PBS Digital Studios profiled Ralph Baer, the “Father of Video Games”
Ralph Baer’s inventing career began following a two-year service in the military during World War II. Returning home from Europe, he went to school on the G.I. Bill and graduated with a B.S. in Television Engineering. In 1955, he joined an electronics firm called Sanders Associates, which did work for the military. Still there in 1966, he began work on an electronic box that would allow people to play games on their televisions. The working invention was later licensed as the Magnavox Odyssey and became the first home console system for video gaming in 1972. Last year he celebrated his 90th birthday – the same year the Odyssey turned 40. Here he talks about those early days of video game history and why now, at 90 years old, he's still inventing.
Buckner & Garcia perform "Pac-Man Fever," from the 1982 album of the same name, on American Bandstand. I had this LP and the inner sleeve featured the patterns to maximize your score on the game. The title song hit #9 on the Billboard Hot 100. The second single, "Do the Donkey Kong," didn't do quite as well. Other tracks include "Froggy's Lament," "Goin' Berzerk," and "Ode to a Centipede." Due to rights issues, the currently-available "reissue" is actually a re-recording of the original music. The original LP can be easily found for around $40 or check your local thriftshops.
It's Walt Disney's 111th birthday today, and there is news from the video game world that probably would have made him smile: Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, his pre-Mickey Mouse, silent-era creation, is finally getting a voice after 85 years! Oswald has appeared as Mickey's (silent) partner in 2010's Epic Mickey, but the sequel to the game, Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two (which just came out for Wii U, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii, and Mac, PC coming in January), will let him speak for the first time ever. Who will be providing the voice of Oswald? None other than the legendary voice actor, Frank Welker, who is now the official, permanent voice of Oswald for any future cartoons. My Disney-loving heart has melted. (via Mashable)
AT Games has released the new Atari Flashback 4 console, this time with wireless joysticks. It's loaded with Asteroids, Missile Command, Space Invaders, Jungle Hunt, Centipede and 70 more classics, but not E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.
Here's the menu:
Demons to Diamonds,
Fun with Numbers,
Off The Wall,
Return to Haunted House,
New York's Museum of Modern Art has acquired 14 videogames that will be playable in a gallery there beginning in March 2013. According to Paola Antonelli, the MoMA's senior curator of architecture and design, these titles are "the seedbed for an initial wish list of about 40 to be acquired in the near future, as well as for a new category of artworks." I'm delighted that my favorite game, Pac-Man (1980), was part of the initial acquisition. The others include: Tetris (1984), Another World (1991), Myst (1993), SimCity 2000 (1994), vib-ribbon (1999), The Sims (2000), Katamari Damacy (2004), EVE Online (2003), Dwarf Fortress (2006), Portal (2007), flOw (2006), Passage (2008), and Canabalt (2009). "Video Games: 14 in the Collection, for Starters"
The Gameological Society: What are you playing this weekend?
Steven Johnson: Well, I’m on book tour, so there’s very little play. When I get home, I will no doubt be watching my children—who are obsessed with Uncharted 2, or Uncharted 3, I guess—on the PlayStation. Which I might join them a little bit for. Book tour tends to suck up all your spare fun time.
Gameological: Is it a different experience for you, playing games with your kids? As opposed to gaming before they were around?
Johnson: The coolest thing that we had for a while there—they haven’t been playing it as much—we had this great thing going which one of these days I want to write about. We both were playing kind of separately that game Dawn Of Discovery. It’s a beautiful game that simulates a 14th-century trading empire. It’s a classic simulation, very complicated, with lots of variables. One of the things that’s so powerful about it as an intellectual exercise is that you have to think on all these different scales and from all these different perspectives. So you have to think like a city planner, an admiral, a spice merchant, some industrialist type who is building an iron mine, and this is what they’re doing for fun, building this little trading empire.
The Kickstarter for Sword of Fargoal 2 has only three days to go. The developers have so far received $30,000 out of a $50,000 goal. I want this to happen, because Sword of Fargoal is one of my favorite iPhone games.
What makes roguelikes much fun for me? Part of it is finding potions and spells inside treasure chests -- a popular phrase with people who fish is, "the tug is the drug" --and there is a similar surge of euphoria when I happen upon a Detect Traps spell, a Restore potion, or a Reflective shield. The sense of discovery as I crawl through a dungeon level, pushing away the fog as I do so, compels me to keep exploring, and killing a nasty monster whets my bloodlust. The difficulty level of the game is perfect -- my character has died at least a dozen times, requiring me to restart at the beginning each time. But it's not so difficult that it's discouraging. As soon as I start a new game (the levels, monsters, and goodies are randomly generated so that no two games are the same), my level 1 character is faced with challenges and rewards suited to his experience.
[Video Link] As I've mentioned before, I love PBS's Off Book video series about Internet culture. The videos are intelligent, well produced, and often reveal things that surprise me. The newest video, released today, is about indie video games.
The video game industry is now bigger than Hollywood, with hundreds of millions of dollars spent developing these interactive experiences. But there are also small-scale developers working in the indie game realm, creating unique and experimental video games without the budgets of the larger "AAA" games. These indie game developers devote time, money, and take great risks in a quest to realize their creative vision. They deftly balance game mechanics & systems, sound & visuals, and an immersive storytelling experience to push the gaming medium into revolutionary new territory. Much like indie music or indie film, the indie gaming movement provides a creative outlet for game designers who want to work outside of the mainstream.
[Video Link] My favorite tower defense game is Kingdom Rush. You can play it online for free, and there's also an iPad version. I don't want to admit how many hours I spent playing it on my iPad. (I will say that I finally finished the game by playing it the entire time I was on a plane from Los Angeles to New York and back to Los Angeles earlier this month.)
The cartoonish art is very appealing, as are the monsters and towers. The goal of the game, like all tower defense games, is to prevent the invading hordes from making it through a gate to your kingdom at one end of the display. You do this by placing towers staffed with archers, knights, magicians, and cannoneers along the path that the monsters run down (the monsters appear from a trail emanating on the opposite side of the display). As you kill the monsters, you collect gold, which can be used to buy more towers. Even though there are a few more bells and whistles, it's a simple game -- but addictive.
Today, Kingdom Rush became available as an iPhone app. I would say that the $.99 price tag is a bargain, but if take into account the otherwise productive hours you will spend playing it, the true cost is far more.