I’m not a gamer. There, I said it. Contrary to the beliefs of many that geeks tend to spend hours and hours online playing all kinds of cool games .. I form the exception to that very rule. Whenever you watch episodes of the Big Bang Theory or some other big media production that tries to depict “What a geek is” to the average digital mouth breather, it always encompasses images of Computers, Terminal windows and hours of Console gaming. I am horribly bad at the latter.
I am just not a “Console” Gamer. My gaming career (can you call it that ?) did start on “Console Gaming”. That is, if you can call the Atari 2600, its 8bit graphics and its indestructible controllers a “console”. Compared to todays Xbox 360 consoles that try to do everything but wash your dishes, the Atari was horribly yet brilliantly simple. Plop in casette, play game. We never had to worry about remembering our “live-id”, logging in, an internet connection, checking if our TV screen was DRM compatible for HDMI output and so forth. The only thing you DID have to remember was to finish up in time for your dad to watch the news. (Because you played this baby on the family tv, remember ?) The controller was horribly simple : A stick to move, buttons to fire/jump… that was it. If I ever thought this console would have prepared me for gaming in the 21st century .. I was dead wrong. I never stood a chance.
So after spending my digital adolescence on PC gaming using the powers of a noisy Cherry keyboard and a Logitech mouse, I stopped gaming for a couple of years. Getting a Mac meant that I had lots of new things to keep me occupied like producing music, video’s and podcasts. There weren’t a lot of games on the Mac in the beginning, and I never realy cared about that. But as for filling as it was to create a podcast, there was still this nagging sense of urgency that somewhere, somehow, I felt the need to let off some steam by blowing up a random zombie with a big gun.
So instead of installing games on my computer (I despised the hassle) , I decided to “just get a console” for my gaming needs. I was going to get BACK into GAMING.
I tried valiantly to throw myself back into the land of the modern gamer and got me an Xbox 360. The cultural shock could not have been any harsher then when I dipped my very first toes into a level of Halo. But before we get into the horrible embarrassing story of me being fragged by a six year old, lets back up to my initial encounter with the Xbox. When I got the unit out of its box and hooked it up to our TV, I somehow KNEW it was going to be a little more complex then my Atari 2600. It needed an internet connection : I expected that. It needed to run its updates : I expected that too (It IS a Microsoft product) It required me to set up an account : Ok, lets do that. But when I started asking me questions like : What kind of hair do you want to choose for my Avatar and “would you like to buy more accessories online” I was starting to feel a little out of my depth. Was this the state of gaming today ? No ” slide in the cartridge, flip switch, kill space invaders ” but a tedious process of digital bureaucracy and pointless avatar-pimping ? Come on !
I waded through the process, only to be appalled by the fact that I needed to pay EXTRA to play my game online. A game that I had already purchased. Baffled by the paywall between me and what seems to be a very “basic” need to ‘play with others’, I chose to go for “single player mode” first.
Halo. I had seen kids play this and was amazed at how good the game looked, how versatile it was, how detailed and entertaining it looked.. This was going to be fun right ? Wrong ! It turned out that the modern day gaming industry had slid yet another insolvable Rubics cube between me and my game : The controller. Forget the simplicity of the Classic Atari controller. This thing had more buttons then I had fingers. It had knobs, dials, buttons, switches whose purpose was completely lost on me. What WAS this ?
Add a giant Tv, a high speed game with tons of bad guys, sounds, flashing lights and a 300 button controller … and I was lost. I spent most of my time in Halo as organic paste on the wall before I switched to call of duty. Here, I was even worse. In the heat of the fight I forgot what button was up or down (or fire) and ended up giving the bad guy my rations. (He did not appreciate the gesture). I thought a racing game would be better but ended up plowing fields with my very expensive Ferrari in Need for Speed. I just wasn’t any good at it.
The controller and all its buttons had me baffled. The fast pace and high details of the game overloading my sensory pallet. My lethal gaming skills were reduced to a puddle of goo in the land of modern console gaming : I sucked at it.. Big time.
So after spraining a muscle while playing ‘The Michael Jackson experience’ ( I thought the Kinect controller would be ‘a big help’ in all this) I decided to sell my Xbox. Its now on the Belgian version of Craigslist. Not because its not awesome (because it is) not because its too hard (its not) but because the generational gap between me and the modern day console gamers is too big for me to breach.
I’m a classic gamer. Meet me in the online world of Counter Strike, of Quake 3, of Wolfenstein or some other first person shooter .. and I am lethal. Armed with a clunky keyboard and a sensitive mouse, I will seek you out and I will be the soul progenitor of your continues respawns. I’m not old .. I’m just Retro.
When I see people standing in line for the next big new console game, I always think back of the good old days when I still had my Atari game console and played classic 8 bit games on a run down TV in a backroom. Thanks to the awesomeness of the internet, I can now do exactly that inside a browser window. So forget standing in the rain for the next GTA game (and possibly being robbed in the cue by a 14 year old ‘gangsta’ who wants your iPhone) .. I’m heading out to the Internet Archive. Over there some brilliant programmers have come up with a way to play classic console games right in your 2014-style browser. The “Console living room” as it is called does not only have the coolest cover picture in existence (Check out the neck beard on dad’s picture there) it ALSO has a full listing a tons of games that you could play on your Atari 2600 and 7800 , but also from some more obscure systems like the Colecovision, the Odyssey, the Astrocade and the very very first Sega.
Instead of having to install an emulator an jump through hoops .. all you need is to “click on the pick” and the game will launch in your browser. We haven’t tried this on mobile devices yet (but its worth a go) and so far results are awesome. You can go full screen if you want to. There is nothing like playing ET on a 52 inch High Dev television and waist a ridiculous amount of pixels, resolution and technological progress on a little alien that looks like a turn on the screen. Its a little tricky to find the right buttons on your keyboard, so thank the matrix there is also support for game pads (YES ! game pads and not those 500 gazillion button contraptions they call “controlers” these days ).
So ground your offspring and plop them in front of the television to teach them “How mom and dad Fragged bad guys back in da 80’s”. Finish that never ending argument with your older brother about “who was best at Desert Falcon” and rekindle hours of time devouring goodness on Kung Fu Master. Its GAME TIME !
Long time friend of the show Swift has taken up a very interesting hobby over the last few years collecting retro gaming consoles. What started out as a collection of fantastic 8 and 16 bit Nintendo and Sega consoles has gradually evolved into an ever expanding mini museum of old computer hardware. His recent addition , a Commodore 64 , in mint condition with original packaging, printer, data recorder and everything prompted me to go and google up this great commercial from back in the day. If you never had a Commodore 64 it will just be a quant little flick. If you HAVE had one, its pure sweet retro …
What game are you going to play tomorrow ?
There is one question that I always ask younger people. Kids who are into games and stuff. Kids who where born after the great eight to sixteen bit revolution of consoles. Kids that don't know what PONG is if it bit them in the behind. You know them. When I talk to these teenagers-blessed-with-technological progress.. who are immersed in some on line game of super strong first person shoot'm up I ask them : What if the graphics in games become photo-realistic tomorrow … what will the next step be.
Kids these days.
As they wipe the perspiration from their forehead they look at me puzzled. Like I just dropped from the sky and have presented them with an electronic aigo version of Santa Clause and if they would please ride this thing across the north pole. " What do you mean .. well .. erm.." they stumble. As I try to clarify myself I mumble " What if the graphics in games are as real as they can be, where we come to the point where there are no more progressions in frame rate, in resolution.. When your gaming environment around you is as realistic as looking in the mirror" .. more blank stares and then a pointblank answer. " We"ll .. we"re done then .. aren"t we".
Asking the same question to older (when you are over 25 on the edge of real and cyberspace, you're ready for the cyber-old-farts-home) they give you a different answer. As they start to memorize about their first game console (an Atari) and the games they played on it. As they talk about chunky sprites that somehow had to resemble ET, Some brown flying blob that was a desert falcon .. And the anger of their mothers as their kids kept hogging the TV with the old game console. Grandpa Simpson is bleak by comparison to this useless banter so I once again post the same question. But this time the answer comes direct and clear : "We'll then we have to work on the content".
Polygon shaped boobs.
And its true. Most games these days (Certainly the ones on the major game consoles) are either shoot"m ups, race games, toombraider-esque games or on p's Massive on line games and varieties of those mentioned before. Once you know how to play one game . you've just about seen them all. Ok , the characters are more defined , their boobs containing more roundness and less polygons, the shading is better, the lighting is better, more detail etc. But nothing really changes. So when E3 came along (the annual game festival where games and console makers show their best) I was not even paying attention. Until I saw this video below.The Nintendo WII was far from the great expectation. It was the underdog.
And then those funky Japanese inventors came up with a revolutionary controller. It looked like a slimmed down version of a tv-remote. "How the hell am I gonna play with something like THAT" I wondered. But while companies like Sony and Microsoft made their game controllers even more ergonomically , letting them look like a sex toy that has been forgotten on the living room table .. Nintendo did something different. I do not know what awed me the most. The revolutionary design of the thing OR what happened if you moved it around ! (see video for details) But WHEN I saw it in action I realized that it offered an enormous creative opportunity for game developers. And THEN I saw what they had done with it so far ! Amazing . The console is BACK .. not only in the center of the living room .. but in the center of the family. The Nintendo approach is turning the WII into the heart of Sunday afternoon entertainment for everyone. With the right games that don"t include shooting people or flip flopping a half naked girl over Popsicle stand, the WII offers something for everyone. An innovative approach , a new vision in game entertainment .. and … well.. See for yourself !