If We Could Go Back In Time…

Text by A.A. BENJAMIN, Game Demo by JO KIM, Characters by SPARLING

Our fictional Once Upon A Time Machine video game proposal (<–see our powerpoint presentation here) had one obvious blunder. We had a cool game demo but treated our presentation as separate from the demo.

As we talk about hyper-meditation in this English New Media course, finding ways to merge the two would have been an opportune way to express what we’ve learned in the course. However, timing issues and mishaps aside, the highlight of this project was collaboration. Our bouncing ideas transformed into a proposal that mimicked gameplay and a fun intertextual commentary that made gaming attractive to a target audience.

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The Narrator

We built a video game model off of the arcade style and well-known Mario Kart race track design. The premise of the game is that you can choose one from ten playable characters designed from H.G. Well’s novel, The Time Machine. You then race against your friends in your choice of eight vehicles derived from methods of time travel across literature and film to date, all with their pros and cons. Along the courses which follow the novel’s plot, you use items and special weapons to work your way to first place, surviving the clingy Eloi and destructive Morlocks. Our game provided some intertextual game play for intellectuals in their 20s and 30s, as well as sci-fi and steampunk fans. We also took liberties with H.G. Well’s more obscurely described characters to create gender and race-inclusive characters.

The most enjoyable part about this project, to me, was the generation of ideas together and then watching them develop through art and imagery. One thing we would have needed to do if this were a real proposal would have been to fully design our own concepts and/or cite our sources (drawing them would have been super fun). Though we wouldn’t have to consider copyright issues with the aged H.G. Wells novel, we concluded that we could keep the vehicles as direct references under the Fair Use doctrine. Also, as indicated by our classmates, we could have described the functions of more of our characters, vehicles, and levels rather than focusing on one or two, so here some drafts that didn’t make the cut:

 

Man With A Beard
Man With A Beard–Spontaneous combustion whenever using matches

 

Time_Machine__in_Engine_by_natetheartist
Time Machine Sled–Can hold endless items. The more you have slower you are. Items attract Eloi, sled itself attracts Morlocks. Enables use of mace
Tardis–Unaffected by villains. Overheats when lighting matches. Your matches don’t work on villains (because you’re in a box. Basically, just avoid matches). Disappears momentarily. Works best with Medical Man
HyperSpace
Final Stage Kill Screen: In the old arcade games, the machines had limited space and therefore when players got far enough the graphics began to devolve. The Time Machine ends with the Time Traveller disappearing without a clue of where he went, so the last stage could be a “kill screen,” racing at length until the game graphics begin to deteriorate.

Unfortunately, we are mere undergrad students incapable of rendering the game in such the intricate way that we imagine, so if we were to get a chance to build it, it’d probably be less compelling. But it was fun to dream, anyway. Isn’t that where all great games begin? Progress!

–A.A. Benjamin

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The Evolution of Video Games and the Diminishing Relevance of Failure

By Thomas Adams

In class, we began discussing failure in video games. The most common version of failure in video games in gameplay failure. Gameplay failure is when the player fails to complete a task that he/she must complete in order to progress in the game. This could be failing to solve a puzzle (e.g. Portal), dying to enemies (Halo), or even losing a match against an opponent (League of Legends).  I will breakdown the evolution of games over time and show how failure in video games became less harsh and more importantly, different.

Thinking back to early video games, we have to look at the arcade genre. Because of the video game infrastructure at the time, these games were meant to be played at an arcade, not in your home. As such, these games were meant to be played for a few (but possible several) minutes at a time to allow for others to have a chance to play as well. Thus, the games had to be developed in such a way that allowed for meaningful gameplay progression, but also had a “hard-capped” end. For example, Donkey Kong allowed players to play the game for as long as they could, while they still had enough lives left. Of course, the game increased in difficulty and most players could never really play too long.

As companies began developing in-house consoles, like the NES, the gameplay paradigm followed. Many games for the NES still had a very “hard-capped” ending. Super Mario Bros., for example, had a similar structure to Donkey Kong. The player could progress as far as he/she wanted until they ran out of lives or beat the game. Having played the game myself, it is very disheartening to see yourself progress really close to the end, and then lose your last life. That’s it. Game Over. Now restart from the beginning.

As technology grew in the 90s, games could become more sophisticated. Developers could begin creating non-linear story lines and program 3 dimensional worlds. Take the Nintendo 64 games for example. Banjo-Kazooie and Donkey Kong 64 both became more forgiving when a player failed. Simply getting hit by an enemy didn’t mean death. Players began having health pools to take more than a few rounds of damage. Players also still had multiple lives. However, these two games in particular still had “Game Over” screens when a player completely died for the last time. (here is one for Banjo-Kazooie). As you can see, these game over screen are very disheartening and showing the player the results of their failures.

Fast forward another 10 years to the 2000s and even today. Technology has allowed us to put more content in games than ever thought imaginable. This new emphasis on content and story-driven games allows developers to be extremely forgiving with gameplay failure. This is mutually beneficial for both players and developers. The players get to continue their game without harsh penalty while also getting to access all the cool content that the developers spent millions of dollars on. It only makes sense, right? Why would a company spend that much resources on game content if the punishment for for gameplay failure was never getting to experience any of it? Nowadays, with huge thanks to advancement of technology, failure is almost irrelevant because of the willingness for developers to be forgiving and the perseverance of players in order to progress in those games.

Donkey Kong Kings

There is a whole culture behind video games that I was completely unaware of – a culture of competition and pride. The film King of Kong: A Fist Full of Quarters seriously caught me off guard with the intensity and seriousness surrounding arcade games, specifically Donkey Kong. While it is nice to be the best in the world at something (not that I personally would know) it seems like grown men were putting their whole lives on hold to achieve the goal of being the best.

Throughout the movie I felt overwhelmingly sad for the family of Steve Wiebe. His wife was left alone to raise their children while he was cooped up in the garage playing Donkey Kong or travelling to prove his merits as a gamer. It seemed as if his family came second to Donkey Kong, which made me even more impressed that throughout his video game career his wife had unwaivering support for him. However, even though the Wiebe’s opened up their lives to the cameras, it would be interesting to see if behind the scenes there was tension in the marriage or the family stemming from his obsession with Donkey Kong.

 What surprised me even more was being exposed to the worldwide phenomenon of record holding in arcade games. I had no idea that gamers across the world were in competition with one another, let alone that there were world records for such a thing. Twin Galaxies operates out of someone’s apartment where he watches tapes and decides which are valid. It’s crazy that people all over the world film their games and send them in just to be recognized and have a feeling of validation from one organization. The referees and the organization hardly seem fair. The main referee was a good friend of Billy Mitchell’s and favored his top score even though it was in the form of a video, something that was not allowed for Steve.

 Overall, the movie was a classic story of the triumph of good over evil. Billy Mitchell was portrayed as being an arcade bully while Steve Wiebe was struggling to gain notoriety in the gaming world. Each time Steve broke a record Billy hit him right back with a video of a higher score (which may or may not have been edited). It was great in the end when they highlighted that by 2007 Steve had beaten Billy and was the world champion. 

 

Molly Steckler

King of Kong

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This documentary reminded me why people are the worst. We first meet Billy Mitchell who set the world record for Donkey Kong in 1982. He is originally portrayed as a man who dragged himself through the mud and made something of himself. He started his own restaurant. His parents say that he is a “winner.” However, I personally think that he is a sneaky, hypocritical, little man. Steve Wiebe is introduced as a challenger to this record. I do not know if this documentary was filmed objectively, but he becomes the sympathetic figure or even heroine in the film.

Steve Wiebe tries to pierce the bubble that Billy Mitchell has created with Twin Galaxies, the company that verifies world records for arcade games. The entire movie seemed to be a conspiracy to keep Steve Wiebe from being recognized for having broken one million points on Donkey Kong and beating Billy Mitchell’s record. Billy Mitchell is part of the committee that confirms that scores were achieved without cheating. That seems to be a conflict of interest to me. Billy Mitchell and his posse seemed to build obstacles to stop Steve at every turn. Brian Kuh might be the most despicable of the group. He is always lingering around Steve trying to get in his head. At one point Brian went into Steve’s house and took apart his Donkey Kong arcade game without Steve’s permission. Eventually Steve’s accomplishments were recognized but this was not for a long time after this feud started. Steve Wiebe entered tournaments and set records in the public’s eye, as Billy Mitchell said it should be done. However, where was Billy Mitchell? Not once did he enter a tournament and play in front of the public. All of his records were recorded on film, which looked to be faked. This movie successfully destroyed my faith in humanity. I no longer want to live on this planet.

Arcade to Console: A Shift in the Nature of Games

by Theo Dentchev

“There’ll always be the argument that video games are meant to be played for fun. Believe me, some of it’s a lot of fun. Video games are meant to be played at home, relaxing, on a couch, amongst friends…and they are, and that’s fun. But competitive gaming, when you want to attach your name to a world record, when you want your name written into history, you have to pay the price.”

– Billy Mitchell, The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters

In the above quote arcade game legend Billy Mitchell speaks to the difference between competitive gaming and what might be called “casual” gaming. But at the same time, in a way he’s comparing modern gaming to classic arcade gaming. “[Modern] [v]ideo games are meant to be played at home…on a couch,” and one might add with a gaming console, on a TV, whereas classic arcade games are played standing up in front of the arcade machine, usually in an arcade. Those superficial differences in location and method of playing are representative of a broader shift in gaming from the arcade era in the 80s to the console era of today, from more competitive to more casual, from a narrow to a broad appeal, and from more rule oriented games to games which utilize fiction much more heavily.

The underlying goal of classic arcade games is to get as far as you could, to achieve as high a score as possible without dying (and if you are good enough, to hopefully get your name on the high scores list), and thus they are inherently competitive. Arcade games also require great hand-eye and hand-thought coordination, as Twin Galaxies founder and referee Walter Day tells us in King of Kong. Someone playing an arcade game has to be literally thinking on their feet. The person has to be on edge, attentive, and motivated to keep standing there and competing at that game. This is in stark contrast to video games today, which are meant to be enjoyed while sitting back, sinking into your couch cushions, without needing to exert a great deal of mental or physical effort. Today’s games try to be friendly and open to new or “casual” gamers. They are much, much more forgiving than the arcade games of the past and no longer restrict players to going as far as their skills allow them; now even the least able gamer  can fully experience (and beat) most games. That isn’t to say that there aren’t still games being made which are or can be competitive out there, it just means the landscape has shifted.

Accompanying this shift is gaming becoming more mainstream. Whether the increased public interest in gaming is due to the increasingly casual nature of games, or whether companies are making more casual games to please the public, I don’t know. I figure it’s a combination of both. Most people don’t find the intensely challenging, and often frustrating nature of arcade games to be “fun.” They are more attracted to games whose rules present some sort of challenge, yet not one which is too difficult to overcome. But people also like flashy graphics, rich soundtracks, and complex stories. Arcade gaming did not have that. They didn’t have the greatest graphics (it was the 80s,still early in the development of video games), and while they had some catchy themes the music was pretty simple. As for story, sure, Mario (Jumpman) was trying to save Pauline (Lady) from Donkey Kong in Donkey Kong, but that’s about as deep as that story gets, and there’s really no resolution of the conflict (ending). And what about Pac-Man? What was he eating all those dots for anyway? Arcade games focused mostly on a set of rules, without much fiction. Modern games still have rules which the player must follow, but have added great amounts of fiction, mainly in the form of narratives and accompanying music, to the point that some games are considered more film than game (e.g. Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots). That in turn has attracted a great deal of people to the gaming world, swelling its ranks with new, casual gamers.

Video games in the 80s were generally viewed in a negative light, with mostly “losers” or “nerds,” supposed rejects of society, congregating in dimly lit arcades, almost cult-like. Perhaps this was because games were still a new and relatively foreign medium. Or maybe the “price” needed to be paid that Billy Mitchell alludes to, not in quarters, but in time, dedication, and repeated frustration resulting from the difficulty of arcade games was too high for the average person to pay. Or was it because arcade games were too simple, only about rules and competition? Whatever the case may be, since video games have started heavily incorporating fiction and lowering the challenge the rules present, changing the nature of the games from competitive to casual, they have been propelled in a relatively short amount of time into mainstream recognition and acceptance. People find today’s games to be more “fun.” It’s not only nerds who play video games now, and although competitive gaming may still be discredited, even that is changing as people begin to play games like Halo for a living.

Or maybe it’s all because of Madden.

– TD

The Evolution of Immersion

By: Billy Bunce

Help me. I’m being pursued. I desperately flee from four shadowy figures, each of whom desires nothing more than my death. Oh, but what a relief it would be were that my only dilemma. As I was first abducted by these four (though I luckily just escaped), I have absolutely no knowledge of my surroundings. In fact, I feel almost…trapped. I have no idea how to escape. My only chance of temporarily evading my captors would come from thoroughly surveying the area in which I currently find myself. Then and only then might I possibly be able to find some fleeting escape to postpone my inevitable demise. Maybe I’ll be able to find a weapon soon and fight back against my captors for a brief while. But until then, I run.

Now, reread that paragraph with the newfound knowledge that I just presented a more absorbing, epic, and slightly altered synopsis of the game Pac-Man. Such an involved mindset, though actually rather commonplace in modern console and computer games, is never encountered in classic arcade games. This, in my opinion, is the primary difference between arcade/board games and contemporary video games: a sense of immersion.

I’ll never forget the evening when I finished the fourth case in Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney on the DS. The ending was so shocking and mind-blowing that I literally found myself unable to study for the AP exams that I had the next day. Lost in contemplation, I was only able to think about the game, the characters, and the complex murder mystery that had just been revealed to me. It was then that I first realized just how absorbing a video game can truly be if done right.

However, it wasn’t just the narrative that caused the game to affect me the way it did. The graphics, music, and presentation all combined to make Phoenix Wright one of the most enthralling experiences I’ve had the pleasure of knowing. None of these great aspects, though, can be found in arcade or board games. Although the original arcade games should be appreciated for the difference they made in shaping the present state of video games, the truth is that I will never be as enthralled by a game of Pac-Man, Monopoly, or Galaga as I am by Phoenix Wright, Metal Gear Solid, or Final Fantasy VII.

This difference in the immersive abilities of a game arises primarily due to the evolution of the medium of video games as a whole. Board/arcade games are, more than anything, relics of a time when video games were naught more than quick, simple endeavors. The purpose of video games was once solely to have mindless fun, while they are now transmedial fusions which can provide involving, absorbing, and potentially life-changing experiences (Kingdom Hearts actually fell into that final category for me). Sure, a game of Dig-Dug or Donkey Kong is still fun every once in a while if I just need to kill some time. But for me, an immersive console game will always beat a simple round of an arcade game.

Sweet, Glorious Australia

by Calvin Patimeteeporn

It had been 3.5 hours of playing and our Risk game was finally coming to a close. My allies had been completely wiped off the board and a previously “neutral” friend sided with my enemy and I was left to defend Asia.

By myself.

I prayed every time I rolled the dice and I  heard my friends’ maniacal laughter grow as my they pushed back my army further and further into Asia. The room was filled with yelling, trash-talking, and laughing at this point and I was loving it, despite the fact that half of my army was slaughtered in less than 4 turns. But soon enough, the sinking feeling set in my stomach as I realized how far my peers have beaten down my army.And then, I saw the solution.

Australia.

Sweet, glorious Australia.

I rushed my army in that direction and succeeded in holding back their armies from there. We reached a stalemate  after another hour of constant fighting and decided to end the constant death that surrounded Australia. While, I did not win the game, I had never had that much fun with a piece of cardboard, plastic figures, and dice. The whole sense of the cliche “warm feelings” as the game progressed (or regressed) was a winning experience in itself.

With console games, while there is still the option of playing with friends (and even some online) it never gives the same feeling. When I played Xbox Live with Halo, I was actually insulted and “face-humped” in the game, which, surprisingly, does not give me the “warm cuddly feeling.” My other experiences with online gaming, including Lord of the Rings: Online resulted in the almost same experience. Being called a “newb” multiple times is not as rewarding as it sounds.

However, this might just be the ravings of an old teenager who lives at the end of the block shaking his cane at youngsters. But I am more inclined toward traditional board games. Sure they don’t have 3D worlds to explore and they don’t have amazing character designs and graphics, but they do have a medium in which my friends and I can project our inner Napoleons.

Even if my Napoleon gets trapped and retreats into Australia.