8bitrocket.com
25Jun/110

Midcore Gamer Manifesto, 3.5 Years Later

Back in 2008, Jeff wrote a story named "I Am A Midcore Gamer" and I followed-it-up with a story named "The Midcore Gamer Manifesto".  Both stories travelled the interbaun far and wide and caused a bit of a stir for a couple weeks. Many people wrote us about the idea of "midcore" and we felt we had started a bit of sub-genre of gamer.   For a while it seemed like it would become something significant. However, since we don't do this full-time, we really had no way to keep the momentum going. and within a couple months it all died down and went away.

We've revisited the idea couple times in the past  few years, but for the most part, we have left it alone. A couple people tried to get the word "midcore" added to Wikipedia, but the rules there made it very difficult for them to succeed. We did not persue it ourselves because the idea of it felt disingenuous. Every once in a while, someone will say to us "hey, 8bitrocket, the Midcore guys!", but other than that, the whole idea has simply disappeared.

A couple weeks ago, it occurred to us  that the game industry has changed so much in the past few years, it might be time to take a look at that manifetso again and see how things relate today.  What we found was very interesting:  Instead of a living idea, the "Midcore Manifesto" was really more like a set of predictions from some guys in their late 30's who had played video games all their lives, and needed to find a way to make that work with their family and work lives.  A set of predictions that, more or less, came true.  Below  is the manifesto again, annotated with our present day comments.

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First off, the whole idea of "Midcore" did not have any roots beyond 15 seconds of internet fame. The game industry ignored it, (plus all similar ideas to add to the word "core" like 'hardcore casual') and just settled on buckets of "Core" and "Casual" gamer. While we  still don't think those names work, but it pretty much shut us up. Some days I think we were naive and stupid for even trying to make these ideas known. Other days I think it is kind of cool that our little blog got so much play for when it was popular.  Personally, we never use the word in conversation unless we are trying to be ironic, i.e. "Yeah, that idea will be as successful and long lasting as 'Midcore!"  Now, here is a rundown of the specific "mid-core" manifesto points, and there we think they fit in today's game market.

1. Save Anywhere/Autosave/Respect Our Time:

We only have time to play games in roughly 5-60 minute increments. We need the ability to save our game at a moment's notice. If a game's difficulty is designed around the fact that is cannot be saved anywhere, it is too hardcore for us. Not only do we need to save anywhere, but we don't want to waste the time we have invested in the game if we can't save any where. An alternative or addition to "Save Anywhere" is an intelligently used 'autosave' feature.We would like something significant to happen in a game during the time period we have allotted to play. A plot point, new item, finished race, completed mission or task should take roughly 30 minutes (give or take 15 minutes) to achieve. This allows us to see progress in a game, and keeps us interested in continuing. Games with long cut scenes (i.e Final Fantasy X 30 minute intro) are rendered unplayable because we never have enough time to get past the exposition and into the game. Our free time is precious, and it needs to be respected.

This is still true, we only get to play games for 5-60 minutes at a time, and we still need to save. In the past couple years, many Web based games are now offering "save game" through services like Mochi and Gamersafe.  PopCap games such as Bookworm Adventures and Plants v Zombies have always had save anywhere / anytime functionality.  A lot of social  games and MMOs don't even offer a "save" anymore, they just do it often and automatically.  Console games still lag far behind on this one though, still offering limited save areas, checkpoint saves, or after-level saves only.  What gives?  How about consoles makers simply giving us a "save state" so we can save the current memory snap-snot and come back later.  Would that work?

2. Games Should be Affordable

We are not suggesting that new games should cost $.99 nor are we suggesting that state-of-the-art releases should only cost $29.99. But we are saying this: We can't justify spending $59.99 on games each month unless they can also be played with the rest of our families (read: Wii). For games targeted to us, $19.99 is a perfect price, but $9.99 is nicer while $29.99 is our upper limit. $.99 is great price for downloadable classic games. Also, we Mid-Core Gamers can be very patient. When Elder Scroll Oblivion was released, it fit perfectly into our demographic (see below), but the price was far too high. Now, after nearly two years, the price has come-down to $29.99. Bingo. We can bide our time for a good game.

This has already happened.  More games are available now at better prices than ever before. Web games are mostly free with in-game ads these days. Most iPhone games cost $.99. Many new computer games retail at $19.99 or "29.99" and are downloadable.  Xbox live game are $5-$15. Really, only the "core" platforms have games that come out for $69.99 or $59.99. We have to say, we think we nailed this one.  Companies still charge for new technology (i.e Kinect Games for $49.99), but for the most part the price of "midcore" gaming has fallen, just like like we knew it would (and should).

3. Reasonable Graphic Choices

We don't buy computer hardware like we used to. We don't upgrade for the sake of upgrading, we don't care too much about getting top FPS scores. In fact, many of our games are played on laptops with good (but not the latest) graphics cards. Games do not need to employ the latest 3D graphic technology just for the sake of having it, or require the latest OS. Games can have nice graphics (2D or 3D), but the most important aspect of the graphics is that they fit the game and serve it well.

People say the current consoles (save for the Wii) still have a couple years of life or more left in them, so their graphics won't be updated well into this decade. Web and iPhone games are still mostly in 2D. Xbox Live Arcade and Wii Virtual console games are mostly in 2D. The Wii and DS are successful, even though the graphics they produce are no where near the PC/PSP/PS3/360. It seems to us that this message has been broadcast and received loud and clear.   The current crop of hyper-successful social games are unabashedly 2D, and their legions of paying fans don't seem to care one bit.  However, when we play a game with an amazing narrative and graphics to match (i.e. Gears Of War 2) it’s hard not to be sucked-in and get behind the idea of playing games with graphics that “blow you away”, it just doesn’t have to be every single game.

4. We Love Single Player Games

Single-player games are our bread-and-butter. We understand that the gaming world is filled with amazing hard-core and multi-player gaming experiences. We also realize that those games usually take more time and resources than we have available. For this reason, we eat-up single-player games. Even single-player games that appear to be "hard core" would fit the Mid-Core mold if they adhere to the other parts of this manifesto. A great example of a single-player game that fits the Mid-Core is Elder Scrolls Oblivion. It is an expansive, yet "light" RPG that fits many of the aspects of this manifesto: (engrossing depth, $29.99 price point, works on a good laptop, can save anywhere, etc).

In the past few years, multi-player has become expensive to support for game developers, and a premium has been placed on it.  You need Xbox Gold to play multi-player on a 360, and many times your  copy of the game has to be brand-new to get access to multi-player features.   At the same time, some very popular games like Angry Birds, Plants Vs. Zombies, Bejeweled Blitz and Farmville are essentially, single player games.  In fact, most of the the top social games might have co-op or spectator mode, and players might help each other asynchronously.  However,  but as far as classic multi-player games with 2 or more players on the screen simultaneously, those games don't feel the need to support  that feature. and the games are still immensely profitable,

5. Cooperative Games On One Screen Are Gold

Cooperative two-player games are gold. If they are deep enough to appeal the hard-core portion of our gamer-personality, but easy enough so we can get the wife/husband/significant other and/or the kids involved, we can probably play them beyond the 60 minute barrier. A very good example of this type of game is Lego Star Wars. It's appeals to our inner geek, has long and interesting levels, but allows two people to play on the screen at once. Of course, Lego Star Wars did not allow the game to be "saved any where", but it fit many of the other aspects of this manifesto.

See the games New Super Mario Wii plus Lego Star Wars, Batman, and Indiana Jones and even Gears Of War 2. Many new games use this technique.  Our kids and we thank the game gods for it, as it makes playing together easy, fun, and rewarding.

6. Multi-player Games: Play Anytime, Find Friends Easily, No Fees, Voice Chat Not Necessary

We do enjoy playing multi-player games online with friends and sometimes, even strangers. However, there is a limit to what we can handle. First off, an "instant and anonymous multi-player mode" similar to the Wii version of Guitar Hero can work very well because it means we can compete quickly, but each game only takes a few minutes. However, if we do want to play against friends, you need to make it very easy. We need to be able to tell very quickly if someone we know is online, and if so, connect with and challenge them instantly. The Wii is terrible for this purpose, XBox Live is better, but it requires a monthly fee (see below). If Playstation Home remains free, it might be the perfect model. Also, one more thing. We don't want to hear 13 year old kids curse at us for not moving quickly enough. If your multi-player games requires us to participate in voice-chat, we are probably not interested.

See all the most popular Facebook Social Games.  Bingo.

7. "Casual" Games Don't Have To Be Simple Games

We Mid-Core Gamers love all types of games. To some extent, Mid-Core gamers are "casual" gamers in that we do enjoy many of the types of games that are geared towards the "casual" demographic. However, we tend towards "casual" style games with a bit more depth. For instance, Bejeweled is a passable diversion, but Puzzle Quest is an obsession. Bookworm Deluxe is nice way to kill some minutes, but Bookworm Adventures is an unshakable addiction. Where there is depth, but with the aforementioned save anywhere feature, we will be there.

There are many people who think the current hot "Social Games" are simple "cow-clicking" contests, but really, that is not the case for most of them.   While they don't have the sophisticated enemy AI of the latest Call Of Duty, nor the complex strategic ramifications of tech tree of a game like Civilzation V,  they are certainly not "simple" arcade games or "mouse clickers" either.  Farmville, for example, takes a very addictive cycle of tending to crops, and layers all sorts of quests, achievements  and activities on top of it, while at the same time,  blending in social interaction for players that thirst for it.   A game like Empires And Allies takes that even further, adding a a strategic layer on top of it.   Furthermore, here at 8bitrocket.com towers, our motto has always been "the fewer rules the better".  Games don't need to have complex set of rules to be deep and interesting. Board games like Risk, Blokus, Scrabble, Boggle, Apples To Apples and Settlers Of Cataan have proven it, and computer games should be no different.

8. Size Does Not Matter

The last two commercial games I have installed on my computer have been just about 5.5 GB in size each. 5.5 Gigabytes! I believe just about every single game ever made before 1994, could fit in 5.5 GB with room for 1000's more. Graphically those games could never compare with the modern 5.5 GB behemoth, but game-play and depth wise? A lot of those pre 1994 games had much more than in some modern games. The point here is not that "retro games are better" but that the size of the game on the hard drive is not necessarily proportional to its quality as piece of entertainment. Most good Flash games download in less than 1 megabyte. Good, downloadable PC games can be had that are under 20 megabytes (i.e.: New Star Soccer). Mid-Core Gamers do not need bloat, they need well designed games with solid game-play. If a game is worth the 5.5 GB required, that is fine, but if not, it eill probably be removed fairly quickly and never played again.

OK, so we may have been wrong about this one. Does it really matter? We are not so sure. Hard drives are so large these days, space really doesn't seem like a concern. Dragon Age Origins is 20GB!  However, if you only have , say. a  100GB Hard Drive on a laptop, freeing up 20MB to play Dragon Age could take days of intensive (and sometimes heartbreaking) file management. Still, we're willing to let this one go.

9. No need to be "mature" for the sake of being "mature"

Mid-Core Gamers are mostly adults. Mid-Core Gamers were also once 13 years old, and also once laughed about the name Lake Titticaca" in Social Science class. However, that does not mean we need resort to only consuming "mature" material, or that our in-game humor has to be at the scatological level. Yes we do play games, but we don't want to have to hide them, their boxes, or the game magazines we read from our families simply because they might have a cover featuring, for example, an artist' rendition of scantily-clad female robot tearing the intestines out of space marine. Mature content is not necessarily taboo, it just needs to be used to serve the story, not in place of it.

You know, it's funny. In the past couple years the game industry has seemed to mature about being "mature".   Look at Duke Nukem Forever.  The content is mature but childish at the same time,  and the game industry (and the buying public) have responded by not buying it.  Bravo.

10. Yes To One-Time Fees, Rarely To Monthly Fees,

Mid-Core Gamers are not fond of monthly fees. We can not always subscribe to your game, live service, player matching server, etc. if it means we have to pay for it month after month. We can't afford it, and we don't want to have to explain this fee to our husband/wife/significant other. For the rare game, a monthly fee might be workable, but we won't last very long. However, if there is a compelling reason, we will pay one-time fees. One-time fees for updates, new chapters, sequels, power boosts (i.e. Adventure Quest), add-on modules etc. are acceptable. However, the one-time fees must be reasonable, and offer a significant benefit. A One-time fee that allows us to buy things that should have been included in the game in the first place (i.e. Horse Armor) is not acceptable.

Again, the micropayment and social game revolution has proved this one correct too.

Last Notes

All in all, we think the game industry has moved towards the ideas of MidCore, even if they never adopted the term  in any serious way.  It had nothing to do with us proclaiming it or defining it in  a manifesto, but it was just the natural progression of an industry that is constantly re-defining to stay relevant to the game playing public. This industry is 40 years old now and while it might have made some mis-steps along the way, as a whole it has evolved and will continue to evolve  itself  Even though the "MidCore" name has all but disappeared (we certainly didn’t do much to keep the idea going) we see signs of "Midcore"ness all over the place just without the name attached.  This might be because MidCore became mainstream, and there was no need for the idea any longer.

 

22Jun/110

8bitrocket's Asynchronous News Round-Up : Mochi Achievements, Pepsi+Atari, Mindjolt News

Welcome to our "Asynchronous" news round-up.  It's the Daily Interweb Mash-Up, but not daily, and also not really a mash-up, and, well, who knows what it is, but welcome to it.

Mochi Achievements API Launched

Something we've been waiting for a long time, a  distributed "achievements" API.  Here are the directly from Colin Cupp from Mochi Media:

Just like Mochi Media's other tools and services, Mochi Achievements work anywhere the game goes across the internet with the achievements information being stored in a local Flash cookie. Flash game publishers can also collect site-specific data for their players' achievements (for players logged in to the Mochi network) using the same Mochi Media Bridge API technology that provides them with their own site specific high scores!

Some key features:

  • No branding/links in Mochi Achievements UI
  • Fully customizable
  • Flexibilty- 2 toaster sizes and 9 placement options

This blog post explains the features in more detail. Please feel free to contact me (Colin: colin@mochimedia.com) directly if you have any questions about this exciting new product for Flash game developers and publishers.

Pepsi Throwback Atari Arcade: Win A Flashback 2 or an iCade!!

Pepsi has a new promotion celebrating classic Atari!   Here is their press release:

Pepsi Throwback and Atari are teaming up to launch the Pepsi Throwback Atari Arcade onPepsi Throwback’s Facebook page. From June 17th through the end of the year, fans will be able to play a different classic Atari game each month and each week’s highest scorer will win an Atari Flashback 2+ gaming console.  On top of this, fans can enter to win an iCade and iPad loaded with Atari’s Greatest Hits just for stopping by the tab.  We’re kicking it off with the all-time favorite Asteroids game.

As well, here is a neat story from Gizmodo about the promotion .

MindJolt News Update!

Mindjolt.com has relaunched and they are really trying to court developers.  First off, they have a new blog designed to highlight great new games.  You can see it here:

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Today-Im-Playing/225725507445373

Also, Minjolt are now offering licensing  deals instead of rev share.  Here is what they say:

We have recently received a lot of feedback from you, our amazing developers, about how you’d like to work with us. With this in mind, we want to offer you an alternative to the current rev share system. If you’d prefer, you can license us your games instead. If you choose to license your games to us (and the game is approved), we will pay you a 1-time, upfront fee for the game. While there is no rev share involved in a licensed deal, you are guaranteed payment for the game, regardless of the game’s performance on MindJolt.

For more information, or to submit a game to MindJolt for licensing, please email developer@mindjolt.com.

 

 

 

 

21Jun/110

From Track Mod To Spin City To Fashion Frenzy: A Study In Game Design Evolution

This is one of the case-studies I wanted to talk about for a long time, but I could not because one of the games was locked behind an MMO and could be accessed without an account.  However, now that (sadly) the BarbieGirls.com MMO is no more,  the game has been unleashed and I can talk about my lost trilogy and the  process  of evolving a game from puzzle, to a resource management game, to something else entirely.

Back in 2005, I finished what remains today, my favorite game that I have ever developed: Track Mod.  Track Mod was inspired by the PopCap game Rocket Mania as way to involve cars driving in game, but not necessarily racing (which we had done many times before).  I wanted to create a game that was addictive, and could be played for a long time (keeping people on the site).  I also wanted a game that we could send out to some of the (then) new viral game portals that had been springing up.  Portals were very accepting of puzzle games at the time, and this appeared to be perfect match.  At the same time, I wanted to make a game that my 7 year old daughter would love to play, who was just starting to move beyond the kids CD-ROMs we have bought her, to games on the web.

In Track Mod, the player rotates pieces to create a track from a car to go from one side to the other.  They must get all 6 cars across once to move to the next level.  Each level adds new upgrades and dangers to evade.   The game became one of the most popular games on HotWheels.com, and was played more than 1 billion times.   This was helped by it being placed on the front page of addictinggames.com for almost 2 weeks in 2005.  It became very popular with Hot Wheels fans too.  It remains one of the only HotWheels.com games to be chronicled with a series of youtube.com videos by a loyal fan.   It was also a hit with my daughter, who still asks to play it to this day

One thing that I liked most about the game was that it was a male-targeted game (but could be enjoyed by anyone) that was almost completely non-violent, but also not a straight racing or sports game.  I liked the idea of challenging someone' mind as well as their hand-eye coordination.

I wanted follow-up that game with a sequel, but I could not really figure out a better way to remake the game than what was already there.  I could  have added more pick-up and obstacles, but it would have been essentially be the same game.  Instead, I worked on a myriad of other project , mostly designed by other people until an opportunity for a sequel arrived in 2007.

Spin City was a Hot Wheels playset that was going to be released that year.  It was a garage themed set with a spiral driveway in the middle.  The garage had all sorts of stations like gas, repair, paint, tires, a snack bar and an mobile audio shop.  When I saw the toy my first thought was that we could do something special if we took the play set and imagined the world a kid might create in his head while playing with the toy. I have to admit, that I played much the same way when I was a kid.  I loved toy cars, and I made up all sorts of universes for them to inhabit.  Many times I created a "garage city" where cars would arrive get service, and leave.   It was these memories, and the urge to create a game that could be played for a significant amount of time, that drove me to design what would become "Spin City:Drive Thu Dilemma".

At first, I thought that I could take the spiral and have players arrange the pieces, like in Track Mod, to get cars into the various station in "Spin City".  I started to make a basic demo, but I stopped 1/2 way through .  There was really no conceivable to connect the parts of the spirals ala Track mod, and make a game that was any fun to play at all.  I went back to think about how I could make this work.

Back about the same time I had designed Track Mod, I had designed a game in named "Oil Change" which was an almost direct copy of Diner Dash, but with cars and oil.  We never made that game, but the idea had always stuck with me.  The the thought came: why not take the cars from Track Mod and have them arrive at Spin City for repairs?  It would not be an exact sequel, but having the same (or similar) sized cars would at least show that the two were related.  Then I sat down to design the game.

There were lots of little "stations" in Spin City toy the playset, however but I did not want to make a game where you picked-up cars with your hand and dropped that to get what they needed (ala diner Dash).  Instead, I came up with the idea of centering the game around the spiral.  Cars would drive in the top, and the repair stations would be placed in a circle, around the outside at the bottom of the spiral.  When you rolled over the arriving cars a pop-up would show the player what service they needed.  The player would then select a car, then click on the station to send the cars, and it would zoom around the spiral to its' destination.  There was a distinct visceral thrill that I noticed the first time this action worked in conjunction with the sound effects.  I did not want it to stop.  It was at that point that I knew I was onto something interesting.

As I finished-up the basic design of sending cars to get serviced, I noticed that the cars were taking too long to finish and get out of the stations.  In the game, cars are not instantly repaired, but take a set amount of time.   Instead of fixing the "slowness" issue, I instead decided  allow the player to upgrade their stations to make them faster.  I also decided to "lock" some of the stations so they could be purchased and opened by the player. The first time I tried the game this way, I could not stop playing.  My goal has always been to build a game that I liked enough to not stop playing.  I had done it once with Track Mod, and now I hoped lightening would strike twice.

When the game was released, on Hotwheels.com, it was an instant hit, and was almost as popular as Track Mod (but not quite).  My daughter, then 9, love it too, as did her younger sister who was 5.   It felt very successful to have made games for Hotwheels.com that my girls loved to play too.  It felt great to have second, non-violent game that people loved to play so much, and I instantly wanted to follow-it-up with a 3rd game in the trilogy.   I had an idea too, but pulling it off was quite something else.   The idea came quite easily.  It would be a "tower defense" style game, using the same sized cars and same overhead perspective of Track Mod and Spin City.  Cars would arrive on the screen from one side, and follow a track, just like in a standard TD game.  However, these were not zombie cars, or enemy tanks.  These cars were dirty.  As in, covered in dirt.  Your job would be to create an "Extreme Car Wash", placing hoses, sprayers, soapers, etc using standard tower-defense mechanics, but your would not be destroying anything.  You would be cleaning cars fast as possible before they reached the "garage" on the other side.  Too many dirty cars in the garage, and the game was over.  I felt like I "had" to make this game, as it would complete the trilogy of titles that were addictive and non-violent, inhabiting this overhead car world of my creation.

The problem was, times had changed for Hotwheels.com.  The focus had moved back promoting products and away from game design for addictive contests.  Even though the other games were hits, neither one was an idea that had come from marketing, so they did not have anything invested in them. Furthermore, trying to explain why a non-violent tower-defense game would be a good addition to the site was not an easy task with the marketing people who saw the world through the eyes of F1 and Nascar.  Also to be honest, the idea might not have been that good.  Still, it was game *I* wanted to play, which is always my initial litmus test.  For some reason, the idea of "cleaning" dirty cars simply appeals to me more than blowing them up. I built a simple shooting demo with water cannon firing at dirty cars, but that was as far as it ever got.  The idea was put on the back-burner and never revived.

Instead, the "trilogy" was reimagined, but this time as  a reskin of Spin City for the MMO BarbieGirls.com (now offline).  We had a lot of success reskinning Track Mod for a couple girl-themed projects, so it was an easy sell to the game loving BarbieGirls.com team to turn Spin City into Fashion Frenzy for the MMO.  The game remained pretty much intact as it moved to the world of Fashion.  Instead of a garage, a mall escalator was devised by the BarbieGirls.com team, and instead of tires, gas and paint,  stations became shoes, jewelry and clothes.  It was a short development cycle, and could probably have used a bit more time to make some adjustments in game play from the Spin City model, but it was still a fairly successful game for the site.

There was more than just the game play mechanic from Spin City left over as well.  When I demoed the game for the BarbieGirls.com team, while re-skinning, I had no "mall" sounds so I left in the "garage" sounds from Spin City.  They thought this was so funny, that we left the sounds in the game as an "easter egg".  You can turn on the Spin City sounds by pausing the game and typing "hotwheels".

One great thing about this game, is that it now lives on Barbie.com, so my own girls can play it whenever they want.   None of them had ever played it before last weekend, when I found that it had been unleashed on the world.  The 7 year old who loved Track Mod, now 13, wanted to play it.  The 5 year old, now 8 who loved Spin City, wanted to play too. Even their younger sister, now 5 and the ultimate "Barbie Girl" in her own right, tried to grab the mouse and get into the action.  It was a very satisfying father's day last Sunday, to have my girls clamor to play a game that I had designed and programmed a couple made years ago.   No, I wasn't able to finish the trilogy of non-violent, car themed games the way I had first intended intended, but in life, some things work out for the best anyway.

-8bitsteve

 

18Jun/110

8bitrocket Diatribe: Fathers' Day 2011: The Adventure Freak and his Little Atari Freaks

It has been a little over two weeks since our dad passed away. I have found it difficult to focus on any one thing for an extended amount of time since, and while  the fog is certainly lifting a little, I have not found the motivation to dig deep into my HTML5 Centipede game, do game reviews, or mash-up interesting topics on the web. That stuff may come back to the site soon, or it might not come back at all. That's cool though, and change or no change; evolution, stasis or devolution; entropy or wither, there will always be something new or interesting going on to cover or accomplish. It just isn't happening right here, right this moment, but it could start up any minute, or not. There certainly are other directions we can go in or not go in. We could create a Who's Next 2, or we could create a Who Are You?. Either would be cool, but maybe it is the journey that will be the best part and not the final product. That being said...

Here's a little Father's Day Diatribe

The Adventure Freak and his little Atari Freaks
Way back in 1981 our dad set us on the track to become what ever it is we have become when he showed us an ad for the Atari 800 computer in a local newspaper. A friend of his at work had one and he had piqued dad's interest with stories of virtual cave exploration and battles with bears and other wild beasts. I assume the game he was describing was Zork I, but we didn't know it then. The game didn't matter, what mattered was that the emerging technology and my dad's need for adventure had converged right at a that moment in time.

Dad's entire life was filled with a juxtaposition of adventure and boredom.  His early passions were in mountaineering and rock mining gave way to enduro desert motocross racing and off the beaten path gold panning / ghost town site exploration. The boredom was focused around his desk jobs at Litton, TRW, and Hughes Aircraft where he parlayed his Master Of Fine Arts degree into a respectable career as en electro-optical designer and engineer. While he was not very interested in the actual work, he loved to draw and design.  So, his job, while boring to him in subject matter and rote machinations, provided him the ability to get paid to do something he liked...drawing.

But what dad really loved was to be outside. He set up a sort of mechanical workshop / laboratory in the garage where he spent most of his rare free time tinkering with this or that.   The garage was filled with his adventure gear, motorcycles and other assorted instruments  to fight boredom. He always had fire crackers or an air-gun ready for a little extra-curricular fun and he was always planning out his next adventure. His vacations were to take Steve and I out desert motorcycling riding or on wild camping trips along Northern California rivers where we would meet a host of odd, sometimes scary, but always interesting characters and places.

None of the things my dad wanted to do were in any normal tourist magazine or book. He ordered government topographical maps and painstakingly researched locations for exploration down to the exact quarter mile by quarter mile quadrant where a historical sight might have existed in the past. Our trips always had an old mining camp, mill, or ghost town involved, and the adventure was always mapped out in the greatest of detail. Hikes or drives along rugged roads always ended at some exciting abandoned site that dad had read about.  The trip lengths were generally far too short to accomplish everything dad had planned, but we always had a blast before going back to boredom of real life.

When Steve and I started our own families and could not devote as much of our time to his adventures, dad found a group of enthusiastic miners and outdoors-men to go 4x4ing with (he was in his 70's at the time). They visited even more outlaying desert ghost towns and old mining camps.  He always told us that we were going to have to deal with A LOT of Boredom in our lives and we could tell that he was talking from experience. Dad knew exactly what fought his boredom - planning and then executing his outdoor adventures.

So, why would a guy like this be so taken with a description of a computer text adventure in 1981? I think to dad video games were pretty boring, but the ability to have the virtual adventure, described to him by a fellow adventurer motorcycle buddy,  must have really sparked his interest.  This adventure  was completely different than the simple tank and pong games he saw us playing on the TV.  An adventure in the computer that could be even better than his own planned excursions must of seemed like Nirvana to him at the time.

The Atari 800 computer was pretty expensive back then. A fully outfitted machine was close to $1500 and not really in his budget.  Steve and I became very enthused about the computer though and put it high on our list of priorities. We started to check Atari programming books out from the library and design our own games on paper before we ever had a machine. It would be at least 3 years before that expensive machine would come into our home, and during that time we envisioned our own computer adventures that were every bit as real as the ones dad was taking us on in the wild.  Not to say that we were designing actual adventure games (I'm sure we did so some of that), but we were putting the same painstaking, boredom-fighting time into planning what we would do with the Atari computer, when we obtained one,  that dad put into planning out his next set of real-life adventures.

Eventually he would buy a used Atari 800 and a full set of gear for cash deal from a co-worker. The funny thing is, he never once touched the machine. I think Steve and I did demo it for him a number of times and show him games, but as computers were starting to enter his work-place, he began to see them as boredom creators not the awesome boredom fighter  / adventure-in-a-box that his mind envisioned upon hearing tales of cave exploring, monster fighting computer sessions from his work buddies.  He was an adventure freak and he had created two Atari Freaks with his early passion and support of our computing dream. He saw that passion in us and bought the computer even though he no longer felt the same way about it. While Steve and I absolutely loved going on Dad's real-life adventures, we were always sure to being along an Atari computer magazine or book to entertain us when the adventures came to a lull.  It was all fun to us, so we didn't realize it then, but we were subtly merging both types of adventures in ways that dad never expected or maybe intended.

Pop's skill at planning and executing rubbed off on us in the unexpected way of giving us the example of the passion we would need to be successful in the computer generation we were about to enter. He never once asked us why we wanted to explore the computer as much or more than we wanted to go on his adventures. He could see that his enthusiasm had been the spark that ignited a full blown computer freakdom in his boys.  I think he was both awed by the technology and happy that even though he found it to be a boredom creator, he knew that that the mastery of it would be important for us in the future.  He used to call us "Atari Freaks" as a genuine term of endearment.

In the mid-80's I found him in his room one day studying a large binder that his work had given him. In it was a full description of a new CAD drawing program that they wanted him to learn. His eyes looked glazed over as he told me that most of the designers were having their physical drawing boards taken away to be replaced by computers and software CAD programs. While the sound of this excited Steve and I, dad was pretty upset about it.  I didn't understand it then, but now I can see that the last remaining fun part of dad's job was being driven away from him by the very same technology he thought would open up new adventures for him just a few years before.  The same technology that excited us and gave us a direction and purpose for our own computer adventures was strangling the last breath of interest from his day job.

A few weeks later, Dad came home with an Atari 800XL of his own in what I assume was an attempt to find that passion he once briefly had for the computer. Steve and I gave him Zork I, II, and III, as well as a chess game. He must have tried them all a few times, but eventually the computer became covered with books on gold mining, ghost towns, and California / Nevada maps. He was literally covering up the symbol of his boredom boredom with something that really excited him.  Dad would retire a few years later and only touch a computer a few times at Steve or my house to play motocross games on the PC or Playstation. We would buy him a few PC computers over the years, but  they all would end up just like the  Atari, covered in his real boredom fighters.

After the final, barely used, machine was put into the garage in about 1999, he never owned another computer.  He never went on the internet and never read one of our web sites or played any of our games.  He had no desire for these types of adventures as the real ones he had experienced and hoped to experience were the source of his passion and excitement. In the last 10 years, while dad's heath had been failing, he would have found an adventure planning treasure trove on the internet. If he was still able to plan and go on adventures, the computer systems of today might have proven to be the absolute best boredom fighter he could have found. Or would they? Dad loved the tactile feel of the books and maps, so would the virtual version have been as interesting to him? Maybe so, maybe not.  In any case, he was able to instill in us the need for adventure and the need to not stay satisfied with boredom.  He had an outsider spirit and drive that we have taken to heart and will always take to heart.  His passion helped fuel ours and it was the best gift he could have ever given.

I wonder what affect my passion for planning and making computer games, writing books, and spewing all of it out on the infobaun will have on my two boys. I can only hope that I can have the same impact that my pop had on Steve and I. He loved to experience everything first hand and was not satisfied with a 3rd party account. Dad's hatred of being behind that desk and his love of planning and executing his out door adventures made him an adventure freak and he spawned two little Atari Freaks. I think all three of us were happy with the way things turned out.  Whatever types of little freaks I help create, I'm sure I will be happy with the way things will turn out too.

Happy Fathers' day to all the fathers out there, and especially to those who have lost a father, son or daughter.  Hopefully you have been inspired by your father or will, as a father, inspire your sons and daughters with your passion what ever it might be.

16Jun/110

HTML5 Canvas C64 Yourself App Is Awesome!

Here is a really cool use of the HTML5 Canvas: C64 Yourself! The app converts a 6x4 image into a an awesome pixelated C64 image!   Here are a couple I just created:

me and dad with eye patch

me and dad with eye patch

Darth Vader 77

Darth Vader 77

 

Disneyland 75

Disneyland 75

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13Jun/110

How My Dad's Love Of Games Helped Foster My Game Development Career

Please excuse me, just one more time, so I can write some final thoughts about my dad, and how he helped me in my career.   Last weekend we had had his memorial at my house, and so I'm trying to put some final thoughts together, to give him a good send-off.

My dad did not play video games very often, if ever.  However, he loved to watch us play, and he supported our computer dreams since their inception.  Here are some thoughts about where he steered us, early on,  in the right direction to help foster a love of games and game design and development.

-Board Games: Jack Straws

This seemingly simple game of "Pick Up Sticks" was the first game I can recall ever playing.  The red box taunted me from the high shelf in my dad's room.  I could only play it with his permission.  Why?  because it was so easy to lose the little pieces.  Each "stick" was an intricately molded tool or object that could very easily stick to the other pieces.   To play the game, you would start by dumping the pieces in a pile on a table, then take turns removing them, one by one, without disturbing any other pieces.   The gameplay was simple, yet it took amazing strategy and concentration to get good at it.  In some ways, this might be the perfect game.    Almost no set-up, very few rules, totally different every time you play, and fun as hell.  These are still my own personal tenants for a great game. I get goose bumps when I think about playing this game back in the 70's with my family.   Other great board games my dad introduced me to an early age:  Parchesi, Scrabble, Bushwhacker and Chess.

-Early 1970's Arcade Games:  Wild Gunman at the Old Town Mall

 

In the early to mid 1970's, before I became obsessed with the Atari 2600,  my dad took us to a placed named The Old Town Mall.    Now legendary in the minds of people from the South Bay in Southern California,  the Old Town Mall was part hobby shop (Paul Frieler's Historical models, comic book store, stamp collecting store), part crafting arena (local artisans, candle making shop, glass blowers, custom t-shirts), part amusement park (two dark rides, flying bees ride, carousel, 9 hole miniature gold course), and part amusement midway (shooting gallery, huge arcade).  The whole place was themed like the turn-of-the 19th to 20th century with cobblestone pathways, building facades, old-time street lighting and people in costumes.  There was even one of the very first "food courts" in the United States located at the north end.   In hindsight, it was an amazing place.  I loved it as a kid, but I don't think I fully appreciated it until it was gone.

We usually entered the mall through one of the North entrances, which was also the entrance to the arcade.  No matter what we were doing, my dad always had time to stop and play some of the games.  He was drawn to games that reminded him of his own childhood, playing cowboys in the hills and fields of Manumit Boarding School.   His favorite game was Wild Gunman by Nintendo.  This mid-1970's game featured a light-gun and a projection movie screen.  Your job was to quick draw the cowboys before they could shoot you.   My dad would tell us stories about his childhood while he put on the holster and got ready to play.   My brother and I were fascinated by his ability to outdraw the bad guys. After he played this, we would enter the mall, and go straight the the shooting gallery.  After shopping he would take us to the "Raw Juice Store" for refreshment.    We probably only made this trek a couple times, but in my mind, we did it every week.   It's one of my fondest memories, and it taught me that games and entertainment are best enjoyed with other people.

-First Video Games:  Tandy TV Scoreboard:

Years before we convinced my dad to get us an Atari 2600, he arrived home from work one day with the "Tandy TV Scoreboard", what has to be be one of the most bizarre looking Pong games ever made.   I'm positive the odd look and feel of this unit was what drew him to it (also, it was probably really cheap).    The unit had one detachable controller, the other controller was attached to the unit that connected to the TV.   There was nothing remarkable about the games: they were pong and pong-a-likes.   There was nothing new or interesting about "TV Score-bored" (as we called it), and honestly, we grew tired of it very quickly.  What was remarkable was that my dad brought this home for no reason: it was not a birthday, or Christmas, or anything else.  The surprise of it all was thrilling.   Sure, it was Tandy, and it was lame.  Sure we played it a few times and it stopped working, and sure, overall it's failure probably postponed an Atari 2600 in our house for a couple years. However, the event  still taught me some valuable lessons; surprises are a great thing, innovation is important even in a "me-too" products, and most important of all, you don't need a special occasion to have fun with your family.

-8bitSteve

 

13Jun/110

Quick Tip For Vizio Theater 3D TV Owners : Cheap 3D Glasses From The Movie Theater Work Just Fine

Vizio has a new line of 3D TVs that are cheap and powerful.  They use a technology they have branded "Theater 3D", which is really just the same polarized 3D that is used in movie theaters (i.e. Reel D 3D).   While Vizio will sell you glasses for about $20 each (an amazing bargain over the $150, battery powered, Active Shutter glasses most other 3D TVs use), you don't even need to pay that much.  The Exact same Real D 3D glasses we got at the theater today watching Kung Fu Panda 2, work perfectly with the Vizio 3D TV.   Awesome.

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8Jun/110

Wii U? More Like P.U.

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Through some great contacts we were able to jump the line and look at the Wii U up close and personal today at E3.

Wow.  What A dud!

Honestly, I love (or at least once "loved") the Wii.   I think it solved a very unique problem with games (the complex interface), but has now been bettered by Microsoft Kinect. I think Wii-motion Plus was a great idea, but sadly, never fully utilized (where is my Wii-motion Plus Star Wars game, eh?).  However the Wii U makes little sense.    It is a complex device in search of a problem that does not exist.

If you have not seen it, here is a description:

The console itself looked like  a Wii with rounded edges.  It purports to have HD output, but from what I saw (for the demos), they are probably using a standard Wii that is slightly modified for the new controller.  Sure, this might just be temporary, but it was not impressive in any way. Wii-motes are still used, so from my perspective, the actual console will be souped-up for better graphics, and little else besides connecting the new controller.  I hope I'm wrong.

The new controller *is* where all the differences come into play.   It has a 6.2 inch screen, with two analog sticks, buttons, etc.  It has cameras and gyroscopes, and nearly anything else you can imagine.  It's like a mini-iPad with built-in controls.

The key feature of the new controller is that the Wii U games will stream content to the controller, so you can play games using both screens simultaneously, your TV and the Wii U controller screen.

The demos we played were all "interesting". They split the game between the two screens, effectively, and the gameplay was seamless.  So far, so good.  In one demo, your job was to aim and block arrows fired from pirate ships.  By physically moving the controller left and right, you could find ships to block.  When a arrow was caught, you shook the controller make it drop off, then continued.   It all worked fine, but the question was "why?"  It was not fun at all.  In fact, the effect was jarring.  The TV was hardly used, and the instructions were very complex.  It was the complete opposite of the Wii, and it was not intuitive in the least.  Oops.

Another  demo we tried was a chase game.   Four people with Wii-Motes chased a player controlling Mario with the new pad controller.  The player with the pad could see where all the others players were, and tried to hide from them.  It was a fine party game, but one guy in our group said "It's Pac-Man Vs....I played this 8 years ago!"

Next.

There was also a demo of a shooting game that worked like the chase game (but with two wii-motes instead of one),  plus a non-playable, interactive HD video of Zelda.  It was nice, but not any more impressive than your standard 360 or PS3 game.

That was it. Underwhelming does not even cut it.  While it was obvious that some great games could be made that utilized both screens, you had to use your imagination to figure out what they might be, because there was nothing on the show-floor to fill the gap. Strategy games are an obvious usage, but when you think of Nintendo, your first thought is hardly "yeah, strategy games!" (OK, the "Advanced Wars" series is fun, so there is ONE possible game.).

One of the Nintendo reps told us that a "feature" of the system would be to take your games with you.  Okay.  He said  "So, imagine if your wife comes home while you are playing and wants to watch TV.  You can let her watch, and you can take the game with youwith on the controller!"

Huh? Since when in the past decade  has that really been a problem for someone?  Have you heard of DVRs and "On Demand" Nintendo?   It sounded like a desperate plea to find a feature that made the controller useful.    As well, all of the games they showed tried to use both the controller AND the TV together.  How does that work in "running away from my wife because my game is obviously more important than her" world?

While Microsoft was busy showing some amazing looking Kinect games (Star Wars, Disneyland, Kinect Sports 2), Nintendo looked confused and beaten.

Actually, I felt kind of embarrassed for them.  They should have kept this whole thing under-wraps until they had some fully baked games ready to show, or even (to be honest) rethought the whole thing.  The new controller was not fun to use and it appeared to serve very little purpose besides giving the player who was "it" in the multi-player demos an advantage over the players with Wii-motes.  It looked like a desperate attempt to answer the threat from mobile devices and Kinect, but answered neither one in any real way.

Honestly, if ANYONE else (besides Nintendo) showed this thing, it would not have even made a small dent in press coverage.  It's just not that compelling. The good news for Nintendo is that legions really believe they are geniuses who can make anything fun, so first day sales should be solid (see 3DS).  However, they certainly have dug a deep hole for themselves this time, and if they can get out of it, they may just prove those legions correct.

However, if they don't find a way to pull this out, I don't see great things ahead for Nintendo in the next couple years.  From what I saw, they could be the next SEGA.   Not a bad thing, as an HD, Kinect version of Zelda would be a really cool game.

 

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8Jun/110

Great HTML Canvas Book Review!

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David Hayden has given our new book a very nice review. You can read it here.   My favorite part of the review the fact that Hayden is developing games with his daughter:

"My daughter and I have been developing a lot of HTML5 Games to improve our skills at HTML5 and JavaScript."

He also has some nice things to say about the book itself:

"The book teaches you a lot of awesome techniques to start developing your first games. In the end you not only understand the fundamentals and have a boilerplate template to use for your own games"


7Jun/110

OSX Lion Will Include Hardware Acceleration for the HTML5 Canvas

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I was looking through the 250+ new features and improvements for Lion (available for $29.99 as an upgrade in July) and found this little gem in the Safari Improvements:

Improved graphics performance

Web pages that use the HTML5 Canvas element can tap into the graphics processing unit on your Mac to display graphics and animations. With improved hardware acceleration for Canvas, games and interactive web applications render faster and smoother in the browser.

Another little gem I found is something that we have needed for  long time.
Quicktime:

Capture a region of the screen

QuickTime Player lets you record part of the screen, such as a specific window. It’s perfect for creating a video tutorial of an application.


 


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