Keyboard Geniuses

Lode Runner

83 Skidoo

Highlights from the week’s comment threads.

By Matt Kodner • August 23, 2013

Keyboard Geniuses is our weekly glance at a few intriguing, witty, or otherwise notable posts from the Gameological discussion threads. Comments have been excerpted and edited here for grammar, length, and/or clarity. You can follow the links to see the full threads.

Sweet Games (Are Made Of This)
I, Robot arcade game

All week long, our pals over at The A.V. Club have been partying like it’s 1983 with a theme week centered around that very year. Grody to the max! Gameological got in on the rad action with a list of influential games that came out right around the industry’s huge crash. Always Been Tim recounted stories of an arcade chain’s gnarly demise and the politics of the pre-crash arcade boom:

I remember the summer of ’83 pretty much being the height of the arcades. Going into an arcade, lit up by nothing but it’s machines, a horde of people standing around Dragon’s Lair, oohing and ahhing over each new scene. By winter, the arcade was empty, and by the next year, it was gone.

I knew this guy in the ’90s who had been the manager of a chain of local arcades during that time. He gave me all the lowdown of the highs, the politics, the backstabbing, the fuck-ups, everything. I’ll never forget him talking about how it all crashed down and how he had closed up each arcade in the chain until he was down to just one. This lone outpost in this tiny town out in “Bumfuck Egypt.”

He drove out there in the late morning, walked in and found nobody there. No customers, no employees, nobody. Nothing but untouched video games talking to each other. The employees had just opened the arcade, turned everything on and left to get high or drunk or watch TV or whatever. I’ll never forget him describing how he methodically turned each machine off, made sure everything was secure, turned the lights off and flipped the sign to CLOSED, locked the door and taped a note for his employees that just read, “You’re fired.”

Before the crash, when times were flush, a new arcade opened in town. It was an ice cream parlor, and it was going to have about 20 games and cater more to younger kids. They approached my friend, Dave, and asked if everything was cool (you see, Dave’s company wasn’t exactly “mob affiliated” but they were what I would call “mob adjacent”) and Dave said everything was fine (their starting games were older while Dave’s were bleeding-edge) as long as they just did one thing: [use] different size tokens. It was easy. Everybody got their tokens from the same place, and there were hundreds of sizes. Just make sure it was something else, right?

So the ice cream parlor opens up, and guess what? Their tokens were the same size! Not only that, but they were practically giving them away! Eight for a dollar, and during special hours, they were 16 for a buck, so kids would load up at the ice cream place and then go over Dave’s place and drop their token in Dave’s machine.

Dave was seeing no profit from this and was livid. Heck, his bosses, who were these cousins of big-city mobsters, were holding him back! He really wanted to burn the place down. In the end, they just cut off the supply of new machines to the ice-cream place, with the thinking that while people were still willing to play Pac Man in ’81, they would be less inclined in ’82 and by ’83, they would demand something new. It kinda worked—the ice cream place’s business did drop—but it also saved them. By being forced to stick to old machines, they never lost money by buying new ones. Sure, Dave made a fortune on Dragon’s Lair, but he lost a fortune on Space Ace.

Mr. Glitch shared some details of the ’83 crash from a home console perspective:

The crash was very real, at least in the U.S. So many game consoles and so many developer studios folded in such a short time that pundits really thought the home video game industry was dead. The Astrocade, Atari 5200, Intellivision, ColecoVision, Vectrex, Emerson Arcadia, Fairchild Channel F, and Odyssey2 were all discontinued or had production seriously scaled back in 1983 and 1984. Smaller game developers, like Xonox & Imagic, disappeared entirely, while larger ones, like Activision, focused more heavily on developing games for home computers, a market that was much healthier at the time.

I have a humble collection of Atari 2600 games, 89 in total. Granted, that’s only a small fraction of the 2600’s total library, but it’s big enough to be a fairly representative sample. Of those 89 games, 36 were released in 1982, six in 1983, and a big fat goose egg in 1984. And this is for the one game console that managed to survive the crash!

In response, The Misanthrope, as inaptly named as ever, marveled at the longevity of one Atari 2600-era studio:

Activision is quite the motherfuckin’ survivor, eh? While most companies from that era have seen their profile diminish (including the company they started out making games for, Atari), have been swallowed whole by bigger companies, or have just outright folded, Activision has just gotten bigger, leaner, and meaner. The company that now sits on one of the most lucrative contemporary franchises was once just a couple of dudes who got sick of being treated like second-class citizens by Atari.

I will never forgive them for killing off Infocom, though. Granted, evidence suggests that Infocom was well on its way to doing itself in, but still, they didn’t have to put a shell in its brainpan.

Soredomia added a few more notable 1983 entries to our list:

King’s Quest was released in 1983 in demonstration model form for the PC Jr.

The immortal Spy Hunter hit the scene. Bond-esque action well before the era of Goldeneye, albeit in car form. And who can forget the way that in-game music was applied so effectively?

Wizardry III: Legacy Of Llylgamyn—while the first had the most influence on the industry, the third in this series is no slouch and had acclaim equal to Ultima for overseas designers (see the recently released Dragon’s Crown).

Donkey Kong Jr. Math: Sure, we had Face Maker and Oregon Trail and things of the sort, but years before Donald Duck’s Playground and Mickey going into space, there’s this mainstream property trying to teach kids simple mathematics in a fun way. Was it effective? Very debatable. But hey, it certainly was memorable.

There was also a Doctor Who adaptation game, a Sierra adaptation of The Dark Crystal, and of course, the Broderbund classic Lode Runner.

Brett Martin, video game memorabilia collector

Cory Casciato spoke with Brett Martin, the man with the world’s largest video game memorabilia collection. Martin talked about how collecting video game pieces is a nostalgic exercise, and Salmon took a stab at why nostalgia affects video game enthusiasts so deeply:

This is veering off a bit, but speaking of nostalgia, there was a recent article in The Atlantic studying it. The term itself was coined by a 17th-century Swiss physician, and it almost literally means “the pain of returning home” (which is a rather lyrical phrase in and of itself I think). It was of interest originally because it was seen as a disease that soldiers on campaign would get, which would impede progress and fighting ability, so it was dealt with harshly.

Bringing it back to video games, most people on this site are probably old enough to have profound nostalgia for a game, series or system, but the obsolescence of computers and consoles makes them different from something like cinema, which has been standardized for decades. Nostalgia for Casablanca, which is available in every format under the sun, is something much more easily sated than nostalgia for an out-of-print game for a console long discontinued.

This probably then feeds into the practice of preserving art: Video games have such a profound obstacle to longevity. I actually love the trend of remastering previous generations’ games up to HD for current systems, but how good a solution is this? How is the medium going to preserve games for 50 years, 100 years, and onwards?

Ghostride The Ship
Panzer Dragoon Saga

In a To The Bitter End feature, Anthony John Agnello guided us through Panzer Dragoon Saga’s helluva ending, where you learn that you’ve been standing in as a spirit that infused the hero with life—Anthony read this as an embodiment of Christianity’s Holy Ghost. Spurred on by Saga’s revelation, Naked Snake ruminated on the unique position third-person games put their players in:

Fundamentally, third-person games have a strange disconnect between player, character, and actions. The player effectively tells the main character what to do, and then the [character] carries out those orders. You wouldn’t think that it would make a big deal for the player, but you can see the effect of this disconnect in terms of what games are suited to what perspectives. For instance, virtually all sandbox-style games, in which the killing of innocent civilians by the player is a possibility, are third-person games. And in situations where a first-person perspective game has sandbox-style gameplay—like Blood Dragon, for instance—killing innocents is not a possibility.

What I’m saying is that design choices affect not only how a player plays the game, but also how they experience the game, and how they connect to it emotionally. When an author starts writing a book, they probably think long and hard about what biases they will introduce into the book by using a first-person perspective, a third-person perspective, or multiple perspectives. We analyze and debate these choices with writing because there seems to be an element of intentionality and forethought to the choice. But it’s rare that we see that kind of critical thinking in game design.

It’s nice to see games like this come along from time to time that can challenge us with an unreliable narrator trick (similar to the last Bitter End with BioShock). I think I’ll try to find a way to play this game.

Duwease told tales of a similar and unexpectedly bright moment in Baten Kaitos:

The old Gamecube game Baten Kaitos used your role as the “Guardian Spirit,” a guiding character outside the fourth wall, to great effect.

You go through the game as the guardian spirit of a man named Kalas, who you instruct as normal in Japanese role-playing game convention, but who also addresses and converses with you directly. It’s really a fairly generic Japanese RPG story, with rough dialogue and terrible voice acting, which makes it even more shocking when…


…you defeat the stereotypical “end boss but not really, here comes the real bad guy,” and the traitor in your party is revealed, and it ends up being…Kalas? A flashback reveals how he managed to turn over the MacGuffin to the bad guys earlier by abusing your limited camera perspective to do it out of your direct sight. He needed the “Guardian Spirit” power to survive merging with some god or another, and now that’s accomplished, he sends you back to your plane, as the picture and sound get more and more noisy and disappear into the center, as if the tube TV were turning off.

Honestly, it was such a good twist in such an average game that I never did play far after that, preferring to remember it that way instead of whatever inevitable Japanese RPG Friendship Defeats Ancient Evil ending came afterwards.

The Line To Least Resistance
Tetris World Record

Matt Gerardi brought word of an exciting new record set in the world of Tetris. Some wizard cleared 40 lines in under 20 seconds, which is insane in theory and should be impossible in practice. But there’s video! In response, HobbesMkii presented a counter-theory on how to actually become the greatest Tetrist:

Given that Tetris is by and large a time waster, this seems counter productive. I mean, the “best” Tetris player should be one that avoids both winning and losing for the longest possible time, thus avoiding doing the most work.

Thanks for reading and commenting, everybody, and we’ll see you next week!

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41 Responses to “83 Skidoo”

  1. caspiancomic says:

    Hey beauties, I’ve got a new article up at Game Theory. This one goes out to everyone here at Gameological who loved Ni No Kuni, but had issues with the game’s ending. The article is basically just me scratching my head trying to figure out what happened there, and why, and proposing how I think the ending was originally intended to go.

    Now, if it pleases the court, I’ll be spending the weekend in cottage country, getting mildly sunburnt and pointedly not drinking the tap water. Later y’all!

    • duwease says:

      Great article, it sums up my beef with the endings far better than I’d be able to.  I had no idea the DS version only had the one ending, but it does explain how the post-first-ending part of the game feels so tacked on.

    • Mike Wolf says:

       I really wanted to like Ni No Kuni, but judging from the demo, the battle system is a bit of a clusterfuck. Not sure if it’s just poorly explained there, or what, but it put me off getting the full thing.

  2. stakkalee says:

    It felt like a short week, didn’t it?  That just means the weekend got here faster is all.  The most-commented article this week was, of course, the WAYPTW thread with 161 comments; the 1983 Inventory came in second.  And here’s the Top 5 Most Liked (non-KG) comments:
    1) @Merve2:disqus gets 26 likes for explicating Sam Barsanti’s technofetishism.
    2) With 22 likes @hcduvall:disqus doesn’t know how to Internet.  (Seriously, reasonable disagreement?)
    3) @Spacemonkey_Mafia:disqus gets 21 likes for demonstrating he’s bad at math.
    4) And he get 19 likes for the explanation.
    5) @His_Space_Holiness:disqus gets 17 likes for his innovative controller design.
    We’re welcoming 2 new members to the Plaid Jacket Society today – @AlwaysBeenTim:disqus and @SalmonLeap:disqus!  Welcome aboard!  As for our returning members, @soredomia:disqus is getting his first stud for his second mention!  @NakedSnake:disqus is getting his fourth stud, @duwease:disqus a fifth, @The_Misanthrope:disqus gets an eighth stud, @Mr_Glitch:disqus gets his ninth, and the fuzzball himself @HobbesMkii:disqus gets his nineteenth stud!  Good work everyone!
    And for the Linkdump, artist Fernando Reza created a series of WWII-themed propaganda posters available here.  My favorite is the “Red Menace” poster, with the “This Is The Enemy!” coming in a close second, but really they’re all great.  That’s it for this week – enjoy your gaming, and remember to keep it scintillating!

    • PaganPoet says:

      I’ve officially surpassed @Spacemonkey_Mafia:disqus as the fifth most active member! Totes not sure if I should be proud of this!

    • HobbesMkii says:

       Nineteen studs, wow. I’d like to thank the Academy, the comment boards, my new office at work that has a door and isn’t a cubicle in the middle of the floor outside the executive director’s and the CFO’s office, and all the little people.

  3. Fluka says:

    Plz help I am spending my afternoon watching someone else click on buttons on a big monitor and go “hmm” why am I here and what am I doing with my life but at least I am getting paid for this.

  4. Matt Kodner says:

    [begin plug]
    Hey everyone! Late thing-y coming in, but I just got word of a kickstarter from the Cardboard Robots guys

    You may remember them from such Gameological educational films as Pareffa The Ref, their entry in our Play The Year feature back around New Year’s, or my interview with them about making the very silly Photos Of Spiderman in a devilishly short amount of time. 

    They’re making a fighting game based off the halcyon days of SNK games on the Neo Geo Pocket. From what I’ve seen it’s got a great sense of humor, and even sports an endorsement from Mr. Divekick himself, Adam Heart.

    Anyhow, I am a big fan of these guys, and it looks like they’ve got something good on their hands.
    [/end plug]

  5. Merve says:

    If I recall correctly, Spacekmonkey Mafia said he wouldn’t be around this week to do a Weekend Prompt. So I present to you: Merve’s Alternative Weekend Prompt, or MAWP (pronounced “mop”) for short.

    There are a lot of video games with weird, beautiful, or unique art styles or colour schemes. One that comes to mind is the severely underrated Tron 2.0, a shooter set inside a computer, whose colour palette is mainly purple, green, and orange, in contrast to the greys, browns, and blues of most shooters.

    So my questions to you, fellow GSers: What are some distinctive art styles or colour schemes that you’ve seen in video games? What about them was memorable/distinctive? Did they enrich the experiences? (Because we like to be inclusive here, if you want to mention a board/card/tabletop game with a distinctive art style, feel free.)

    • PaganPoet says:

      One that pops to mind is the Patapon series. Silhouetted characters, with touches and “seams” of bright color (pretty similar to Tron, as a matter of fact, in that regard). Cartoonish, and yet impressive. Many of the boss characters remind me of Shadow of the Colossus, as a matter of fact, in their relative size and design. I’d say the art style definitely enriches the experience of the game. It’s a game that, essentially, is about warfare and conquest, but it avoids any explicit violence. It remains cartoonish in style (and cute), but not childish. The Patapons actually have a pretty distinct religion and culture that you learn about as you play the game.

    • Fyodor Douchetoevsky says:

      Videogame style: YOSHI’S ISLAND! Maybe my favorite game ever, I played it as a kid and playing it recently holy fuck is it gorgeous. The art is very childlike which sort of makes it more nostalgic now. It looks like it was drawn with crayons! And the music/sound effects are SO GOOD. Also I feel like it has perfect controls and handling as a platformer. I feel so fucking confident jumping around on tiny platforms in that game.

      Tabletop style: Dixit is a game i found recently-ish in my tabetop excursions and it’s beautiful. It’s basically abstract apples to apples, where the cards have whimsical illustrations on them and you say a phrase or word or noise and then everyone plays a card that they think could match that phrase/word/noise and then people vote on which they think was the original card for that turn. The art is also very dreamlike and invokes a childlike sense of wonder and imagination, which is great because playing the game is kind of abstract. 

      Also, one of my favorite bits about Dixit is that the cards themselves are oversized, which mean the artwork is larger and clearer AND that holding a hand of these giant cards makes you feel like a child. It’s pretty subtle but once I realized that I fell in love with it. It’s really a great game that works with just about any group, but is best with close friends who have a history together and roundabout ways of thinking of things. Really lets you get inside your friend’s heads. Can’t recommend it enough.

      • Boonehams says:

         Agreed on Yoshi’s Island.  There was just something about that game that felt like magic.  Everything was so put together.


    • Citric says:

      Saga Frontier II is gorgeous, which is the only reason I want to play it. It’s like a watercolor painting in a piano store, except you can play it.

    • Girard says:

      (Trying to think of something beyond the obvious Windwaker, Yoshi’s Island, or Katamari stuff…)

      It doesn’t get a lot of credit for its visuals, but MegaMan Legends is one of the most visually striking games for the PSX, and possibly the (3D) game from that era whose graphics have aged the best. Largely this is due to its chunky, bright, expressive cartoon style (it reminds me a lot of Windwaker, another game that has aged extremely well, even down to the blocky MesoAmerican motifs). The facial expressions are also really well animated, especially in cut scenes, and the cartoony style makes the fact that the animations are just texture maps work really well.

      Proteus is also super-gorgeous, and full of beautiful things to discover. One of the sessions of game-camp this summer I co-taught with one of my old undergrad art students, who’s mainly an installation artist with an interest in new media (she made a really cool, crazy MakeyMakey thing for her ‘game’ project when she was in my class), and not super interested in most video games. One morning before class started, I booted up Proteus on the class’s big screen and we were both totally captivated for, like, 20 minutes. She was all “I want to go to there” and wound up downloading her own copy of Proteus that night after work.

      Visually, I love most of Cactus’s work. Especially Nordland, Keyboard Drumset Fucking Wereworf, and (of course) Hotline Miami.

    • EmperorNortonI says:

      I’m no art critic, which is why I was consistently impressed with the level of art in [b]Magic the Gathering[b].  They commissioned a grab-bag of artists to do thousands upon thousands of cards, so obviously not everything was great.  But some of them were really, really good.  The first expansion that I bought heavily was The Dark, the third I think.  A bunch of the cards in that set used this sketchy, blurred technique with a fairly limited palette to create a feeling of foreboding dread.  It was cool.  The African-themed Mirage set was also pretty impressive, if I recall correctly.

      I was also blown away by the landscapes in Far Cry 2, in particular the savannah regions.  As a native Angeleno and a big fan of that kind of color-scheme and landscape (no, SoCal is not the African Savannah, but the “tall grass and oak tree rolling hills” areas look kinda similar), it was a total blast driving through it.  I kinda wish the whole game had been focused on following people, finding stuff using landscape and environmental clues, and exploring.

      There’s some board game that I just can’t specifically remember at the moment, which just blew me away with its gorgeously colored and detailed components.  But I have no idea what it is, just that there is one.

    • DrFlimFlam says:

      I’ve been on another Kirby Epic Yarn evangelization tour of late. I just love the way the game took the pastel-bright look of the series itself (similar but muted against Yoshi’s Island) but adds the texture of fabric. Nintendo MUST make a sequel in glorious HD for the WiiU; such attention to detail cannot go to waste.

    • ProfFarnsworth says:

      I have found that the Pathfinder tabletop series has had some very impressive art styles and has done very well to keep up the the D&D of yore.  When I GM’d for a little bit, I found myself being distracted for many hours as I would just look at all the pictures and see and imagine.  The artwork was very well done, and for me at least brought me into the fantasy realm faster than any orc could possibly have done.

    • Enkidum says:

      Hmmmm… I’m gonna say Fool’s Errand for the Mac, way back in the day (1987, apparently). There’s a good article about it here that gives you an idea of the art (check out the b/w originals, not the monstrous ports):

      The art was designed for high-res (for the time) b/w screens, which was what the Mac had, and this limitation seems to have inspired Cliff Johnson to create something very different.

      It’s possibly the most seamless game I’ve ever played, which gave Enkiyoung a first glimpse at how well games could establish a different world and transport you there.

    • boardgameguy says:

      another boardgame with a unique look and color scheme is TAKENOKO. it uses bright pastels in pink, green, and yellow to make a garden. it makes the game feel light and whimsical, which is really to its credit.

  6. Andy Tuttle says:

    I wasn’t sure where to put this, and not sure it qualifies as gaming news, but the first season of Workaholics is free for Xbox 360 owners today only. Thought people might appreciate this news.

  7. Chalkdust says:

    Weekend dumping grounds!  Here’s a webcomic that accurately sums up my feelings about folks all wrapped up in the console/PC/mobile etc. religious wars: Behold!

  8. ferrarimanf355 says:

    Regarding Activision, didn’t they go bankrupt in the early ’90s? They didn’t get out totally unscathed.

    And Hobbes is like the Sebastian Loeb of this segment. I’m not sure I that’s a compliment. Go google it.

    • HobbesMkii says:

      @paraclete_pizza:disqus @Effigy_Power:disqus and @caspiancomic:disqus all have more studs than I do.