Eureka: Design Inspiration From 5 Arcade Classics

Myself and a number of the other IC regulars have just returned from California Extreme 2011 – the pre-eminent West Coast ‘gather hundreds of rare arcade and pinball machines in a room and put ‘em on free play’ gathering. (Incidentally, it’s still taking place tomorrow, Sunday, in Santa Clara, CA, if any Bay Area folks feel like making an appearance!)

Although a lot of similar titles turn up year on year, CA Extreme is a gold mine in particular for early American arcade cabinets of the Atari and Midway ilk, from vector-based titles to limited-distribution prototypes. (The game list is semi-accurate, although there’s about 20% slosh in there of titles that didn’t make it, etc – since it’s all volunteer based.)

Some of the rarer titles on play have really got me thinking about the interesting experiments of the early arcade period — and what we can learn from them from a design perspective. So, here are the less obvious titles I played today that really spoke to me, and just why:

- Space Dungeon (Taito, 1981 – YouTube video)
Apparently created before Eugene Jarvis’ seminal Robotron 2084, this is a frantic, Rex Battenberg-designed dual-stick shooter. And it’s a blast, once you work out which are the enemies and which are the pickups in the game (seriously, not that obvious!) There’s an interesting game design counterplay in going out of the way to grab pickups versus heading straight for the exit. Frenetic and unexpected.

- Major Havoc (Atari, 1983 – YouTube video)
One of a pair of absolutely mindblowing – and somewhat lesser-known – Atari titles from the prodigously talented Owen Rubin. Major Havoc is consecutively an interesting-angled Galaga style title, a swift Lunar Lander-style mini-game and a physics-heavy platformer, all using super-attractive vector graphics. Design lessons? Multiple genres in one game can really work, spinner-controlled physics is fun _and_ frustrating. And the main character has an idle animation!

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Got A Sense Of Wonder?

Just wanted to give a shout-out to this September’s Tokyo Game Show and the current call for submissions for Sense Of Wonder Night, which I’ve been associated with for the past few years.

As a Gamasutra story about last year’s SoWN (which I sadly missed!) explains, the showcase is to “discover new and unconventional game concepts that “catch people by surprise and give them a Sense of Wonder — a sense that something will change in their world — right at the instant of seeing or hearing the concept.’”

There are up to ten Japanese, Asian and Western games showcased yearly. Previous notable Western games that have also been Sense Of Wonder Night exhibitors — with onstage presentations simultaneously translated to Japanese and English — include Shadow Physics, PixelJunk Eden, The Misadventures Of P.B. Winterbottom, and Moon Stories.
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News: ‘Japanese Game Graphics’ book

jgg.jpg Wandering in my local discount bookstore today, I came across the rather lamely monikered Japanese Game Graphics: Behind the Scenes of Your Favorite Games, which was published by Harper Design International in 2004, and seems to have passed by everyone’s geek radar. But check out the table of contents – Virtual On Marz, Popolocrois, Resident Evil 0, Sakura Taisen 4? Turns out the 176 page artbook is an English-language translation of “Making Of Game Graphics 2003″ by Works Corporation, and includes lots of obscure, interesting concept art and making-of pictures. Squint at the Panzer Dragoon Orta example, which is part of the 10-page spread that includes pictures of a maquette of the dragon – other highlights include storyboards from Contra: Shattered Soldier, and even early controller prototypes for Steel Battalion. Some of the game entries lack some detail, but Half.com has a couple of copies for under $10 right now, and for that price, otaku everywhere should rush to buy it.

News: 6955′s unholy NES conglomeration

fc2.jpg Tokyo-based, Canadian raised Game Boy musician 6955 has been bleeping up some great portable Nintendo music for a while, including various releases on 555 Recordings and elsewhere. Now he’s preparing for a European tour with a new weapon (scroll down!), “a Roland TR-606 controlling an array of Nintendo Famicoms” – eight of them, in fact, according to the pictures. There’s a test MP3 up already which showcases the TR606+multi-FC sonic results, and also two hi-res pictures of the set-up – most funky. So, if you’re a European venue-owner, grab 6955 and Kimonophonic for a tour date this December?

News: Best of the IC wiki, Part 1

bof.jpgSince the Insert Credit wiki started up a few days back, there’s already been a bunch of neat, unique entries – so seems like it would be fun to highlight a few. First up – an entry for Climax Entertainment, the maker of Landstalker, fire-breathing founder and all. Also worth checking out, to name but a few – the entry for Atomic Robokid developer UPL, which shows exactly where Lawrence’s splash page Mutrons originated, and even a entry on the Panel De Pon series, for the puzzle-happy. Oh, and on the more abstract front, I enjoy Bezzy/Aderack’s ‘hack designer pentagram’ entry. Also, you can crosslink to other wikis now, to help remove redundancy. Personally, I like the IC wiki when it highlights neat obscurity like the above – so keep it up, all.

News: ‘Playing Catch-Up’, ‘Media Consumption’

kramer.jpg Not to make this ‘all Gama, all the time’, but some of you may not have spotted IC uber-ally Frank Cifaldi’s two regular columns for biz site Gamasutra, ‘Catching Up With’ (a more polite version of “Where Are They Now?”, Spinal Tap fans), and ‘Media Consumption’ (dealing with what media game professionals have been, uhh, consuming.)

Anyhow, there’s been a lot of updates to the column recently: the rather fun/educative ‘Catching Up With’ just got a hold of The Fat Man (infamous old The 7th Guest musician), and before that found Ted Woolsey (Final Fantasy translator), David Siller (veteran Aero The Acrobat creator), Dan Kramer (Atari trackball designer), Will Harvey (Zany Golf creator), Howard Scott Warshaw (Yars’ Revenge, E.T. for the Atari 2600), Steve Purcell (saintly Sam & Max creator), Al Lowe (captain of the Leisure Suit Larry sloop), and Paul Reiche III (Archon, Star Control creator).

Meanwhile, ‘Media Consumption’ has also extracted important cultural information on currently favored music, books, DVDs, films, and even games from various creators, including God Of War’s David Jaffe, WayForward’s Abbie Goldsmith, comic/game writer Paul Jenkins, Death Jr’s Chris Charla, Tilted Mill’s Keith Zizza, The Godfather’s Jenny Ryu, Puzzle Pirates’ Daniel James, Treyarch’s Jamie Fristrom, Sony Japan’s Gregg Tavares, Lionhead’s Tadhg Kelly, Double Fine supremo Tim Schafer, and Alien Hominid’s mighty fine Dan Paladin. These columns are much fun for of the reading – watch for more.

News: Legal game .torrents

white-chamber.jpg Since BitTorrent is too often known for illegal (or semi-legal) file distribution, one of my side-projects is the fairly self-explanatory LegalTorrents site. But up until now, though a game-related documentary or two made it on there, there haven’t been any actual video games available. Fortunately, that’s now changed, and you can now grab Creative Commons-licensed versions of formerly commercial 2D adventure The Adventures Of Fatman (.torrent), newly released IGF finalist and ‘interactive narrative’ innovator Facade (.torrent), and anime-inspired horror adventure title The White Chamber (.torrent). So jump on and help distribute these creator-approved .torrents – and get some smart games for free at the same time.

News: Forrester for MegaZeux

forrester.jpgApol from #ic pointed out Forrester, a newly released title for the MegaZeux text-based PC game construction kit, itself a derivation of the legendary Tim Sweeney-authored ZZT. You can grab the latest MegaZeux client from DigitalMZX.net, and then try Forrester, subtitled ‘a game about remembering’, and revolving around the main character, who has lost his daughter – unashamedly retro, oddly abstract stuff, and deliberately designed by the author as ‘a game that was like the classics we all grew up on. ZZT, SuperZZT, and that family’. Oh, and the MegaZeux Sourceforge page has a list of great MegaZeux-made games, if you’re looking for other potentially intriguing brand-new-they’re-retro titles.

News: Gunstar Heroes speed run

gunstar-heroes.jpg Over at the Internet Archive, they’ve just posted a speed run of Gunstar Heroes – expert mode completed in 41 minutes and 15 seconds by Mike Uyama, without dying, pausing, or using emulators – impressive stuff! There’s more info at the Speed Demos Archive, where apparently, ‘Nate had this to say about the run: “if you know Gunstar Heroes, you want to watch this run. if you don’t know Gunstar Heroes, you want to watch this run.”‘ Other recent additions to the collection include Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, Final Fantasy III, Tomb Raider, and Castlevania: Aria Of Sorrow.

News: ‘Gamer Br’ video game documentary

gamer-br.jpg The Brazilian guys at Pirex have an info page on Gamer Br, ‘a Brazilian documentary about the video game scene in Brazil. It gives voice to gamers, producers, LAN center owners, anthropologists, politicians, government representatives and game enthusiasts, asking questions about professional gaming, addiction, piracy, censorship, and violence in games. The video is mainly Portuguese-spoken, with relevant English subtitles.’ The kicker? The 46-minute, 750mb AVI of the full doc is Creative Commons-licensed and now downloadable via BitTorrent from the LegalTorrents site.