Tag Archives: Pac-Man

The Day Atari Killed Video Games

We are absolutely spoiled rotten by the modern video game industry. Big game publishers can saturate any major or niche market with a smorgasbord of titles with little to no consequence to their total revenue. Less than 30 years ago, a major game publisher tried this same method with disastrous results, causing the video game industry crash of 1983.

I blame Atari almost entirely, and I’m not worried that Atari hit-men might come to my door since Atari Corporation doesn’t exist anymore.

The facts
Let’s establish some basic facts. Fact one, in 1983 the game industry saw a huge revenue drop for two consecutive years. Here’s what happened.

Pong

I guess you had to be there.

In the early 80s, Atari was riding a wave of popularity after it released “Pong.” All the cool kids played Pong, and if I had been writing for The Cool Ship in 1975, I would have posted several reviews and game guides on the internet. That would have been really hard since the internet hadn’t been created yet, and Pong wasn’t a complicated game.

The problem was, this popularity wave was losing energy, and Atari was feeling some pressure from competitors in both software and hardware markets. If Atari had channeled the pressure properly by making good games, they might have had a chance. Instead they released games like Pac-Man and E.T. for the Atari 2600, which loosened its grip on consumers. That opens the floor for fact two: the home computer’s introduction helped kill console gaming.

If you’re a PC gamer, kick back for a well practiced evil laugh. The advent of cheap home computers like the Commodore Vic-20 and Apple II stopped people from buying console games, not that they had much of a choice. I mean, which would you choose, a powerful all-purpose color computer, or a poorly animated and buggy version of Pac-Man that was $50 more?

My favorite fact of all is fact three: everyone was suing everybody. Atari was suing software pirates and at the same time was being sued for practically stealing other companies’ game ideas. Does this sound familiar to anyone? Samsung vs. Apple perhaps?

So decreased profits, home computing and lots of lawsuits and license fees ground Atari to a halt, much of which resulted from games you wouldn’t even allow your mother-in-law to play. The question becomes, why isn’t the video game industry crashing to a halt today? And the follow up question, why do we care?

Where’s the crash?
Over the past few years, sales data for the gaming industry as a whole has trended upward, the exception being 2011 which saw a decrease from 2010’s overall sales (according to NPD data). Now before we all freak out and cite 1983 as proof we’re heading into another game industry crash, don’t forget that even the recession couldn’t stop Activision from selling hundreds of millions of dollars worth of Call of Duty games.

I know none of this is news to you, as long as you haven’t been living under a rock for the last 5 years. If you have, go back under the rock for a few more years, the economy is still recovering. For the rest of us, you must be wondering why I would think the industry would be crashing at all. And the reason is: current games being released by major publishers are every bit as recycled and over-saturated as Pac-Man, Pong and Asteroids were in the 80s.

It would be funny if Pac-Man hadn't helped kill Atari.

Just look at the ten best selling games of 2011. Eight of the ten are sequels, if not sequels of sequels of…well, you get the point I hope. Only one of those games could even be described as original, as long as you believe L.A. Noire isn’t just a beautiful blend of Max Payne and Alan Wake, which it isn’t.

Why do we care?
Atari got a huge slap in the face from consumers back in 83, and it never fully recovered. The Atari you know today is just a name that Infrogames Entertainment uses in the U.S. for brand recognition. Assuming you feel the same as I do about game sequels, how can consumers wind up to land a similar blow to the current heavy weights in the game industry?

The answer is, we are already throwing punches.

Just look at how many games are free-to-play as opposed to subscription based, and pay attention to the business model of all those mobile games you’re playing. Just like arcades were popular and only cost a few quarters to play, mobile games are cheaper than making a long distance phone call (remember doing that?) and they can be every bit as fun or engaging. So many people are playing independent and casual games that the major publishers are noticing and trying to connect with consumers.

One of the best examples of us sticking it to EA and Activision comes from Tim Shafer’s recent Kickstarter project, which has been backed by fans for over $1 million. You can read about it here, and yes I realize that the article I linked disagrees with me.

Conclusion

Jumpman or Mario

Jumpman, Miyamoto's first game-changing creation.


Former Atari’s business model clearly wasn’t sustainable, but companies that publish games today are getting away with almost the same thing on a larger scale with a bigger audience. Will we ever see another crash? It’s possible but not likely. What we will probably see in our lifetime is the gradual growth of video games into something even Shigeru Miyamoto, the savior of the industry, could never imagine.

 

(featured image courtesy of atarimuseum.com)


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Video Game Addiction [Rocking the Boat]

Addiction?

We’ve all heard the stories. A guy dies after spending 12 hours a day playing Call of Duty. Pulmonary Embolism.

Or how about the 13-year-old kid who jumped off a building after writing a suicide note from the POV of his WoW character?

The media loves these kinds of stories. You see, video games are currently going through something that most forms of popular media get to go through: Fear mongering by people who don’t understand it. Comic books had to go through it. Role Playing Games got to go through it. Video games, welcome to the fold. You get to go through all the growing pains that the other forms of entertainment had to go through.

Video games, however, aren’t EXACTLY the problem.

The American Psychiatric Association has thus far not included video game addiction on its list of disorders. There’s simply not enough conclusive proof. You see, video games do not actually alter any brain chemistry. Your body doesn’t physically long for gaming.

However, video games are designed to be compulsive. They are made to reward you for doing well while playing. Ever been playing Skyrim, glanced at the clock, saw that it was 3 a.m. and thought that you would do just one more dungeon before bed? Before long, you notice that you’ve been playing for hours, and the sun is starting to rise. That “just one more” thinking is what video games are designed to do.

Since the beginning, video games have been built to offer rewards. In Pong, if you hit the ball with the paddle your score goes up by one. In Pac-Man, if you get the Power Pellet, you get to eat ghosts. In Super Mario Bros., the more coins you collect, the more lives you get in order to continue playing. In World of Warcraft, that next monster could be holding a sweet drop, or maybe you’re one bar away from leveling up. On Xbox Live, if you play the games in different ways, you get arbitrary achievement points.

Play. Get rewarded. Play more. Get rewarded. This is why games are compelling. And, for some people, they are much more rewarding than reality. See, in reality, if you work hard, sometimes you still fail. In video games, if you work hard, they are designed so that you won’t fail. There is a perfect balance of hard work + risk = reward.

Make Love, Not Warcraft

Sometimes, people get tired of failing in life, so they stop taking risks. Reality stops  mattering so much, and they find that they are getting all the reward they need in video games. Sometimes, it can get extreme. Hygiene falls by the wayside, they stop answering their phone, and they play until they pass out from exhaustion.

I’m still not willing to say that this is addiction. I think this is a manifestation of fear. It is a withdrawing into oneself to block out everything else. To do what is comfortable out of fear of failure to the detriment of everything else.

Let me end with this admonishment. Moderation.

Aristotle famously wrote, “Moderation in all things.”

Studies suggest that moderate video game playing will actually IMPROVE a child’s development and academic performance. But if your kids are playing video games (or doing any one thing) for massive chunks of time, it’s time to step in and do something about it. Be a good parent. Take interest in what your kids are doing. If video games are taking over your kids’ lives, do something about it.

Adults, know your limits. Don’t let other important things fall by the wayside. Be responsible. Have fun.

And game on.

Space Invaders!

 

 

 

 

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5 Horrible Retro Games

I came here to tell you five retro games that don’t deserve to be categorized as games; five games that were once presents for that boy or girl stuck on the naughty list. I came here to warn you, but they got to me. I’m one of the collective now. It hurts so much less now that I’m not resisting. I don’t know what I was thinking, resistance is futile. You will play these games with me, and you will love them.

Wait, what am I saying? These games are digital atrocities! Burning and burying them would not do them justice! My head…splitting…can’t think…anymore…

Do you value your sanity?

If not, then read on fellow gamers. Read and laugh, then cry. If you don’t laugh, you’ll cry anyway, so at least try to have some fun before the following five games sap your strength and leave you feeling helpless. They get in your head and lobotomize your will with their failed designs and graphics that will make you wish for a basilisk’s eye to stare into.

Be a good little Borg and read on.

#5. Big Rigs: Over the Road Racing – PC

Un-cool factor: laughable

This is going to be a short review of one of the worst implemented games ever made by man (we should assimilate them). Why? Because if I say much, it will spoil all the fun for you. You still have a laptop right? Or have you gotten so many tablets and iPods for Christmas that you can’t find your PC? When you do, I command you to install Big Rigs: Over the Road Racing on your PC and play it. DON’T install the patch. That’s how they get to you, through the patch. I was free once, able to think my own thoughts. Now I obey the collective.

Before I was brainwashed by the patch for this game, I laughed so hard my wife thought I was having fun.

#4. Rapjam – Super Nintendo Entertainment System

Un-cool factor: shameful

The title sounds so cool. It’s a rhythm based music game, or perhaps a sound mixing game with licensed music and all the best rappers from the 90s. Nope. It’s a basketball game, I think, although when I played I thought my character was running on top of a frozen swimming pool. But hockey has sticks, and all this game has is what every optometrist in the world should use as a test for depth perception. Either we would all fail the test, or I have cataracts.

Venture Bros could theme an episode after this game (credit: gameFAQs)

If they consulted with any actual rappers when they made this game, then rap isn’t as cool as everyone makes it out to be. It only gets worse from the character selection screen, where the picture of Naughty by Nature looks more like Hadji from Johnny Quest. Then a screen informed me that if I won, I would be featured in a rap music video and receive $500 cash. Of all the potential game ideas based on the budding 90s rap scene, Rapjam chose to show me a world where iconic stars show off their skills on the basketball court against a white dude, and we split the winnings of $500 three ways. Was Coolio this desperate for attention?

You can try to play this game, but Locutus would not approve. He’s a huge Will Smith fan.

#3. Superman 64 – Nintendo 64

Un-cool factor: disingenuous

If you have to ask about this one, bless you. I’ll bet you still think Santa Claus is real too. Haha, well he is real, but he’s a zombie, as you’ll see in my next retro review. But Superman 64 is no laughing matter. This is the absolute worst game ever made for Nintendo 64, no contest. So you want to know what it’s like, living the life of a super hero? Battling the forces of evil, saving the girl and making the front page every day?

Well it’s a lot like disc golf, only you are the disc and when you try to move you flap around like a monkey. Oh, and if you miss the rings you lose. And you’ll miss the rings. You will. I’m not talking about a Barnum and Bailey video game, I’m talking about Superman.

And by the way, did you know that Metropolis really looks like one of those cities they put on toy rugs for kids to drive cars on, only fuzzier? The horizon is a beautiful purple hue, set against one or two skyscrapers that comprise the entirety of the city with multi-millions of residents and the Man of Steel that protects it. I think I even saw a car once, but don’t worry, I picked it up and threw it so it’s gone.

A self-fulfilling prophecy for players of not-so-Superman 64

If this isn’t the Superman you know and love, and if you have been reading those forbidden comics that Nick Mathias keeps reviewing, you have to stop. You swore to obey the collective and we want you to play Superman 64. You’ll come around to our side. Resistance is futile.

#2. Pac-man – Atari 2600

Un-cool factor: unfinished

“No Micah, you’re wrong. Pac-man is good! I’ve played Pac-man, everyone loves it. Pac-man is cute, his music is fun and he chases goofy little ghosts with funny names. You can’t put Pac-man on your list of horrible games, I won’t allow it!”

Too late. Don’t you know that Atari made some really bad decisions in the early, awkward growth years of gaming? And did you know that this port of Pac-man barely deserves mention as a form of entertainment of any kind?  It would make a great stocking stuffer in place of the coal you were planning on using for your naughty list gift recipient. It will visit so much more suffering and pain on them than any other gift you could give.

What makes this game so horrible is the removal of any identifying traits to the original Pac-man, and the shame of Atari to boldly lie that it bears any resemblance to Pac-man. It actually serves the Borg quite well. We assimilated Atari years ago…

#1. E.T. the Extra Terrestrial – Atari 2600

Un-cool factor: disappointing

A game based on a successful movie about an alien from space, it should be perfect right? A few million cartridges in the landfill later and I’d wager that Atari would say, “no.” Remember when I said Atari made some bad decisions in the early days of gaming? They made this game, and it caused the video game crash of 1983, which effectively killed the entire gaming industry until I was born in 1985. I’ll admit there were other factors, but play this game, and you’ll know what did it.

If I had to sum up my experience with this game, I would say I’d rather fall through a hole in the Earth and stay there than play it again. The graphics are worse than a Mexican blanket, and not even as warm; the gameplay is worse than beating your head against a telephone pole, and more painful too. This game is the final stage of our assimilation, once you play it you will be one of the Borg.

Steven Spielberg still cries himself to sleep thinking about this game (credit: giantbomb.com)

Conclusion
As you open and enjoy Skyrim or The Old Republic this year for Christmas, remember these games and relish how good you have it, my fellow gamers. They say our faults are what make us human, but really that’s just an open invitation for the Borg to barge in and assimilate everything. Noticing a pattern here? Merry Christmas and happy New Year from The Cool Ship’s resident retro scrooge.

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