thought by many to be the single worst video game of all time) that Atari dumped at least a million of the unopened boxes in a desert town landfill back in 1983.  It’s also a story of one of the first Dot Com economic busts long before there were Dot Coms.

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Dead Space Liberation

Electronic Arts was at the cutting edge of video games back in the 1980s.  Today’s EA provides games with stunning 3D level immersive experiences.  In 2008 EA released a very different and modern third-person shooter, science fiction horror survival game called Dead Space.  Dead Space was big, selling more than 2 million copies.  In the game, players followed along literally over the shoulder of Isaac Clarke–named for science fiction writers Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke.  Clarke was as an engineer on an interstellar mining starship called the USG Ishimura, where he found himself stuck with some undead creatures called Necromorphs in a setting straight out of Ridley Scott’s Alien.  The February 2013 release Dead Space 3 brings along with it a new graphic novel series tie-in: Dead Space: Liberation

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Lucasfilm intends to create the next generation of gaming with its game-in-the-works, Star Wars 1313.  Bringing together the entire Lucasfilm family, LucasArts is teaming up with Industrial Light & Magic, Skywalker Sound, and Lucasfilm Animation, to render a real-time production the company expects will provide an incredibly detailed playing experience.  Lucasfilm says it is using full performance capture, mixing voice actors with full motion capture to record facial expressions and movements, so actors can fully perform what the characters are doing and this will translated to the gaming screen like never before.  This is expected to be a big step toward the convergence of movies and gaming.

Don’t expect to get Star Wars 1313 any time soon for your PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360.  LucasArts is designing this complex game for bigger game machines and so Star Wars 1313 will likely not be out in final form for a few years.

As for the substance of the game and story, this action adventure will veer away from the Jedi world that has monopolized Star Wars gaming, and feature a darker, more mature adventure.  From the preview this has the feel of the early Star Wars comic books that took place after the original Star Wars.  In fact the game is to take place between the first and second trilogies.  The background is the seedy underworld of the capital of the Republic, Coruscant.  Think Mos Eisley but in a dense urban area.  The game is to have interesting new weaponry and will feature a bounty hunter stalking his prey in the city.  Whether or not this will include Boba Fett has not yet been disclosed–the character in the preview is an example of a character you might find in the final game.  Supposedly there are some 5,000 levels to the city of Coruscant, and the number 1313 in the title refers to a particular underworld in the city that will serve as the center of the story.

Here is the preview footage:

I think the editing of the music is the best part, plus the explosion sequences look great.

Of course the trailer only shows some apparently spice smuggler inspired scenes in someone’s space vessel–nothing yet about how the city scenes will look.  There is no release date for Star Wars 1313 but the buzz is already building across the Web.  Check out the Star Wars 1313 website for updates as they are released.

C.J. Bunce

By Art Schmidt

Boy, hunting bounties through the galaxy is thirsty work.  But it’s satisfying, like a hot shower on a winter day.  Of course, you have to keep returning to the bitter, cold world, but hey, at least your hair looks nice.  Am I right?

Being a Bounty Hunter in Star Wars: The Old Republic has been a blast.  Since the game launched just over three months ago, I’ve been planet-hopping fairly nearly non-stop, and the game does not disappoint.  There have been two major updates (i.e. New Content) in these first few months, with the promise of regular content adds continuing.  Each class in the game has its own storyline, and in my case I’ve played several.  I think the Bounty Hunter is the class I’ve had the most fun with so far.

Why, you ask?  Well, let me see if I can explain…

Of all the cantinas, in all the settlements, on all the planets in the galaxy, all I could find was this dive.

From the time I first arrived on Hutta, I knew this was the kind of life I had always wanted.  No more punching keyboards and time-clocks for me!  No more PTA meetings, no more neighborhood barbeques, no more meals that weren’t deep fried or baked in marinara, no more fresh breath.  I was going to dedicate every waking hour that I could to being the best bounty hunter I could be.


This loser was planning to skip out on the Hutts. But the Hutts don’t like skipping. It doesn’t agree with their BMIs.

After running errands for the Hutts and taking out a few small-time bullies, I got my first real assignment.  Some guy was trying to escape the planet and his gambling debts to the Hutts, and they were none too happy with him.  So I settled the score on their behalf.  Once I had established myself as a world-class bounty hunter (in one corner of Hutta, at least), I was on my way to joining the Great Hunt, the annual galaxy-wide competition among elite bounty hunters.  It’s winner-take-all, and by take all I mean you have to kill not only the folks on the bounty list, but also your competition.  Talk about full contact!

I take all my holo-calls in miniature. It reminds me I’m better than everyone else.

Once I had established my credentials (and pocketed a bunch of credits), I finally got my ticket punched for the Great Hunt.  Hike-two Hutt sponsored me in the Great Hunt, and I was accepted into the contest, but not before my trainers were killed by a cheating Mandalorian slimeball who wanted to win the Great Hunt himself.  All that was left of my team was the techie Mako.  She was the least experienced of the team (besides me), but she was easy on the eyes and handy with kolto, so I let her tag along.

Imp shuttles are cheap and available to anyone. Just like my loyalty.

I hopped aboard a shuttle for the Imperial fleet Space Port where I was hoping to learn a few new tricks and make a reputation for myself.  Also, I didn’t have my own spaceship yet, and all of the cheapest shuttles connected through Fleet, so I really didn’t have a choice.  Mako complained about having to ride in my lap on account of I could only afford one seat, but I’m saving up for a shiny new blaster I’ve had my eye on.

Dromund Kaas had a sun once, but the Emperor thought it was spying on him and banished it.

The Great Hunt is run out from Dromund Kaas, the Imperial home world.  It’s rainy and gloomy most of the time, like the Imps who run the place.  But they’ve got plenty of credits to spend, and they don’t shy away from hiring the right kind of hammer to nail down their problems.  I like hammers.  I had to bag three high-level bounties on Dromund Kaas to get past the first round.

I framed this one and sent it home to mom. Now she won’t return my holo-calls.

But I was feeling pretty good about my chances.  I felt so good, in fact, that I pulled the ears off a gundark.  The bounties were spread all over the planet, and without my own personal speeder it was difficult getting around.  Luckily Mako is good at navigating, and I’m good at shooting things, so we make a good team.


Mako says I never take her anywhere nice. Look how my blaster fire reflects off that waterfall! That’s romantic, baby!

Halfway through the last bounty, Mako did start complaining that she hated Dromund Kaas and she wanted to leave.  Leave?  This planet wasn’t paradise, but the credits were rolling in, and my reputation was almost tangible.  And it so happens there were plenty of Republic spies around for me to keep in business.  She just doesn’t appreciate me.

Well, with my bounties bagged and my credits in hand, it was time to swipe one of my targets’ starships and blow this Popsicle stand.  Hey, he wasn’t using it anymore…

I’m pretty sure I can download the flight manual for this ship off the holonet...

Next target was a sneaky smuggler as famous for ditching Republic customs officials as he was for double-crossing the Imps.  Apparently he double-crossed the wrong Sith Lord and landed himself on my target list.  His mistake.

The Imps have a ray shield covering their entire base on Balmorra. Rumor is it’s to keep the civilians in.

The trail led me to Balmorra, a dusty rock-strewn backwater engulfed in a civil war where the Imps were trying to help the rebels overthrow their government.  And guess who was helping the government?  You guessed it, the Republic.  Man, these guys should just go to war already.  On second thought, that might mean less creds for me.  Scratch that thought.

Republic Cruisers look much smaller up in space...

While I was hunting down my prize, some Sith wannabe offered me a pile of credits to infiltrate the nearby Republic ship yards and steal the plans for a prototype starfighter, while rigging the goody-goodies prototype craft with explosives.  I didn’t care for the way she kept breathing through that big mask on her face, but hey, credits are credits.  Besides, she used my three favorite words in the same sentence: explosives, steal, and credits.  Even Mako agreed it would be easy money.

I think that ship’s name was Apollo, or something...

It was.

While doing the Imps dirty work for them and reaping a large pile of credits, we were able to sniff out the bounty we had on Balmorra, and take out our competition along the way.  Once his head was claimed, we took a shuttle back to the spaceport and prepared to get our next assignment in the Great Hunt.

Imperial shuttle craft. They’re boxy, but safe.

On the way back to Dromund Kaas, we encountered some Republic patrol craft, but they were no match for my D-5 Mantis.  I call her Trixie, but only when Mako isn’t in the room.  Mako’s the jealous type, and unfortunately I’ve got a lot to be jealous of.  What can I say?  Everyone has their cross to bear…

Hey, watch out for that astero- Oops, never mind.

Trixie and I made short work of those pesky Talon fighters.  Talon, yeah right.  I de-clawed them one after the other.

Next stop was Nar Shaddaa, and believe me, never will you find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.  Well, actually I hear there is one, but I haven’t seen it.  Plus, Nar Shaddaa has two things that other place doesn’t: neon and air conditioning.  I’m thinking of buying a timeshare here.

It’s like Sin City, only on the whole planet, so there’s nowhere to wash your hands.

Again, the Imps needed some expert assistance in blowing some stuff up.  I think it was a Republic-something, but I could be wrong.  The credits, however, were so right.  Plus, we bounced in and out of so many cantinas I got to finish my World Adrenal Tour.  I got a free T-shirt!

All your secret Republic base are belong to us!

I didn’t stay on Nar Shaddaa long, though.  I couldn’t bear the thought of blowing up too much of it, and every time I walked into a Cantina or a massage parlor credits kept leaping out of my pocket.  Once the bottom line starts to drop, it’s time to hunt somewhere else!  Also, Mako kept nagging me, something about my eyes always crossing, so we finished up there pretty quickly, claimed our bounty, and moved on to Tatooine.

Darth Anus here wanted me to polish his boots, so I told him to stand in a pile of bantha poo-doo. I didn’t know lightsabers could be thrown with such accuracy!

Tatooine.  What a dump.  A hot, sweaty, sandy pit that I couldn’t believe anyone lived in.  I mean, what kind of people are going to come from this place?  Certainly no one who will ever be of any importance.  Our prey here was a slippery double-dealing merchant and scoundrel who went by many names.  I called him Reward Worthington.  He was certainly difficult to catch up to!  He gave Mako and me the slip not once but twice before we finally cornered him as he was about to jump onto his ship.

When we found him, he begged for his life, but in a cool, hip kind of way.  He had proven to be rather resourceful, so I let him join my crew under an assumed name and took some of his DNA to prove I’d bagged him for the bounty.  No one was the wiser, and I got a clever new crewman.  I’ll have to remember to keep him away from the hyperdrive controls.  And my personal safe.

I had to purchase Mako a new wardrobe so she didn’t melt in the heat. I spared every expense.

One other upside to Tatooine, besides the new crewman: Mako was able to get a good tan.  With my profits from the bounties and other work I did on that sandpile, I was able to purchase a shiny new green speeder.  I think it’s called Ubrikkian Striker.  I’m going to call mine Slave 1/2.  Don’t ask me why, I just like the name.

I left everything on Tatooine just as I found it: in the dust!

Claiming that last bounty made me the winner of the Great Hunt!  There was much fanfare!  There were many credits!  There was crying and weeping!  I’m glad my mother wasn’t there to see me.

So the first hundred days in The Old Republic has been a blast.  Let’s see if the next couple hundred can stay just as interesting…

By Jason McClain (@JTorreyMcClain)

Both Chasing Ghosts: Beyond the Arcade and The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters premiered the same day.  Chasing Ghosts premiered at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival on January 22, 2007.  The King of Kong premiered at the 2007 Slamdance Film Festival, taking place as well in Park City, Utah, but reserved for films with budgets under $1 million and only for first time directors.  Other movies at Sundance included Black Snake Moan, King of California, The Savages, Snow Angels, Eagle vs. Shark, Reprise, Waitress, Once and Rocket Science. The King of Kong, by my personal calculation*, is easily the biggest movie out of Slamdance that year.

Don’t mistake that I’m saying popularity equals quality or the film festival where your movie premieres means a difference in quality.  Still, Sundance, like Toronto and Cannes just seems to mean a higher pedigree, the difference between a regional dog show and the Westminster Kennel Club.

So, why is The King of Kong more popular than Chasing Ghosts?**  I think it is that same reason that made the video gamers of both stories so special: specialization.

I just finished Chasing Ghosts and it is fascinating.  Just like Confessions of a Superhero or Murderball or Grizzly Man or Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room or Capturing the Friedmans, there’s something about true stories and the voyages in life that people take to get to today that make my eyes and heart open wide.***  Following the story behind the boys and older boys**** in a picture from a Life magazine photo shoot in 1982 on the main drag of Ottumwa, Iowa made me smile many times.

The classic Life Magazine photo from November 1982, taken in downtown Ottumwa, Iowa with the gamers and some Ottumwa High School cheerleaders. Billy Mitchell, featured in King of Kong, is third from right at front with the moustache and his hand on the Centipede game.

But, it’s no King of Kong Chasing Ghosts gave us glimpses of many different video game champions.  Boys that spent up to 60 some hours straight playing video games.*****  We learned about strategies (and saw some cool, modern 3-D images) for Pac Man, Berzerk, Centipede, Frogger and Missile Command.******  Each person had strategies and abilities that made these games easy for them.  Each person had a compelling life story.  The only names I remember though are Steve Sanders and Billy Mitchell and that’s because they were also in The King of Kong.*******

The King of Kong just looked at one game.  The King of Kong just looked at the rivalry for this one high score.  It followed Steve Wiebe as he tried to unseat Mitchell’s high score and what how much that meant for him at that time in his life.  It had a compelling narrative because it focused on one thing, kind of like these video game specialists.

Why do we love specialists?  Why do we put the most elite athletes, the most elite soldiers like Navy Seals, the most elite actors/directors/producers that win Oscars on pedestals, sometimes literally in the case of the Olympics or sports draft coverage?

I’d like to think this is some grand philosophical question, but it’s not.  We all want to be the best at something, so we celebrate those that become the best.  The richest man in the world.  The most beautiful woman in the universe.  The fastest.  The strongest.  The biggest weekend at the box office.  The smartest.  In recent years of baseball analysis and the Baseball Hall of Fame, most researchers (and conversely voters) show that emphasis every year.  The guys like Lou Whitaker and Alan Trammell who were pretty good at everything–and therefore each a great player–aren’t nearly as appreciated as those that did one thing well, like hit for average, play defense, steal bases or hit a bucket load of home runs (though because of steroids, that isn’t as smiled upon as before).  Being the best wins, second place will always be a set of steak knives and third prize is you’re fired.

Capitalism expects us to specialize.  We do one thing well, and we trade the money we make from that to other people that do their one thing well.  So, did I like The King of Kong because I’ve been trained to like the specialized over the general?  I’d like to think that isn’t the case.  There’s room in the world for both movies, and I’m glad I saw both.  If you ask me which one I liked better in this case, it’s Kong.


*Check out the list here. I’ll admit, films with James Cromwell, Tony Hale^, Ali Larter and Gary Busey feel like they should be bigger, emphasis on “feel” and nothing more.

**I’m basing this on the fact that I saw The King of Kong in a movie theater and watched it on TV over Thanksgiving this year.  I finally found Chasing Ghosts on Netflix Instant when a friend recently recommended it to me and it appeared in one of the lists that Netflix tailors to my watching patterns.  Netflix is like my best friend who always can tell what I’m in the mood to watch.  Except that Netflix is a cyborg, bent on taking over the world.

*** A note – in some cases the emotion from my “heart” is sympathy.  Sometimes it is appreciation.  Sometimes it is horror.  Films that generate feelings always rank high in my book, but the documentaries that evoke horror I’m much more likely to never, ever, ever watch again.  Like Capturing the Friedmans.

**** After watching the documentary, it feels weird to use “men” as their noun, even to this day.  Yes, they have kids, wives, girlfriends and jobs, but you look into those eyes as they talk about video games or other aspects of their lives, and the boy inside still takes center stage.

***** I loved the still picture of one video gamer being fed French fries as he played.  If this happened today in New York, he would have been video gaming’s Alex Rodriguez.

****** I have to admit to being a little more curious about the Missile Command guy.  It looks like he made video game themed pornos.  I can see that having major appeal.  I mean, how many guys would love the fantasy of sitting at home, playing video games, when all of the sudden, a knock comes at the door and there are three buxom women who want to pleasure you.  I’ve probably said too much.  Still in the argument of specialization, I want to see a movie about him.

******* Ok, maybe a slight lie.  I think I remember the name Ben Gold.  I also don’t remember the Twin Galaxies owner/ref names that appeared in both films.  It probably helps that I’ve seen The King of Kong twice.  Then again, it’s been almost four months since I watched it compared to about four hours for Chasing Ghosts.

^That’s the Arrested Development and Community  Season 1, episode 19 fan talking.  I’m going to go ahead and assume you know Ali Larter and not give her a footnote.  Why? She’s the most beautiful woman in the world.^^

Ali Larter in Heroes

^^World is defined as a section of my mind circa the first season of Heroes.

Review by Art Schmidt

If I ever meet Ernest Cline in person, I will either shake his hand or give him a big, fat kiss.  Not sure which, but I’m leaning toward the kiss.  Not on the mouth, but definitely in the facial area, along with a big ol’ bear hug. And unlike Lots-o-Huggin’ Bear, I am normally not a hugger.  Not ever.

But after devouring Cline’s first novel Ready Player One, I am inclined to embrace him and accept the ridicule and possible restraining order that might follow. Because I just loved this damned book.  It’s about the dangers of introversion, addictive technology, unregulated corporations, and overpopulation.  It’s about MMORPGs, TRS-80s, Star Wars and D&D.  It’s about Tempest and Rush and Zork and Transformers.  It’s about the Internet and comic books and 1980s pop culture.

But, mostly, it’s about nerd love.

Not two nerds falling in love, though there’s a bit of that thrown in. It’s about love of being a nerd.  Read this book and revel in it.  Nerd, love thyself.

Cline has constructed what might be the boldest, funniest, and by far the coolest tribute to the nerd sub-culture of the 1980s.  His writing is clear and crisp and full of good humor, incredible detail and sharp wit. Revenge of the Nerds was good in its time, but Ready Player One is nerd-tastic.  The opening quote of the book tells you all you pretty much all you need to know:

“Being human totally sucks most of the time.  Videogames are the only thing that makes life bearable.”

That quote is from one James Halliday, eccentric software game developer and multi-billionaire in the year 2044, when the book is set. Halliday is the creator of ‘OASIS’, a Massively-Multiplayer Online (MMO) ‘game’ which is like World of Warcraft, Star Wars Online, The Sims, and Second Life all rolled into one and injected with one-point-twenty-one gigawatts of The Schwartz.  I say ‘game’ in quotes because OASIS is portrayed as much more than a simple never-ending experience point crawl; the OASIS is a refuge for hundreds of millions of people around the globe, gamers and socialites and even workaday folks, an escape from an oppressive and depressing reality full of poverty, unemployment and homelessness.  Corporations set up strip malls and call centers inside the OASIS to both cater to the users there and so their workers can telecommute daily via the interface.  Public schools are run through OASIA; there is an entire planet (a no PVP zone, of course) where schools are built across the landscape and students attend high school online.

The OASIS contains an entire universe, full of thousands of worlds, places for people to adventure, socialize, or just plain hang out.  The rights to the massive MMORPGs and popular pen-and-paper games we have today are purchased and incorporated into the OASIS so that there is a small worlds called Greyhawk, Azeroth, Toril, Dorrak, Tatooine and even a planet called Gygax (I pumped my fist in the air in honor of the late Game Master General when I read that one).  Ancient video games, such as the Zork series, the AD&D Gold Box games, and every other adventure game world you can think of are also there, tucked away in small corners of the massive virtual reality.

By the way, the OASIS is free for everyone.  Profits come from selling space to businesses and virtual real estate to users who wish to build their own clothing, bling, homes, hangouts, and fortresses inside it. Some people even have their own asteroids and small planets.  But the user community at large can access it for free.  That James Halliday is one great guy.

But sadly, James Halliday is dead, and without heirs he has a titanic fortune and his software empire up for grabs.  But he had one last message for everyone, triggered on his website when he dies: he spent the last ten years of his life devising a challenge within the OASIS, a game within a game, wherein the first person to find three keys and open three gates and solve the puzzles that lie behind said gates will inherit his fortune, his company, and sole ownership and control over the OASIS.

And so the joyride begins. And what a ride it is.

The story follows Wade Watts, named by his comic book-loving father because he thought it sounded like a super hero’s secret identity.  Wade dedicates his life to solving the riddle of Halliday’s quest before anyone else.  His adventures are the stuff of legend, going from nobody to superstar, battling the forces of evil and trying to woo the hand of the girl of his dreams.  Or is she?  This is virtual reality, after all, and no one and nothing is what it really seems…

The clues for the grand quest are immersed in the deceased software designer’s favorite things: cult movies, video games, classic rock, Japanese monster flicks, and Dungeons and Dragons.  And if you like any two of those things, you will like this book. If you like any three of them, you will love this book. And if you love four or more, you should stop reading this and run out and grab this book.  I downloaded it to my Nook one afternoon and finished it the following night.  And I had a huge grin on my face the entire time. 

Irrelevant Tangent Warning: if you don’t like any of the things I mentioned above, you should just stop reading this immediately and forget the title of the book altogether.  That way you won’t be tempted to see the movie when it comes out.  Yep, Warner Bros. snapped up the movie rights mere hours after the book rights were sold.  Cline is writing the screenplay for the movie; he’s got experience with that as he wrote the screenplay for the movie Fanboys as well.

Complicating our hero’s conquest are the other ten million people he’s competing against.  Oh, and the rival software corporation that lies, cheats and steals to win the prize so it can monetize the OASIS and crush all other competition.  Oh, and the riddles themselves.  The first one takes five years to decipher, by which time most people have given up.  Wade discovers the clues to the riddle and embarks on a quest to find the first of the three keys.  He soon discovers and then adventures through a classic D&D module, ‘Tomb of Horrors’.

Watching Wade sneak around through the dungeon, his avatar ill-equipped for such a difficult journey, while he reads through the printed version of the module in another window to avoid all of the traps and monsters is an extremely clever scene and a nerd’s delight.  So is our hero jetting around in space in a modified Firefly-class starship he christened the Vonnegut wearing a +5 vorpal sword and contemplating the best use of an artifact which allows him to turn into Ultraman once per day for three minutes.

Then again, most of the book itself is a delight.  I would highly recommend Ready Player One
to anyone.  And you don’t have to be a nerd, or a child of the 80’s, to enjoy it. You don’t have to like Japanimation or John Hughes movies or The Empire Strikes Back or Space Invaders or Duran-Duran.

You just have to like to read, and to laugh.  What are you waiting for?

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