Monday, November 9, 2009


I wanted to spice it up a bit and use some of the CSS tricks I've been learning. I know it has it's issues if you can spot them... but otherwise... what do you think?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Death of an Icon

Part of my childhood died the other day. A massive part. Captain Lou Albano, former WWF wrestler and the live action personality of Mario on the Super Mario Bros. Super Show as well as the voice of the cartoon character. I grew up watching that show religiously. So much so in fact, that to this day the voice of Mario that I hear in my head is still the voice of Captain Lou. He WAS Mario, and to me he always will be. I'm an American and to me that cartoon was the REAL Mario and Luigi. I was offended when Mario 64 came out and they said that Princess Toadstool was actually named Peach. I was even more upset by the lame "It's ah me... Mario!". What ever happened to PASTA POWER! Granted, I doubt the Super Mario Bros. Super Show was a hit on Japanese TV and if it was it sure as heck didn't have the voices of Lou Albano and Danny Wells. But I always dreamed of Lou doing the voice of Mario in one of the games with Danny as Luigi. It would be a real nod to us Americans who grew up with Nintendo everything. I still wish they would bring the Nintendo Cereal System back LOL.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Arcade Fever!

So I hung out with a few of my friends the other day. I don't really get to do so very often for a myriad of reasons. At any rate, my friend Jack and his brother Bill (also my friend) live together in an apartment with their new roommate Jarred (again... also an old friend of mine) and the other day they were having a get together with Brett and Zack (two more our old friends) for Brett's birthday. Again, it had been quite some time since I had managed to hang out with all the guys. So I had been there for about an hour when I realized, out of the corner of my eye, there was a Dig Dug arcade machine IN THEIR FREAKING KITCHEN!!! I flipped out with retro geeky madness of course. After which they told me that Jarred had bought it for only $200 and that Bill was going to buy a Delorean... but thats another story.

Since that day, all I can think about is how bad I wish I had an arcade machine. Of course, my wife thinks it would be impractical to try to fit one in our small apartment. Note that she said when we get a bigger place I CAN get one. But I have a better idea! When we get a bigger place I could BUILD one!

I've actually seen a lot of info on MAME (multi arcade machine emulator) cabinets that people are building. The problem is that if you buy the pre-built ones they are in the thousands. I don't have that kind of money to put into a project like this. But I did some digging and I think I found a better way. Now, I haven't built it yet, but heres my proposed system tutorial:

Computer: for this I did some looking around in the usual places and found an old motherboard I used to have in my game rig from WAY back. Its the Nforce2 and has (I think) an onboard GeForce 3 video card. I found them for sale on for about $18. On the same site I found a processor, ram, hard drive and case/psu for about $100. I know for a fact that a set up like this can run MAME because... I did it.

Monitor: grab a vga-to-rca adapter cable for about $5 online and find an old tv. You could probably find an old tube tv for free on, but if you wanna go all new stuff you can pick one up at Walmart for like $150 for a 27".

Controls: this is a really awesome step. You see, I was always afraid of building a cabinet because of the daunting task of wiring the controls. There are tutorials online for this but they all required technical skills that I never developed nor with to. But then I found this little gem! This tutorial uses a kit called a Cthulhu board that when purchased from HERE comes all ready to just plug in and screw down the joystick and buttons. Get those pieces HERE. My link for the board is different from his because I found a place that sells them $10 cheaper and actually has them in stock! The cost of the board and the other parts will run about $75 x 2 for a 2 player machine so $150 total.


Here comes the hard part!

So far all the stuff has cost just over $400 give or take as these are rounded figures. If you use an old computer you have laying around and a tv you pick up for free or already have and aren't using you are only looking at about $150 which is dirt cheap. But we have neglected one key aspect of the project. The CABINET! You see, I don't have any tools or skill with wood working. You can buy one from HERE but the cabinet and control top kit together will run you about $650. Indeed you can buy the whole thing already made from them for like $3000 and I guess if you look at it this way, building the innards and buying their empty cabinet and control kit would bring the total cost down to about $1050 if you bought it all new and $800 if you only had to buy the control innards. So I guess this is an OK solution. I guess a cheap, if not ghetto, solution would be to buy a cheap tv cart from Walmart and make the enclosure out of cardboard LOL. If you are handy with power tools and aren't daunted by needing to do some carpentry you can find plans all over the internet. In this case I guess a person with ingenuity could throw one of these together for about $250 - $500! Meaning that for the cost of 1 prebuilt one you could build 6 - 12 of your own. (but if your the kind of person who has 12 old computers and tvs laying around you probably don't need to worry about being thrifty)

Thursday, September 3, 2009


With the onset of September and the beginning of a new school year building up steam I am left feeling a bit nostalgic. You see, 13 years ago right around this time I had a sense of destiny coursing through my veins. I can remember EXACTLY what I was doing in the early hours of September 29, 1996. I was sitting at the coffee table in our living room with the local phone book sitting in front of me. I was looking through it for the phone numbers of any place that might carry video games. All the stores would be opening soon, and I wanted to get my hands on one of the brand new Nintendo Ultra 64s. I would turn 16 in less than 2 weeks, but nothing I could possibly be getting for my birthday would compare to the Ultra 64. My family was definitely NOT the kind that could afford cars as presents for teenage birthdays. My mother would have never let me camp out overnight for something like this so my only chance was to find a place that had some left after the doors opened.

My prospects looked bleak, but the promise of living out my Mushroom Kingdom dreams in full 3D was worth any hardships I might have to suffer. As stores began to open, I began to call. The story was the same everywhere. They had gotten X number of systems and all of them had sold out the moment they opened the doors. I was heartbroken. About an hour later a small glimmer of hope shone through the fog of sadness in my brain. I remembered that Sears had a tiny section in the back of the boys clothing department that had a few games. It might be possible that they had gotten 64s that day! I called expecting the same answer I had gotten multiple times before. When I first called, nobody answered. I waited a few minutes and called back. It rang a bunch of times, then a woman answered. I asked for the games department and she said she didn't know if it was its own line or if the people from boys took those calls. I waited while she searched for someone who would know about that area. After an epic wait I was transfered and received the most ludicrous news I had ever gotten. The woman said that I was the only person who had called for it that day. She said they had gotten six of them in the night before, and that they still had all of them.

Excited beyond reality, I rallied my Aunt to take me because my mom had already left for work. When I got to Sears, one guy was buying one, but all the others were still there. I bought on, and picked up the long awaited copy of Mario 64.

The Ultra (as my friends and I continued to call it long after Nintendo dropped the name) is an interesting part of my gaming history. I remember being upset with its lack of games yet I must admit that I probably logged more hours playing that system than any before or since. It also had more games that hold special places in my heart than any other system. Granted, my favorite game of all time is not for the 64, but more of the games that really meant something to me are on the 64. Like Goldeneye, Perfect Dark, Mario 64, Starfox 64, Turok, Killer Instinct Gold and many many more.

It is indeed odd, that a system who's lack of games was what forced me for the first time to stray from the path of only owning Nintendo game systems is also the system that I had the most fun playing. For all the ranting I may do about the glory of the 16bit era, it was Nintendo's leap into the 3D world that really did it for me.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Kung Fu Chaos

This is gonna just be a quickie. By show of hands, how many of you love Kung Fu/Samurai movies? I'm talking old-school exploitation type. I've lately found myself watching tons of them. I've always loved them, but lately I've been digging through my old collection and looking for new ones too. I don't know why, but right now I'm going through some sort of martial arts movie madness and its driving my wife and kids nuts.

Just thought I'd see if anybody else suffers from this periodical illness.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Gamer's Thumb

The mark of any true console gamer is the prized merit badge known as Gamer's Thumb. Gamer's Thumb is the callusing of the thumb, usually the left thumb but can develop on both depending. Most gamers who possess it will tell you that it takes years of hard gaming to achieve, but I'm going to let you in on a secret! It doesn't!

Thats right, with only a few days of moderate gaming you too could earn yourself a higher rank among the geek elite. Heres the secret:

1) Start by selecting a 2D fighter like Street Fighter 2 _____(insert random sub-title), Capcom Vs _____(insert random sub-title) or any other amazing arcade-ish fighting game that requires massive amounts of quarter/half circle forward/back rotations on the Dpad to perform the characters special moves.

2) Next, play said game until your thumb begins to hurt from it. This should only take about 2 or 3 hours. This amount of time will seem to fly by if your playing with a bunch of friends. The trick is to keep playing through the pain for a wile longer to make sure you get the desired effect.

3) The next day you should notice that you have discomfort in your thumb when you touch surfaces, this is good. If you have a visible blister you can skip to step four. If you do not, you must play again today for approximately one hour more. You need not play with others as the pain in your thumb would put you at a disadvantage. I would recommend using this time to practice the special moves of some of the characters in your chosen game to raise your gamer stats next time you play with your friends.

4) You should now have a very obvious blister on your thumb. This is good, your almost there. Today, simply do nothing. Let your blister heal a bit.

5) After letting your thumb rest for a day or two(no more) the blister should be a patch of loose skin on your thumb. Peel this skin off. This sounds gross, but should not hurt. Now begin gaming again. I again recommend practicing at this point. Your thumb should feel odd but not hurt. As the skin grows back, which should only take a few days, the callus should replace the soft skin.


An alternate method would be to play one day for several hours, rest the next day and then repeat the cycle. This could take longer but may work more quickly depending on your amount of play and skin type.

Fighters have always been one of my all time favorite types of games. I spent many years of my life huddled around crowded machines in dark, loud, strange smelling arcades and it really did influence the kinds of games that really hit home for me. I was inspired to write this little tutorial the other day when I hung out with some old friends of mine and we rocked out to some old-school 2D fighters. The next day I dug out some of my old favs and played them too. The tell tale discomfort in my thumbs reminded me of how quickly my old Gamer's Thumb could come back when I used to go a while without playing fighters. It really isn't as hard to achieve as some people would have you believe.

So go get your merit badge and enjoy some serious gaming along the way!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

How the Mac Mini changed my world

Anyone who has read through my posts will know that I am a Mac user. I am proud to be one too. But, it wasn't always this way...

Long ago, I was a PC fanboy. I would never say that I was a super tech geek, but I built my own computers and had built some for other people as well. The main reason I had gotten into building PCs was money. Not to make it, but to save it. I bought my first computer in 97. I had used computers for years before that point, but for me, a computer was simply out of my reach. My family was far from rich and computers are not cheap. Well, at least they weren't then. I bought it off my Aunt who was going to upgrade to a new one. I wont get into how magnificent its antiquated specs were but it was my first computer, and I loved it. It had Windows 95 Plus.

It died on me in the winter of 2001. I was heart broken. I was in college, living on my own and survived on english muffins, Archway cookies (they were dirt cheap) and free dial-up via K-mart's Bluelight service which required you watched commercials while waiting to connect to the servers and sported a massive advertisement bar at the bottom of the screen. My computer was my world. It was at this time a friend of mine told me that I could save a lot of money if I built a new computer myself. He said that since I had a monitor already it would be really cheap. The next weekend he took me to a computer fair and I bought the parts he said I would need. It all came to about $300. It was about a third of what I thought it would cost me. He then made me put it together myself as he supervised. It was so easy, I was astounded that I had never done it before.

The rest is history I guess. I went on, building machines, upgrading older ones. My roommate and I networked our apartment and had multiple machines of our own as well as a "Guest" computer we would let visitors play with so they couldn't mess up our babies. We threw LAN parties and badmouthed the guy who brought his Mac and couldn't join our games because of protocol differences.

Mac was a dirty word. We laughed at Mac people. We babbled to each other in techno-jargon and swapped crash horror stories and figured out fixes for obscure problems that would come up. We would laugh as we all sat around and shared old war stories of blue screens of death, reformats, and fried boards. We would debate which drivers would work best, first party or third party.

Several years later I was married and had kids. I had the house networked and had built a computer for my wife to use. She had never had one of her own before. I also had a closet full of old computer parts and a few old machines that needed one thing or another to make them whole. It was around this time it all fell apart. My wife's computer wouldn't start up one day. I thought it might be the power supply. The only one that would fit in her machine was in mine so I took it out and popped it in. Still nothing. Swapped it back and it caught on fire. Put hers in mine and nothing happened. Dug through my old stuff to get SOMETHING to use as a computer... didn't have the right stuff to build a full machine. Bought a new power supply, but my board had been fried when the old one caught on fire. My wife's still had the old issue that never got fixed and I didn't have the money to start replacing parts hoping to figure out the one that went bad.

I sank into a deep depression. We didn't have cable, our rabbit ears didn't pick anything up and now I had no computer nor would I have the money to build one until we got our taxes back... 8 months later. I took to reading a lot. Something I never really did much of before that point. To be honest, this period without constant connection to the world was rather enlightening.

It was during this time that apple unveiled the Mac Mini. For the first time, Apple had released a computer that wasn't over a grand. It also had reasonable specs for the time. More time passed. I began to think "Maybe I should give Mac a shot?" More time passed. Apple announced the new Intel Mac Mini... and Boot Camp. It was then that my mind was made up. When I got my taxes back that year I bought a Mac Mini with upgraded RAM and my wife got a laptop.

I never did put Windows on my Mac. Its been years now since then. My wife has gone through a few laptops and is now looking to buy yet another because her current one is starting to fail. My mac hasn't had any issues. The only time I had a problem was when I attempted to boot a Live CD distro of Linux and changed my boot order not realizing that it was a bad idea and that Macs come with a built in boot selector. All I've done is painlessly upgrade the OS. I think part of the reason I never loaded Windows was because I was having fun figuring out the Mac OS and once I had done so, I liked it better. I am bothered by all the Windows only games, but all my favorite PC games are by Blizzard who makes their games dual compatible with Macs as well. So I still get to play my favorite titles anyway.

So here I am. A Mac user who used to be a PC fanboy. And I'll never go back.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Why do Gamers get Fat?

I just finished reading an extremely interesting article about a type of fat that actually makes you thinner and how some people don't have any. They say it could be a factor in obesity. Reading it made me think. The reason our bodies produce fat is so that we can go for periods of time without eating. Its an evolutionary survival mechanism found throughout the mammalian world. The idea behind it is if you are in the wild and have no food available, your body will burn fat from your fat stores for energy. This sounds fine, well and good on paper, and works wonders for animals in the wild. The problem is that every health and fitness expert in the world will tell you that starvation diets make you fatter because your body will steal from your muscles before it looks to your fat stores. Meaning you don't lose fat very easily and once you start eating again your body puts everything into fat stores because now it thinks its going to need it for later.

This makes absolutely no sense to me. If I was in the wild and needed to find food to survive, the last thing that is going to help me last till my next meal is stealing from my muscles. I need those to hunt / search for food with. What good is lasting until I find a meal if I'm so weak that I can't catch it? It just seems evolutionarily backwards. Why would we evolve a survival mechanism that doesn't help us survive? I suppose the fact that humans are one of the only land based mammals to have our fat deposits as a layer under our skin may have something to do with it. Most animals store fat inside their bodies around their organs. We have a blubber-like layer under our epidermis like whales do. Why? Nobody knows.

Now, I can't speak for all gamers, but when I really get into a game I forget about bodily needs and functions. I have gone as many as 9 hours without eating, drinking or... excreting without realizing how much time has gone by. I can remember entire weeks going by with almost no food, eating maybe only twice in 24 hours when truly EPIC games came out. And I'm not even a REALLY hardcore gamer. I'm sure there are those who have done far, far worse. Surviving on energy drinks, candy bars and chips for extended periods of time without sleep. Need I remind us all of the rare game related death stories?

My point is, if our bodies worked the way evolution intended them too, gamers should look like Greek gods / goddesses, including the pasty marble complexion (lol) but minus some of the musculature. Granted, we wouldn't be buff, but we would be lean. Why doesn't it work that way? If scientists could work out a way to make our bodies feed off our fat instead of our muscles first, the obesity epidemic would be cured.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Release the BEAST!!!

If any of you have switched to Mac from PC then you will know about the withdrawals that come with it. For most, the ability to play many of the games that come is the hardest thing to part with. For me it isn't so much that as it is the loss of MS Paint. I really love that program and nothing else is quite like it.

Well, for those who are in this boat, Boot Camp is usually the answer. Not me though, because for some reason, it always fails when it tries to partition my hard drive. Perhaps because my internal drive is extremely sad when it comes to size so there isn't a single speck of it that hasn't been used at least once. I even did a total reformat on the drive once and attempted Boot Camp right after a fresh OS X install with the same outcome.

At any rate, I decided to try VM ware Fusion. I installed my old copy of XP on it... and it ran like poop. I expected so much. We ARE talking emulation here. And running two OSs at the same time. So I wrote off running Windows all together.

But then... I came upon a forum post about this hacked version of windows called TinyXP Beast edition. Its insanely small. Some how, these hackers managed to strip XP down to its bare essentials. IT DOESN'T EVEN HAVE INTERNET EXPLORER!!! I was always under the impression that XP and Explorer were integrated into one another and that you couldn't have one without the other. Guess I was wrong. Not only does it run like a bat out of hell, I threw some of my old games at it and they ran! It was like running Windows natively. I guess in will run on almost nothing for system specs and if you have it native it boots in like 10 seconds. I believe it. It screams on my Mac Mini running emulated in the background.

I haven't tested too many games on it yet but I can't wait to try!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The long hard wait

For anyone thats a Zelda fan, right now you are like me, waiting. Nintendo has a nasty habit of letting its fanboys know they are working on something that makes them drool, but then handing so little information over the span of years that by the time a trailer comes out for the game we're expecting the holy grail. I think that part of why people get disappointed with some of the zelda titles is because they force us to anticipate to the point of impossibility. When you've been waiting for something for so long, you expect it to be beyond your wildest dreams to make it have been worth the wait.

Granted, the games have always been good, but if I hear about a game and get excited about it, then I'm forced to wait 3 years to play it, it better be like touching a small piece of heaven. On the other hand, when a good game comes out unexpectedly, its incredible even with its flaws. Why, because I haven't been dreaming about that game every night for several years, waiting for my ultimate gaming destiny to finally be delivered to me.

For instance, I borrowed a copy of "Shadow of the Colossus" from a friend a few months after it came out. Before he handed it to me, I had never really looked into what the game was all about. To me, it was just a Zelda wannabe that Sony was pushing through hoping to cash in. I was never more wrong. Despite many of the criticisms of the games lack of minor enemies or anyone except the Colossi for that matter, I think it was a better game than "Twilight Princess". Now before I get called a heretic or a blasphemer I would like to mention that at the point I played it, TP had been pushed back several times and was now going to be released on the Wii first even though big N promised us that it was going to be a Game Cube game. I was eager for some action. "Shadow" delivered, and I wasn't expecting it to. I really loved that game. I think that it was more like what I've always wanted out of Zelda game than any of the recent Zelda games have been. If "Shadow" had had perhaps 2 or 3 small towns, a few more items / weapons and a hand full of small enemies wandering the vast landscape it already had, it would be the perfect Zelda. For me anyway. The first few Zelda's were pretty damn lonely and they are considered by many to be the best ones.

To me, the spirit of the old Zelda games is a lone warrior battling against impossible odds in a vast world. Just a hero, a magic sword and an epic adventure. "Shadow" had all these things. On top of that, the Colossi were freaking awesome. I would love to see a Zelda that had a world as big as "Shadow", as open as "Shadow" and had some of the old Zelda boss monsters be as massive as the Colossi. Add in the stuff I mentioned above and make Ganon into a huge monstrous pig-wizard wielding a trident again like he used to be and it would be the ultimate Zelda game for me. The 3D Zelda games just don't look like the same world that used to be in the old 2D Zelda illustrations from the manuals and Nintenedo Power. That is the world I want to see.

But I think the big point is that I had no expectations from "Shadow". In fact, I expected to hate it. On the other hand, I expected the right hand of God to come out of the heavens and place a masterpiece of limitless power in my hands when it came to TP, as did many. Granted, TP was a good game, even rather good as far as 3D Zeldas go, but it wasn't what I expected after how long I waited for it.

I hope Nintendo doesn't drop the ball on this one they announced this past E3. I think it would put the final nail in the coffin for me as a fanboy. BTW, I think the DS Zelda title and the new one they just announced are wretched abominations of that which I have cherished since I was a small boy. And feel like a massive part of my soul, let alone my childhood have been raped away by their existence. The same could be said for the Zelda CDi games, but at least they weren't made by Nintendo. For that, they can be forgiven, but not "Phantom Hourglass" and the filthy "Spirit Tracks".

Just the personal rantings of a religiously diehard old-school Zelda fanboy.

P.S. when I was 8 I made my Uncle who lived next door to me make me a wooden sword and shield that looked like the ones in the first Zelda instruction manual. I used to play with them all the time. The shield came in handy to deflect the rocks the other kids in the neighborhood would throw at me for being such a geeky loser.

Ah, the good old days

Monday, August 3, 2009

Home media server made easy

To those of you who didn't read about it already, I use a Mac. But that is not where our story begins. No, our story begins with the Nintendo Wii. You see, the Wii has a cute little feature that lets you put an SD card from your digital camera into the Wii and view your pictures and videos on the tv. Well, I thought "Gee, if you can view videos taken with the camera why can't I convert a video to that format and watch it on the Wii?". So, as many of my musings do, it became a quest. A quest to convert a video and play it on my Wii.

It would seem that this is no easy task for a Mac user such as I. Not without expensive software that is. I found out that the Wii played a video format called a Motion Jpeg. But even when I would convert a video to this format it still would simply not play on the Wii. I began to get frustrated. But then I discovered something amazing. Its called Wii Transfer. It basically sets up a special web based server on your local network from your Mac (sorry Windows users... not really lol) that you can surf to from the Wii Internet Channel. The page it generates has links to your Itunes music folder, your Iphoto folder and a folder for your converted videos. You just click on the link and select what you want to play / view. The program is dirt cheap and works wonders. It does take a bit of time to convert the videos, but then again so does just about any good video converter.

The coolest part is that the page is viewable to any computer on your network as well. So basically, the gigs upon gigs of music that I have on my external hard drive are all now also available to my wife (not that she likes the music I listen to but the fact that its available is what counts). Seeing as how the software only runs a few bucks and does all the work for you its probably the cheapest / easiest way to set up a home media server even if you don't have a Wii and just want to listen to your music collection from other computers on you network.

Definitely two thumbs up!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Other OS

Ya know what really bothers me? The fact that the mainstream game publishers aren't taking Linux seriously. True, its not really a market share powerhouse, but I think if games started shifting to it, it would become one. In all honesty, aside from the lack of game support, I feel that Linux is the best OS out there. With only a hand full of free programs you can achieve 100% of all your needed functions that are not game related.

VLC player - plays just about any media file you throw at it.

Firefox - works just as nicely on Linux as it does on your Windows box.

Thunderbird - sister program to Firefox is a robust email organizer like Outlook - is basically a free version of Microsoft Office (which isn't preloaded on most PCs anyway) and will even use Microsoft Office files.

Gimp - is Photoshop, but free (and again isn't something that is preloaded with Windows PCs)

Gaim - is a multi-messenger that IMs with most instant messenger programs

These few programs really cover just about everything the average PC user really does with their PC. And not that many AVERAGE users use Photoshop but I figured I would throw that one out there anyway. And I only covered what normal people do. There are tons of apps for Linux which realy do just about anything you could want. On top of that, many distributions of Linux come with neat little upgrade consoles that list all the free plugins and applications that you can add with the click of a button, without having to scour the internet for them.

Perhaps the coolest feature of Linux is the portability. Many distros are lightweight, fast and able to be installed and booted from just about anything. I think I heard about a guy booting his PC with Linux from the onboard memory of his printer once!

My favorite distros are the Live CD versions. These guys boot right from the disk into RAM meaning you don't have to install it at all, nor do you even need a hard drive. Once my HDD but lost none of computers functionality because I had a Live CD disro laying around. I popped it in right after the HDD failed and was right back on the net surfing along as if nothing had happened. Using a Live CD, you can test out Linux without messing up your existing OS.

My favorite one right now is Linux Mint 7. Burn a copy and Try it out!

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Revolution is NOW! Join Revolution 2D

Have you ever wanted to make your own game? I know I sure have. But my problem is always the same, I have plenty of ideas and I'm not too shabby at writing out story / dialog, but I don't know how to program or have the art / rendering skill to make the graphics. I have the creative side covered, I have vision, but I have no technical or artistic talent. I know countless gamers in the same boat. We've all had an amazing idea for a game that we wished could get made but never will. What if that could change?

Imagine with me for a moment. Imagine that you had a tool that let you make games. A point and click, drag and drop editor that let you construct tile-based retro style games on the fly. An all encompassing tool that had features for tile / sprite editing, animation editing, 8 / 16 bit music composition, level editing, AI and physics editing. A tool that let you choose your game style and then held your hand through the rest. Now imagine if it was all free!

I know, its all starting to sound too good to be true. And thats because it is. No such free game creation utility exists to my knowledge.

I began to have this vision of glory long ago on one of my internet odysseys in search of a good free game engine. I have found countless open-source tools that give you one function or the other, but nothing really easy and useful. But on this particular day I found something special. Click HERE to see what I found. Essentially, its a tutorial on how to build a tile-based game using Flash. It gives you the basics and lets you run from there. Unfortunately, Flash is yet another one of those fields in which I have little experience. I used to be a rather good HTML coder back in my day, but that was the 90's when Windows 98 was the new killer OS everybody was talking about and Flash was a brand new thing called Shockwave. Yeah, I was a mean coder with my Microsoft Notepad and Internet Explorer 3, but Flash is just a little bit younger than I am.

But it got me thinking. What if you could build a Flash game that MADE other Flash games? What if you could build a suite of Flash based tools that worked together as a full 2D game building utility?

A pixel by pixel tile / sprite editor

A sprite animation assembler

A tile-based point and click level editor

A collection of game engines for different types of games (platformer, rpg, action, fighter, shooter...)

A Mario Paint-esque music editor

And any other tools that I might have forgotten. You could modify the engine physics with simple sliders for things like gravity and have a tool that lets you assign actions to different keys on the keyboard / mouse.

If Flash cannot output another Flash file, as I'm sure it cannot, I thought it would be cool if instead it simply created the jpeg and mp3 files and then generated a text page of code for an outside compiler to use. It could be in C or Java. Again, I have no experience with this sort of thing, but I think the concept is sound. You could simply copy and paste the text into a plain text file and compile it. I did something like this years ago when I took C at collage and didn't like the editor the professor provided. I would write the code in notepad and then compile it with the C compiler. Since I know Flash can display text on the screen, this sort of system should be possible.

So please, if you think you can help develop something like this or know someone who could, spread the word and drop me a comment. I envision an active community of new game developers who are armed with nothing more then an idea. They could come and use the tools we could develop together freely, and share their games with the world. If anyone is out there and wants to be part of this, leave a comment below. If I get any feedback and a plan comes together, I will set up a dedicated page for the project.

I seriously want this to happen. If you can help, please do. The project could set up a free license that would allow people to distribute freely but pay royalties if they make money with there games. If it got finished, we could set up a publishing company for indie developers to copyright their games through once they are done. Heck, we could even look into a way to port the games made this way to other systems like Wii Ware or Apple App Store.

Help grow the game market that the big boys are leaving behind. The industry really needs a source of creative content that is fresh and I can see no down side to a free way to create games combined with venues like Wii Ware and Apple App Store to sell them without having to manufacture inventory and get your games on a physical store shelf. The market is ready and the outlet is there. All we need is the tools to make them.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Why the space age died

As our nation's space agency prepares to retire the last vehicle of what was to be golden age of space exploration, it faces a bleak future of budget cuts and lack of confidence from our country's leaders. There was a time when every launch into the black void beyond our atmosphere was watched with breathless anticipation by millions of viewers around the country. Yet, I can only recall having watched perhaps half a dozen launches myself. Why is that? It's because there is nothing interesting happening in space. We aren't landing on some alien world for the first time. We haven't even left our back yard! Sure we've tossed some junk over the neighbors fence, but we've never walked up to the gate and stepped through to the other side.

Now there are countless reasons that people can come up with that supposedly explain why this is. But I can give you the real reason. The blame for the decline of the space age lays upon the shoulders of a single man. That man was John F. Kennedy.

"What?" you might ask. "Isn't he the president that put us on the moon?" you might argue. Indeed he did. But what many people don't know is that he is also the man who shut down the one project that offered us everything a scifi geek could ever ask for from current technology.

What, I ask, are the main problems with building up a massive space infrastructure? Well, for the most part, there is only one BIG problem. It is ludicrously difficult to reach space. So difficult that it costs billions of dollars to put a payload in space that a flatbed truck could do for hundreds. You only need to get about 200 kilometers up to reach orbit, but the energy needed to reach orbital velocity is astronomical. The more you need to lift, the more energy you need to do it. But to produce that energy you need fuel, which has weight, which means you need energy to lift that too. See the problem here?

But what if I told you it didn't have to be so difficult? What if I told you that the technology to put a space station (or colony) in orbit around ever planet and moon in our solar system has been around since the 60's but was never used? There was such a technology. It was called "Project Orion" and had the power to lift ships the size of small cities into space and take said ship to the nearest star and back in a human lifetime. If only it had been further developed.

It worked by basically chucking a small, shaped nuclear charge through a hole in a large pusher-plate and detonating it. Kind of like putting a cherry bomb under a garbage can, but much larger. The system would do this every few seconds to continue pushing the ship into space and beyond. It sounds like it would have been too hard to control such a thing, but they actually developed it, and worked out all the kinks decades ago. It system was ready to go into space but Kennedy shut it down. Legend has it that one of the scientists who pitched the idea to Kennedy said that they would be able to use the technology to build a space battleship. One armed with nuclear warheads and capable of cruising around the solar system. Allegedly, the idea of such a weapon sickened Kennedy so much he shut the project down.

Such a system could carry and deliver enough material to construct stations throughout the entire solar system in a single launch. Not only that, but once it was done with that, it would still have enough fuel to go to the asteroid belt and push a rock or two back to earth to be mined for materials for further space construction. After that it could be used to ferry material around at high speed, or perhaps sent out to explore deep space! The only real drawback is the risk of fallout contamination in the atmosphere, but even this was minimized by the use of special filler around the nuclear charges. And like I said, you would only need to launch it once to completely revolutionize space as we know it. Besides, I think that we have done enough damage to the environment since then to make one Orion launch rather trivial in comparison. Even the legendary Carl Sagan supported the idea, believing that it was the best way to recycle the massive stockpile of nuclear weapons thats sitting around collecting dust.

"What about cosmic rays or long-term exposure to micro gravity?" you may ponder. No need to worry there either. You see, the ships were to be so massive that the outer chambers that would have been filled with water or cargo would be so thick that it would shield the passengers living in the inner chambers from cosmic rays. And as for micro gravity, remember 2001: a Space Odyssey? The ship would have been cylindrical and would rotate to create simulated gravity. I'm telling you, they thought of EVERYTHING. And they did all this back in the Apollo era. It sickens me to think about how much different things could be right now if the project had been given the green light. Sure, we would still need to find a way to get people up there cheeper, but don't you think we would have more incentive if there was a whole flourishing industry up there worth trillions in asteroid mining alone? Not to mention tourism, space exploration or colonization of other celestial bodies.

So when your sitting around thinking about how much cooler your life would be if you were living on a space colony orbiting pluto, blame JFK.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Older than old school

Now the time has come.  One cannot talk of retro gaming without mentioning TRUE retro gaming.  I'm talking about table top biznacho!  Table top gaming is as old as human beings.  We're talking thousands of years.  Lets look at Chess for example.  Chess has buckets of variations.  Even the Vikings had a form Chess.  But talking about ALL table top games is WAY beyond the scope of this post.  What I really want to talk about are pen-and-paper role playing games and modern table top war games (mainly Warhammer).

Pen-and-paper rpgs have been around for a while.  Everyone has at least heard of "Dungeons and Dragons".  But did you know there are hundreds of such rpgs?  There is literally a pen-and-paper rpg for every kind of setting you can imagine.  And if for some unholy reason you want to role play in a setting that has not yet been marketed as a game, there are different base role playing systems that you can buy and use to create your own world and settings.  For instance, did you know there is a Robotech rpg?  Or a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles rpg?  They exist.  Google them.  Hunt around on or your local geek store.  And for those who don't want to venture too far into uncharted territory, there is even a pen-and-paper Warcraft role playing game that is very much like everyone's precious World of Warcraft.  If nothing else, the books are really cool to read through and enjoy the illustrations and lore.

If rpgs aren't your cup of tea, perhaps you like strategy war games.  Technically, Chess is a war game, but the most popular modern table top war game is by far Warhammer.  Never heard of it?  Well to give you a bit of perspective, when the original Warcraft came out for PC way back in the day, the creators of Warhammer sued the Warcraft boys because Warcraft was basically Warhammer in on a computer.  In fact, if you can find a Games Workshop store and ask an employee what they think of Warcraft many will get quite defensive to this day.  Basically, in Warhammer you buy and hand paint an army of fantasy creatures like elves and dwarves, then wage turn based war with one another.  Multiple players can play at once and the battlefield is also constructed by you.  You can buy terrain pieces or improvise and make your own.  It's really rather impressive when you walk into a Games Workshop location on a day they are holding a tournament.  Playing a game on your computer is one thing, but its another thing entirely to see an entire miniature battlefield complete with trees and buildings sprawled out before you with armies of little warriors in battle formations.  And because you paint them yourself, you have a limitless level of customization.  Once completed, you really do feel proud of your accomplishment because it just looks so freaking cool.

And thats just original Warhammer.  There is also Warhammer 40,000 for those of the scifi variety.  40k as its called by fans replaces orcs and elves with space marines and battleships.  This is also an interesting point since 40k is Warhammer in space and Starcraft has been called Warcraft in space.  One can see why a lawsuit might have been filed.  By the way, there are pen-and-paper rpgs for both Warhammer and 40k.

Another batch of games I would like to mention belong to a company called Dream Pod 9.  They make some truely radical games for both the war gamer and rpg-er alike.  I really like some of there settings and you can download and print out free sample games from them that you can play which makes them even cooler.

A final place I would like to throw out there is Steve Jackson Games.  This guy has been around for decades and offers tons of games that cover a broad spectrum of types and settings.  His role playing system is called GURPS and is a nice alternative to the D20 system used by D&D.

So in conclusion, I issue to you a challenge:  Set aside your electronic entertainment for a moment and try out a table top game.  You will feel the spirits of retro gaming flowing through you and will gain a +9 to all geeky rolls and a +4 modifier to geeklore.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The rise of AI

One of the common themes of science fiction is the idea of humans building machines smart enough to take over, or simply coexist with us as a new, robotic species.  I for one can't wait for mankind to be faced with the moral dilemma of having created a virtual being who possesses a personality that is indistinguishable from that of a human. At what point is it alive? What makes us human? If a program can display creative thought and is self-aware, is it sentient?

I feel that this is one of the few fields that is really on the cusp of making science fiction into a reality. I also feel that we have possessed the technology but have been dragging our heels, or at least been heading in the wrong direction. I'm not a computer engineer but some of the concepts I feel need more attention are obvious to me. Firstly, development needs to be compartmentalized. The human brain controls many things that our conscious mind doesn't need to be bothered with.  Not just things like breathing and making our heart pump, but things like seeing and hearing.  We don't need to turn on the cones and rods in our eyes manually, or activate our ears.

I think that by combining different technologies that already exist, we can develop an AI that would blow our minds.  There is a company that is using the game "Second Life" to do some amazing things.  They have developed a virtual pet that can learn tricks.  It sounds kind of lame at first, but the way it learns is similar to the way a real dog (or human for that matter) learns.  Check out the companies website HERE.  What if this concept was combined with voice recognition software and a chatbot program like Alice?  Now, what I propose is using this approach to raise a virtual child as you would a human child.  Imagine building a closed world like "The Truman Show" and simply raising an AI being as if it were human?

I feel that the kind of personality we associate with being human would arise on its own.
  Humans are essentially machines made of organic material.  There is also the debate as to where our personalities come from to begin with.  But nature or nurture, genetics or environment, we do what we do because of primal basic instincts.  How we attain our basic and higher needs appears complex because we have had a lifetime of experiences that affect our decisions.  Subtle differences in our genetic code may steer us one way or another, but our choices are based on thousands of factors that have developed over the span of our lives.

Think of a child.  Why children do the things they do is far simpler to understand than an adults motivations for their actions.  A virtual being that can learn and is programmed with certain needs as human children are born with would develop no differently.  If a I am hungry, I need food.  I could steal it, and a child who has never been taught the repercussions of stealing very well may do so for the sake of survival.  But if there are repercussions, and if the child knows what they are, they will find another way of obtaining food.  We work at our jobs because our system of government requires us to use money to obtain the things we need to survive.  We want to procreate because we have the instinct to do so.  Because we simply can't walk out and take the first mate we see, we have to do all sorts of elaborate rituals and adapt ourselves in a myriad of ways to attract a mate.

If broken down and studied, everything we do is derived from our primal instincts, but adapted to our environment based on what we have learned about how our world works.  A program would be able to do the same thing if it was able to learn and had predetermined "instincts".

Once completed, the same new virtual being could be given a robotic body like the ones being developed in Japan such as Asimo.  Or perhaps by then an even more advanced, more human looking robot could exist that could be used.  They would be able to absorb data instantly.  Things like math, science, history and literature could be built into their minds to be accessed at will.  

I think that the dawn of "Cybersapiens" (my own word I think) could be just around the corner and I welcome it.  Perhaps having another intelligent race to compete with would be good for us.  If they could indeed think creatively yet were capable of knowing any information instantly, they could advance our sciences at an exponential rate.  The better the science, the faster and more efficient they could become.  Their evolution would be on turbo and they could be the hand that guided their evolutions path.  If they didn't destroy or enslave us, they would be magnificent companions on the journey toward our own betterment and could facilitate the abolition of all that makes our world bad.


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Warcraft... before the world of

Today I'm going to talk about something that everybody knows about.  Something that is both a bane and a boon to PC gaming.  Warcraft.

When most people here the word Warcraft they immediately think "World of...".  Now don't get me wrong.  WoW is a boon to the gaming market.  No game in history has been more successful.  But it's success has overshadowed many other things, and when a market (or any system for that matter) becomes too homogenous it becomes weak.

I by no means HATE WoW.  In fact, I beta tested it.  What's more, I liked what I saw so much that I took it upon myself to become a missionary and convert all the other MMO players I knew to WoW before it was even out.  By the time it was released, I had collected a small mob of people to wait in line and buy it with me at midnight.  But I was also the first to quit WoW.  Many of them still play it, but I had lost interest long before the first expansion came out.  I feel that my main reasons for quitting was probably the fact that it takes so long to achieve greatness.  I hated grinding away for hours at a time with the hopes of one day being high enough level to dedicate myself to raids that I would have to set aside days to take part in because they themselves were many hours long.

I was a different kind of WoW player.  I wanted to continuously have new lands to explore and cooler creatures to look at.  I took to exploring areas that I was not supposed to get to at my level.  I would strip out of my armor (because if you died to many times wearing it it would break) and run naked into lands well above my level.  It was fun for a while, sneaking around in the shadows of the Burning Steppes with my level 17 Dwarf Hunter who had no pet.  But the places I could sneak into soon hit a wall and I lost all interest in the game.
Enough about playing WoW.  The real purpose of this rant is to talk about why I was excited about playing it to begin with.  

Before there was a World of Warcraft there was simply Warcraft.  My earliest memories of Warcraft were of wanting to know what it was but not being allowed to play it.  I had always been a console gamer.  It wasn't until later in life that I got a PC and started exploring that frontier.  But my cousin had a computer.  I remember going over to his house in the summer to swim in my Aunt and Uncle's pool and being fascinated by the computer they had.  While my mother would chat after the swimming was done I would sneak up to the computer room and spy on my cousin playing PC games.  Of the games he played only one really captivated me.

I would see him constructing an army and waging war with hordes of monstrous creatures.  When I would ask him about it all He would tell me was that it was called Warcraft and that I wouldn't understand it.  Well, if there is a way to make me do something it's to tell me I wouldn't be able to do it or that it would be too hard for me.

Once I got my hands on Warcraft I was hooked.  Warcraft II was even better and remains to this day my second favorite PC game.  My favorite is... you guessed it, Warcraft III and its expansion.  I loved the world that blizzard had created.  I remember reading the background story that were in the illustrated book that came with Warcraft II and falling in love with a fantasy universe I wished I could be part of.  I read the three novels that filled the gap between Warcraft II and III.  When Warcraft III came out I thought the cinematics were mind blowing and the new races were awesome beyond words.  Blizzard could do no wrong.

Like I said, I was really excited about WoW when it first came out.  When I lost interest in it it thought "Oh well, I'll just wait until Warcraft IV comes out."  I've been waiting for a long time.  It wasn't until one of the people I converted to WoW pointed something out to me that I realized that I might be waiting forever.  WoW is not just a game in a series of games, It's a persistent world that is constantly evolving and being added to.  If a new Warcraft RTS was made, it's story would either have already been told in WoW, or it would be a content spoiler for the game that now pays Blizzards bills.  He mused that if Blizzard had to choose between letting an audience down, it wouldn't be their cash cows audience.  With this in mind, I realized that the only way it could happen is if Warcraft IV and WoW II or a major WoW expansion were developed and released at the same time.  The resources needed to accomplish such a feat would be monumental.  

Now, there have been hints and rumors of a Warcraft IV in the works.  But with a perfectionist company like Blizzard, games usually still have years of development once we have had serious confirmation... which we have yet to have.

Sadly, I fear that WoW has all but killed the RTS franchise that made me love PC gaming.  Its been over 7 years since Warcraft III was first released and it looks like I have several more to wait before another is released (if ever).  Then again, Starcraft fans have been waiting over a decade for a real sequel and they still don't have it in their hands yet.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Treasure Hunting Update

So yesterday was more than full of geeky delights.  So full in fact that I was unable to attend the rock and gem show but had a friend of mine pick me up some neat goodies.  As for books, I had to cut my scavenging short but still managed to pack up 50 magnificent artifacts.  I managed to find an entire set of Tolkien paperbacks from before I was born.  The Hobbit, all three Lord of the Rings books and a copy of The Tolkien Reader which is rather cool.  I also managed to get my paws on a heap of dirt old scifi and a copy of The Wheel of Time Role Playing Game Players Guide.  All in all a worthy day. 

Next year I'm going to make sure I put together a much stronger time table so that I can maximize my precious booty (the pirate kind ye' scalawags).

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Weekend treasure hunting

Hey folks!  Sorry for the few days of hiatus.  This particular weekend has been chock full of local geeky things.  Yesterday was the first day of the Book Bonanza.  Its perhaps the largest used book sale in my region.  Yesterdays sale was $.50 paperbacks and $1 hardcover with newer or rare books priced anywhere from $2 - $10.  My wife and I are huge bibliophiles, so we braved the crowds for some treasure.  Today the sale is $2 a freaking bag!  The wife wont go for two early mornings in a row so I'm adventuring solo with a set limit of $10, which could score me over a hundred books.  Yesterday I scored some awesome scifi/fantasy goodies and today I plan on getting there before the doors open so I can scoop up anything that didn't get picked over yesterday.

Later today the fam and I are trucking  45 minutes away for the annual Rock and Gem show.  I've got it on good authority that they have a geological "JABLAMO" of discounted discoveries.  (Yes, I just made that word up)  I'm talking crystals, minerals and even fossils.  

True, not all geeks are science geeks as well.  And of those that are, not all would get excited about crystals and fossils.  But I'm just that geeky.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Metal Warriors

On the topic of giant robot games, I'd like to bring you another one of my favorite games from retro-land: Metal Warriors.  This is one of those cult games that were just so amazing that those who played it couldn't stop talking about how awesome they were.

You play as a mecha pilot aboard a starship thats in the middle of a battle for galactic military supremacy.  The game has some rather good animated cut scenes that are more impressive when you realize that the game is on the SNES.  But what really sets the game apart for me is that not only do you have several different robot armor suits that you get you use though out the game, you can jump out of your suit mid level!

On most of the stages there are other battle suits you can find.  If the suit your using is really damaged or the suit you find is a different type that you would rather use, you can simply get out and jump into that one.  As just a human you are really small on the screen.  On many stages there are people walking around doing things or shooting at you with little rocket launchers.  When you hop out of your robot you can fly around and shoot with a little hand gun you have.  

Some levels have sections in which you need to jump out of your suit to flip switches or reach parts of the level that your suit is to big to reach.  There are even levels that end with you hopping out and shooting your way to the bridge controls of an enemy starship to take it over.

Another interesting aspect to the game is the lack of life bars.  Instead, as you take damage your suit looks more and more tarnished.  Your arms will get blown off and eventually so will your shoulder weapons until your helpless.  It also adds an element of fear to the game because as your frantically searching for a repair kit or a different suit to jump into, you never really know how much more punishment your suit can endure before it blows up with you inside.

As if the game wasn't amazing enough as it was, Konami decided to throw in a versus mode.  In the versus mode you can challenge a friend to a one on one grudge match in one of the many versus levels.  Unlike the single player mode, you can pick which robot you start in.

Did I mention that each of the robot battle suits is completely different from the others and have unique abilities that make them even matches for any of the others?  Seriously, this game is perhaps one of the most well made games I've ever seen on the SNES aside from the Legend of Zelda a Link to the Past, which is my favorite game of all time.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Robots Robots Everywhere

As I write this, behind me my two sons are playing a game based on a cartoon franchise that I have come to love.  That franchise is Gundam.  But it's more than Gundam that captivates me.  It's giant robots.  I grew up watching giant robot shows and as an adult I have access to even more anime of this genera than I did as a kid.  But the game they are playing isn't the only Gundam game I own.  In fact, its not even the only game based on a giant robot show I own.

What I'm getting at is that many of the games we play have themes or elements that are strongly influenced by the culture of the country in which they were created.  That country is Japan, and one of Japan's greatest obsessions is giant robots.  I love giant robots too, and have pretty much insured that so will my children when they are adults.  

Think about all the games that feature giant robots in one way or another.  Metal Gear, Mega Man (some of the sub bosses), Star Fox... even some of the Sonic the Hedgehog games have giant robot baddies.  

As I said, I love giant robots.  Well, I found an amazing site that has been around for years in one format or another that delivers more giant robot than you can shake a beam saber at.  Its called Mecha Anime HQ (MAHQ) and it has buckets of info on tons of giant robot (mecha to the geek inclined) shows.  

If you look through the different mecha pages you will find information on any games the different robots are featured in.  There are seriously dozens of giant robot games that are available in english speaking countries.  Thousands in Japan.

Sadly, the site doesn't have a section that features giant robots that are only in games.  Games like Armored Core, Xenogears or the aforementioned Metal Gear, Star Fox, Mega Man or Sonic.  But if you love giant robots like I do then its an excellent site to check out.  Especially if your looking for games based on your favorite mecha shows.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Magazines from gaming past

Remember those old issues of Nintendo Power that were like your bible?  Or that copy of EGM that had the preview of that game you were dying to play?  I know that long ago, in a galaxy far far away, I had crap loads of old game magazines that had all seen countless hours of my adolescent / teen time.

Sadly, in the summer of 99 my family moved to another state and I was told by my mother that there was no way she would let me lug the hundreds of magazines I had across state lines to scatter around the floor of another bedroom in another state.  Heartbroken, I was forced to bag them all up (in multiple garbage bags) and put them to the curb (how un-eco-friendly!).

Many times since then have I wished that I still had them.  Or thought fondly back upon the memory of poring over the pages of some ancient gaming tome.  Well, I found an answer to the hole in my soul.  Its called RETROMAGS and it has hundreds of old game magazines and guides from the old days of gaming glory.  

Everything on the site is free to download but your amount of downloads are limited based on how much you participate in the RETROMAGS community.  All you have to do is join up and start posting in the forums.  Once you get 25 posts under your belt you can start downloading from there direct links.  You can increase your weekly download limit by doing other things as well.  You can donate to the community, either with money or by helping out too.  

You don't have to join the community to download mind you.  They have rapidshare links you can download from, but if you've ever used rapidshare as a free user you know how much this sucks.  Personally I don't know why you wouldn't want to become active in this group.  You get to read old game mags and help preserve them for future generations at the same time!  Win win if you ask me.

Check it out!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Gaming makes you Super-Human?

We've all heard about how sitting in front of a tv or computer screen all day is bad for us.  And we've all retorted with "It improves hand-eye coordination".  Well I'm here to suggest that perhaps it does more for us than that.

Do you remember the first time you played Quake III or Unreal Tournament?  I do.  I remember getting the crap blasted out of me online by sub-pro gamers because it all seemed to be moving so ludicrously fast.  But I can also clearly remember a few weeks later when I was in a rocket arena and was running directly into an onslaught of rapid fire rockets from multiple guys while side-stepping, bobbing and weaving through them all with ease.  Fact of the matter is, once I was up to speed in those fast paced first-person-shooters everything else seemed kinda slow.

Its actually for this reason I never really liked the Halo series.  It simply moved too slow for me.  Games that were realistic were simply too slow for my taste.  Even real life itself seemed slower.  It was as if my sense of perception had been idled up a bit faster than it used to be.

As ridiculous as it sounds, I even seemed to get better at stuff like sports.  My reaction time had increased.  

Now, this could be just a gamer defending what he loves, but perhaps games can be used to make us better than the average human.  Perhaps, if utilized correctly, games could be used to make Super-Humans!  FPS's for reaction time and heightened perception, RTS's for enhanced
 multi-tasking (mad micro anyone?) and Action/Adventure games for problem solving logic.  All this combined with a Shaolin Kung Fu training regimen could produce an arm
y of god-warriors who could take over the world!  MWAHAHAHAHA!

Then again, most gamers are also procrastinators and have a chronic fear of physical exercise (myself included lol).  We would have to overcome this little hurdle if we wanted to conquer the world.

Just a theory

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Retro classics in HD

If you've never heard of DeviantArt now is the time to check it out.  There is an artist named Orioto who is making some of the most amazing paintings of classic game scenes I've ever seen. I had a zelda pic made by this artist as my desktop wallpaper for a very long time.  The paintings are done as if the original game had been done in HD and had been done without 3d.

I can say that long ago as consoles started getting more powerful I hoped and dreamed that games would look like this.  Instead we got 3d.  But my dream lives on in the imagination of this artist.  Check out the gallery here.  You can even pay to have a custom painting done.  If you have an old favorite you would love to have done like this all you need is some cash.

Now what would be really awesome is if we could get some games done like this.  Imagine some old classics redone in this style!  It would bring a warm feeling into the heart of this old gamer.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Why 16-bit was a Golden Age

The game industry of today is a completely different world than the world of yesterday.  Today we have high-end near photorealistic 3d graphics.  We have massively multiplayer online role playing games (MMORPG) that have vast landscapes and millions of living characters inhabiting them.  And we have games so easy and short that you can beat almost any of them in a single rental.  Wait, that last one isn't a good point!

What I'm getting at is that todays games are simply made differently than they used to be.  Market polls have been done and research into demographics has been conducted to ensure that when a new game is made, it appeals to as many people as possible.  Not to make better games mind you, but to make games that will make more money.

Now I know the argument that one would shoot back at me now.  "They are companies.  They are in business to make money!"  Or perhaps the more naive statement of "But wouldn't the best games make the most money?"  You see, there are gamers and then there are GAMERS!  I will get more in depth on that last statement in a second.  But before that I would like to remind people that we live in a time when movies are judged by how much money they make opening weekend.  The important thing to remember is that no one knows if a movie is good or bad until after they watch it and the ticket sales opening weekend are generated by hype not the quality of the film.  I say that to dispel any belief that sales equal quality.  I can't tell you how many times a bad movie has made enough money to warrant a sequel even though is sucked.  If movies could be judged by how many people saw it more than once we would have a much different film industry.

In the early days of gaming, it was a small market.  The people who played home video games or computer games back then did so because it was what they loved to do.  Like the table top games such as "Dungeons & Dragons" or "Warhammer", video/computer games had a small but dedicated following.  These people are what the industry of today calls "hardcore gamers".  Back in the early days, games were made for these people, by these people.

At some point, the balance of power began to shift.  As with any industry, the people at the top realized that to make more money they needed more people to play games.  But just as it takes a certain kind of person to sit around a table and imagine being in a different world battling monsters and going on great adventures, it takes a certain kind of person to sit in front of a screen and play a game made up of text and crude shapes.  I feel that not until the 32-bit age or beyond, games began to look good enough to appeal to the average person.  Or as todays industry calls them "casual gamers".

Now back to hardcore gamers and the balance between graphics and gameplay.  You see, it wasn't just marketing that changed games.  As graphical power increased it allowed games to become more of a visual experience than an imaginative exercise.  The early games had extremely limited graphical capability.  For instance, one of the causes of the great video game crash of the early 80's was the fact that just about every possible game that could be made on the existing technology had been done... and then done again, and again.  Games became redundant.

The 8-bit era ushered in better but still limited graphics.  To make up for this, the creators had to be more creative.  Games then had deep stories and intuitive gameplay.  Yes, there was a lot of crap too.  But most of the most cherished franchises were born in the 8-bit era.  Games like the Dragon Warrior series that took weeks to beat.  Or like the original Legend of Zelda which offered you the opportunity and challenge of a completely open world.  The game started and you were left to decide for yourself what to do from there.  You didn't HAVE to do anything in a certain order.  You didn't even need to take the sword from the old man in the cave on the first screen.  You could simply walk away and try to survive a different way.  You cant finish the game without a sword, but you can play through the rest of it without ever picking one up.

Now we get to the 16-bit era.  I believe the 16-bit era to be the golden age of gaming because it was a perfect blend of graphics and gameplay.  Games of this era had graphics good enough to realize the creators vision without leaving too much to the imagination while at the same time still having the main focus of the games development on quality storytelling and playing experience.  Some games were long and difficult.  Now a casual gamer would get frustrated with a long difficult game.  But to a hardcore gamer it was heaven.  Long games were games you could live in and become part of.  Hard games were a challenge to conquer and brag about.  Like a knight might brag of slaying a great dragon a gamer would brag about beating Chronotrigger or finishing Turtles in Time unspeakably fast and without using any "Continues". 

The 32/64-bit era had some gems.  Games that were truly incredible both visually and creatively.  But it was this era that saw the beginning of the dark times.  The seeds that eventually brought us to this age in which companies like Nintendo have forsaken those gamers who loved them most were planted at this time.  Games like the Madden series began to grow in popularity.  Games like these could easily be made by simply updating stat info and perhaps adding minor graphical improvements of the last years game.  Sports games of this kind flooded the market and are a dominant force to this day.  It was also this time that saw the resurrection of the clones.  Games that were built around demographic information and made almost like a paint by numbers process.  Games like Spyro the Dragon, Crash Bandicoot, Ty the Tasmanian Tiger, Ratchet and Clank, Banjo Kazooie... the list goes on.  These were essentially the same game in different settings.

Todays game industry is the evolution of this trend.  The few games that are truly great are very rare and difficult to spot among the see of shovel-ware.  And the old champion of quality over quantity, Nintendo, has all but forgotten gamers like me.  To survive they looked outside the existing game market to find new people to hold them afloat.  It has gained them tremendous financial success but for the first time in my life I find myself hoping Nintendo fails.  At this last E3 I saw the inevitable shift.  The other major players in the game market are starting to follow Nintendo's lead and it bothers me.  I think I would rather see another great video game crash than watch the entire industry I've grown up with go somewhere I will not follow.

Its a morbid way to look at it, I know.  But if it were to all crash, there would at least be the hope it could be born again like the phoenix and regain some of its former magnificence.  I would have the industry delivered back into the hands of the hardcore gamers.  If it were to fall and be forgotten by the casual gamers it has embraced, it would find that it would be helped to its feet by those who have always loved it and have remained by its side waiting.  Waiting for it to remember who its real friends are.