Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Video Games: 80's The Golden Age

The explosion of Video Games to the masses with “coin op’s” was here, PONG had started it and now “Space Invaders” had come to take over the throne. When Space Invaders was released in Japan riots are nearly caused as well as being responsible for a nation wide coin shortage. Shop owners clear out their stock and turn their stores into Space Invader arcades overnight. Creators “Midway” find themselves with the biggest arcade video game to hit America since videogames had been created, with their game being played in department stores, restaurants and other popular social attractions.

A domino effect occurred from the success of Space Invaders and lead to the fast spread and progression of video games. Along came everyone’s favourite yellow, sort of circular friend “Pac-Man” from creators “Namco”. This game brought more colour and new exciting bleeps and buzzes instead of the scary droning march of Space Invaders. The brains behind it all Moru Iwatani wanted to produce a game that was appealing to men and women as well as being more cartoon like, as he was bored of the generic “shoot-em-ups” that started to litter the arcades. Pac-man was an instant success in Japan and created another coin shortage! It’s also the first videogame to cash in with merchandising from lunchboxes to t-shirts and even cereal. In ’82 Midway get hands on with a sequel to Pac-Man, which obviously wanted to attract women to the games world by introducing ‘Ms. Pac-Man’. Not forgetting to mention “Defender” and in ‘81 “Donkey Kong” created by Nintendo, which spawned the birth of “Mario” and the first simultaneous co-operative videogame “Super Mario Bros.” in 1983.

Fast-forward to 1986 and famous games such as “Metroid” and “The Legend of Zelda” series are leading the modern expansion of the games industry. Then “Capcom” created the still popular “Street Fighter” in ’87. It’s up to the 4th in the series, though numerous versions have come in between with ridiculously long titles such as something like ‘Street Fighter: Super Mega Gold Turbo 3D Ultimate Hyper HD Edition’, ok I exaggerate a little, but still its popular. Hideo Kojima bursts on to the scene with his ongoing “Metal Gear” series in 1987 introducing the first stealth game within an action adventure framework. 

Finally one of the last games to end an era in 1989 was the first cinematic platformer “Prince of Persia” originally released on the “Apple 2”. It was the first game where a developer had looked at real life movements and tried to emulate them in a game, this or me is where games started to become a higher level of entertainment instead of the purely fun button mashing and joystick twiddling games that had come before.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Video Games: Where it all Began...

Now when I think of the first video game my mind jumps straight to “PONG” and I’m sure many people out there would believe me. However, with a bit of digging through the vast accounts of the first computer game, I discovered games history is divided for who created the first game, as Ralph Baer (a TV engineer) had the idea for playing games on a television set in 1951 though didn’t physically create one until 1966, but we will get to him later.  A.S. Douglas created the first in 1952 on an EDSAC vacuum tube computer with a cathode ray tube display. The game he produced was a product of him writing his PhD at the University of Cambridge on Human and Computer interaction. The game was a digital interpretation of the classic game “Tic-Tac-Toe”. A player would try and beat the computer which would use algorithms to win whenever possible.

I’ll leave you to make your own opinion about who came first because it seems to come down to technicalities of does an idea count as being a sign of creating something first or someone physically producing it? From here on out is where video games history becomes more clear and decisive.

The progress and development of video games started to gain momentum, as in 1958 William Higginbotham created  “Tennis for Two” on a Brookhaven National Laboratory Oscilloscope. Later in 1962 Steve Russell created the first game intended for computer use “SPACEWAR!” which was built on a PDP-1 computer and though not technically a “video game” it was a precursor to the explosion of games to come in 1972. Slowly but surely more games started to make there way out into the developing world of technology such as Ralph Baer’s game “Chase” in 1967. This and other of his ideas got him a deal with “Magnavox” and gave birth to the first home video game system in 1972 the “Magnavox Odyssey”.  This event led to the creation of the arcade version of “PONG” created by Nolan Bushnell with help from Al Alcorn who together started Atari computers that same year and in 1975 re-released “PONG” as a home video game.

For me games don’t go back all the way to 1952 but older generations reminisce telling me how new games are so confusing to the one joystick and two buttons they spent hours on at the arcade. The first game I ever played was “Sonic the Hedgehog” on the Sega Megadrive with its 16 bit cartridges and played many of the other classics such as “Golden Axe” and “Altered Beast”. I remember being infuriated that there was no ability to save my progress on any of the games especially sonic and having to replay the Green Hill Zone every time the console was switched off arghhh! I moved onto the Playstation and started with “Crash Bandicoot” and my personal favourite “Tony Hawk Pro Skater” perhaps one of, if not thee most addictive game for the Playstation.  

I naturally progressed to the Playstation 2 and played on the vast catalogue games. I picked up the “Ratchet and Clank” games and got lost in them for hours. “Prince of Persia the Sands of Time” (and the others in the series) opened my eyes to a game having a film like quality in the story telling and caring what happened to the characters. It was a really attention grabbing game as well as being visually stylised and unique for a PS2 adventure title.

I’m currently the owner of an Xbox 360 and yes I’ve had the Red Ring of Death! There has only been two games for me visually that stand out from the crowd and that “Mirror’s Edge” and “Bioshock”. Mirror’s Edge was the only first person shooter I have ever played, which rewarded you not to shoot anyone!? The visuals are crisp and sleek and the use of colour is careful and precise and becomes a tool to help the player through the environment. Bioshock is the ONLY game I have ever been in awe of, in fact when I first started to play I found myself just wandering around the art deco underwater base and taking it all in. The downside to this however is the fact that some random guy on fire would appear from nowhere and kill me and I suddenly remember I’m meant to be surviving and not admiring the work of 2K games.

I can’t wait to see what the future will hold for video games, but I can see that the demand for bigger, better, more realistic, more interactive games will push the boundaries to somewhere people would never expect them to go. I mean look at how far they’ve developed from the 50’s, if anything the new film “GAMER” which has been released may not seem so science fiction but perhaps become science fact in the years to come.