The origins of Home Game Console wars, by John Hancock

July 24, 2013 Comments off

John6

John Hancock generously lent some time for us to cover some very cool early history of home gaming consoles, and here is his article on the subject at hand. Thank you very much sir! – Thor

It is hard to believe that videogames have been commercially available for nearly 40 years. A lot has transpired in that time, and a lot of history has been written on the matter. Recently I noticed a trend in newer gamers that have started gaming in the mid 90s. Many of them admitted that their first videogame experiences were with systems such as the Super Nintendo and the Sony Playstation. For many, their whole experience of gaming began with a Nintendo System. From this observation, there is a ton of early videogame history that is often forgotten about or ignored due to it happening before people were gaming now were born.

EARLY DAYS

Believe it or not, commercial video gaming goes back to 1972. The first videogame console was designed by Ralph Baer, considered the “Godfather of Videogames”. Released by the company Magnavox, the crude first generation game console ran off of batteries and looked more like a vacuum cleaner than a game console. The console came with a series of game cards that when inserted into the game system, turned the system on. The primitive graphics of the system were used in conjunction with color overlays that were placed on the TV set. The system went on to sell approximately 330,000 units and was discontinued in 1975. The Odyssey did not even have a microchip in it!

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The Success of Pong

While Magnavox was first to produce a home console, a small company at the time by the name of Atari was to improve upon the idea and release its own version of gaming. Atari became famous with the success of its Arcade game Pong, an action game of just hitting a ball between two bars. After a couple of years of success with Pong in the arcades, Atari created a home version of the arcade game and marketed the system to larger retail chains before finding their first buyer…Sears. The Sporting Goods Department of Sears. Working an exclusive deal, Sears was first to market exclusively The Atari Pong System in their own stores under the Sears brand “Tele-games”. 150,000 units were made for Sears, selling at just below $100 each for the 1975 holiday season. The next year Atari released their own Branded Pong unit.

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Attack of the Clones

Success can be a tricky thing. Become too successful and watch others come in to swoop in on the craze. Pong was no different than any other hyped product. Within just a short span of a year, other companies began to pop up creating and retailing their own versions of pong units. Varying shapes and sizes, and essentially offering the same game in different packages, From 1976 through 1978, hundreds of console designs from various companies were created to cash in the craze. Pong Clones were made around the world, some with really unique designs. The market came crashing down for Pongs by the end of 1977, when Atari released the home console that would change the world.

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The Slow Rise of the Video Computer System(a.k.a. the 2600)

Atari was not to first create a home console that could play different games on cartridges. That distinction belongs to another company, called the Fairchild Channel F, released in 1976. The system could play distinct different cartridges, which were brightly colored in yellow plastic. Seeing the sales of Atari Pong diminish, Atari moved forward with its next new home system the Video Computer System seeing that pong units were now obsolete. Being that Atari was a small company needing to be infused with revenue, it was sold to Warner Communications for around 30 million. With the revenue and marketing backing of a much larger company, the Video Computer System was released September 11th, 1977 for $199. The Video Computer System came packaged with two controllers and a pack-in game, combat. While crude in graphics, the VCS provided fast moving action and several game variants for each cartridge. The system initially had 9 games available, known as the “Gatefold 9″ due to their gatefold packaging. Cartridges were available for around $30. While the Atari sold better than it competitors, it was considered a semi-successful launch at selling 250.000 units.

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The Golden Age of Gaming

The late 70s to early 80s was a great time for gaming. The home market was starting to blossom. A lot of creativity was being programmed into many classic videogames that have helped shape the gaming landscape still today. While the 2600 had an initial slow start, the release of Space Invaders in the arcades really caused a stir. Arcade gaming really began to take off. Classic games such as Asteroids, Defender, and Pac Man made a tremendous amount of money during the heyday of Arcades. There was a growing demand for people to play these games at home on their home console. In 1980, Space Invaders was “ported” to the Atari 2600. While the graphics were more primitive than the arcade counterpart of the same game, the gameplay remained the same. In 1980, Space Invaders alone went on to help Atari sell over two million units of the 2600. The success of home gaming was also not just the 2600. Magnavox Odyssey 2 was released in 1978 and went on to sell about 2 million units. In 1980, Mattel released the Mattel Intellivision and focused on sport titles and enhanced graphics. The system went on to sell over three million units. While other companies celebrated a temporary lucrative market for the home console industry, Atari was the one that owned many of the exclusive rights to successful arcade games. For many gamers, the only way to play certain arcade games was to play them on the Atari 2600.

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Market Crash

The North American Video Game Crash of 1983-1985 changed the face of the games industry forever. In just two brutal years, the market went from 3.2 billion annually to 100 million in sales. No one single event caused the crash, but rather a multitude of events combined together to slam the industry, wreaking havoc and despair for many companies. Beginning in the later part of 1982, things looked hopeful. Atari released the long awaited sequel to the VCS(2600), called the 5200. The system ended up being a real dud, compounded with multiple problems. The main problem with the system was its controller, which was prone to breaking easily, along with a non centering joystick that made control difficult. Customer feedback about the system was less than stellar and sales were flat. After the success of Activision and the approval from courts for companies to create third party games for 2600, several startup companies came out of nowhere and were producing less than quality 2600 games. Atari was being hit from all sides. New arcade games were not drawing in the revenue that previous games were. Several arcades that were opened just years before started to close around the United States. A gaming glut was starting to appear in the home market. Atari own 1st-party titles were also falling flat. Lackluster titles such as E.T. were overproduced and over marketed to the mass audience. Millions of ET cartridges went unsold. In a move to recoup costs and sell current supplies of games, several retail outlets starting slashing prices of games down to mere dollars.

-John Hancock, 7-24-2013

Boy, I remember that crash when I was little. I had the interesting experience of getting into gaming just around that time. When I was about 6 years old in 1983 to 8 years old in 1985, I remember being able to go into Kay-Bee Toys and other little toy/game shops, and picking up video games for 50 cents, a dollar, and so on. Many of the titles were terrible, but the sheer volume of old unsold games was astonishing. Then I remember seeing the games disappear form those shops for a while, and I started gaming in earnest on my Atari 8-bit home computer and friends Commodore 64 machines, having to find titles at computer stores or sometimes seeing them at larger retail outlets. In my memory, the Atari 8 bit, Commodore 64, and Apple II systems sort of side-stepped the console crash due to their perceived value as more than gaming systems (although I of course did little more than play games on them, aside from messing about with Basic and some art/music programs). It wasn’t until the NES and Sega Master system appeared in wide release in the later 80s that I saw a true resurgence in console gaming, and it was bigger, better, and here to stay for the long haul.

-Thor

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Thank you John!

Newest Member of the NES Tetris Max-Out Club! Congratulations David Vulich!

June 27, 2013 1 comment

We give a hearty congratulations to David Vulich, of Fresno California, who has put hard work and incredible skills into becoming the newest member of the Max-Out club, joining such luminaries as Jonas Neubauer, Harry Hong, Alex Kerr, Ben Mullen, and a few others. Credit due¬†to Alex Kerr, whose ‘Kitaru’ persona keeps a great record of these things over at TetrisConcept

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An interview with John Hancock, collector extraordinaire and gaming hero!

June 26, 2013 4 comments

I’d like to take this wonderful opportunity to introduce everyone to John Hancock, whom I had the great pleasure of meeting a couple of years back on a trip to the gaming expos up there during the promotions of Ecstasy of Order. John is one of the most kind and generous people I’ve ever had the honor of coming across in all of my years. Not only is he a legit lifetime gamer, but his heart is even bigger than his collection. He tirelessly works in the service of others, performing counseling and support for local youth, and he also takes it to a whole new level with a local Expo up there that raises funds for Childrens Justice and Advocacy Center (CJAC), a tremendous charity organization that has immense value. He does all of this while raising his own little ones. Truly a wonderful human being, if you ever have the opportunity to meet with him at PRGE or Cowlitz Gamers for Kids shows, definitely do so, the expos are great, and John is a gamer’s gamer.

John6

Without further ado, here is the interview that I put together with a Q&A session. Thanks for looking, and be sure to check out the pics of his ludicrously amazing collection of classic gaming goodies! If you have the chance, he also has a wonderful series of DVDs on collecting that are very worthy indeed.

Question 1 : Tell us a bit about yourself and how you discovered gaming.

My earliest memories of gaming go back to when my father bought us a TV scoreboard Radio Shack Pong clone. Between that and going to my cousins house to play Atari 2600, that is what I consider my first gaming experiences. About the same time, I got to experience some great arcades in town, but those rarely happened. I consider myself, part historian, part serious collector, and 100 percent passionate about videogames. I have been lucky to have began a journey of collecting retro videogames nearly 20 years ago. I started off collecting videogames by myself in Northern California in the mid 90s. I mostly was collecting games to add to what I already owned, which was some Sega and Nintendo games that I had in high school. By 2002, I connected with other gamers online and pursued some more obscure gaming consoles and systems, such as the bally astrocade. I focused my collecting on entire released US sets, and scoured the West Coast looking for items to add to my collection. Nearly 98 percent of my collection was purchased in person, and not online. In 2005 I moved to Washington where I got connected to Rick Weis. I started helping with video game conventions which made my game collection grow substantially more. It is a hobby that I am passionate about in which I have got to gain many great friends and experiences that I will never forget.

Question 2 : What were some of the favorite games you played growing up, and do you still go back and replay them now?

Growing up, my favorites were Berzerk for the 2600, Castlevania on the Nes, Blue Max on the Atari 800, Herzog Zwei on Genesis as well as Dark Wizard for the Sega CD. I still make time to play Berzerk for the 2600 and occasionally play Blue Max when I can. Of course, I still love to play pong like I did when I was a child and am up for a game with anyone who wants to play. The game still does not get old to me.

Question 3 : How do you think gaming has evolved over the years?

Gaming to me has evolved to encompass a wide variety of gameplay and options. In the beginning, games were limited by graphics significantly. What you saw on the cover of a videogame was nothing like the experience that you played. Now the game can look BETTER than the cover. At the same time, I also think that games have come full circle. Some types of games(many indie titles) have gone back to the simple mechanics of 2D games that were easy to get into but difficult to master. We have so many choices of what type of games to play, that it is a great time to be gamer.

Question 4 : You have THE most profoundly awesome collection I’ve ever seen in classic gaming. How many years did it take to get where it is?

Thank you for your most kind words. I am just happy to have amassed what I have done over the past 20 years on a budget.

Question 5 : How do you think the recent and current systems will be on a collectible basis?

In time, I think that the current crop of systems and games will be collectable. I think that there will be an added bonus to find a non modded original 360 system that still works lol. There are so many system variants compared to the previous generations that just collecting hardware alone will be a fun and challenging project.

Question 6 : What would be some examples of absolutely amazing games that are hidden gems that many/most don’t even know about?

So many games on so many systems that get overlooked. I will narrow it to 10 that I consider underappreciated. I could easily have a 100 list but here it goes:

Atari 2600: Gravitar
Intellivision: Hover Force
Colecovision: War Room
Odyssey 2: Freedom Fighters
Nes: Kickmaster
Sega Genesis: Jewel Master
Sega CD: Android Assault
Super Nes: Choplifter III
Sony Playstation: Silent Bomber
Nintendo DS: Retro Game Challenge

Question 7 : What advice would you give to an aspiring collector?

Collaborate and network with others. Join a local facebook group as well as videogame forums. Collect because you want to. There needs to be alot of patience involved, as alot of games I got were over many years. Dont fret if you cant get every game you want right now. Educate yourself before any buying so that you know what you are getting and what a fair price is.

Question 8 : As parents with kids of our own now, how do you involve gaming in their lives?

My son is now almost 5, and is starting to get a little more into games. I started showing him classics such as pong and atari when he was younger. I think for me, the answer is gradual. I know that my hobby will probably be different than my sons, but I am happy to share with him if he wants.

Thank you John Hancock for spending time with us today! Readers, check this out :

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And finally, to close it out after that epic collection : John at work doing what he was born to do! Helping people AND being a cherished member of the gaming community!

John5

Great news for gamers that needs to be celebrated!

June 26, 2013 Comments off

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Hi readers! Welcome to LostHammer and thanks for coming to visit with us!

I have an observation that I think bears consideration and celebration in our industry, one that is very easy to skim over and forget about, but one that really will be a gigantic boon to all of us, developer and gamer alike.

This secret sauce is : x86 platform becoming the de-facto standard for serious gaming!

Think about the history of gaming overall, it’s been dominated by drastically varying platforms and architectures. Even when more than one system used the same CPU, a lot of times there were wildly different special supplemental chips to consider which were crucial to making games for the platform. Well, all of that is about to go out the window in a big way!

With the current-gen stuff, you had :

PC with x86 CPU / Direct3D / OpenGL + Varying GPUs

Playstation 3 with Cell CPU + Nvidia GPU

Xbox 360 with IBM Xenon CPU + ATI Xenos GPU

What did all of this mean for developers? To start with, to do things right they had to take into consideration their weakest target platform when planning development, as being too ambitious with the design might make their plans impossible otherwise. Following that, they had to allocate very significant resources into merely getting the title ported to work correctly on each platform, even before any optimizations were undertaken. As far as optimizations, this was another round of expenses and delays, to get the title working optimally on the target platform. For gamers, this meant that there were often delays in getting versions of the titles they wanted released, and that in the $50-$60 that they spent on that title, a decent chunk of that money actually went into the resources necessary to even port the title. Lastly, less ‘proven’ titles, or entries from smaller publishers might not even see releases on multiple platforms due to the obstacles in expense and manpower.

Unification to the rescue!

What we have now moving forward with the Playstation 4, Xbox One, and PC gaming platforms is a dramatic improvement at every level. Both the PS4 and XboxOne have hardware in the exact same families and generations even, and all of it is made up of variants of ordinary PC gaming lineups. There remain differences in capability, and some unique oddball considerations such as Xbox One’s 32MB embedded cache (which remains, sadly, too small and too slow to compete with GDDR5 for top-tier 3D performance), but by and large, one can very easily develop for all of these platforms with a minimum of effort in contrast to the current status quo.

The Playstation 3 was a prime example in the negatives of having a very unique system architecture. Although a handful of titles such as Uncharted 3, The Last of Us, and so on do show the PS3′s full capabilities, far too many are simply disappointing, and this shows most clearly in cross-platform ports. Even the Xbox 360 was fairly unique in it’s own rights, however it was indisputably easier to produce titles on by comparison, and closer to the PC in terms of being able to port over easily.

Both the Xbox 360 and especially the Playstation 3 also held up game development due to their very limiting RAM setups. Even for 2005/2006, 512MB of total memory was already becoming quickly obsolete in the PC gaming world. Even taking into consideration the large overhead of the Windows operating system and APIs such as DirectX, there was still a lot more RAM to work with on PCs. This led to many PC titles showing enormous capability when coded to take full advantage of high end hardware, but much more often what happened were terrible ‘consolized’ ports that were written for systems with tiny amounts of memory, and with barely an effort at all to give PC gamers the advanced modeling/AI/maps/content that their systems were truly capable of achieving.

With the move to 8GB, these consoles are much further ahead of the curve in contrast to the 360/PS3 were at launch, even as their CPU/GPUs are somewhat weaker in the big picture compared to those days. At launch, the 360 and PS3 had GPU power that rivaled the best gaming systems out there, and only eclipsed by super expensive PCs. This time around, the GPU power in the new consoles is a bit more sedate. Still, with the large system ram and hugely updated graphics power, games should look amazing on the new consoles by comparison to PS3/360.

Perhaps the largest bonus, depending on how they roll this into their business models, will be in the reduced costs of porting titles across platforms for the developers. Now, the same budget will allow for a lot less time worrying about system X, Y, and Z, and this will shave dollars, labor expenses, and scheduling allocations out of the equation. Not only will this make more multiplatform titles almost inevitable, but it will make developers more profitable. To a team given the same amount of resources, this should enable a better final product. Instead of spending a huge amount of time optimizing for other systems and architectures, much more time can be spent making a good GAME.

This is great news for everybody. The only outlier in this regard is the Wii U, which remains on non-x86 hardware. This bodes poorly for cross-platform gaming on the WiiU moving forward, but Nintendo above all should be able to rely heavily on top-quality 1st party titles as long as they can move them along. If they get at least one full-fledged Mario/Zelda/Kart/Metroid/Smash/etc every 3-4 months at the longest, they will stay in the game as a very vibrant 3rd place. If they drop the ball, or try too much filler such as the Windwalker remake (hardly a Nintendo gamer alive wouldn’t MUCH rather see an actual new Zelda adventure before they re-skin an old title!), they may find themselves in trouble.

All in all, we’re in for a unique generation, and the potential to have the best gaming lineups in history! Thanks for reading, and comments and feedback are always appreciated!

A funny but brutal commentary on the Xbox One DRM reversal. (NSFW Language)

June 25, 2013 Leave a comment

Youtube personality and overall hilariously awesome guy AlphaOmegaSin has a reaction to the Microsoft’s policy changes regarding their new console. Definitely worth a watch :)

 

Wii U thoughts, facing off against Xbox One and Playstation 4!

June 23, 2013 3 comments

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Hi readers! It’s been great getting the feedback from the last few posts, and now it’s time to dive into the WiiU.

As someone most known for being a Nintendo champion, one might expect me to have a pretty positive opinion on the newest flagship Nintendo console. Overall the answer is yes, though I really have to explain the reasons why, as well as some issues I have with it. Let’s boil it down into separate sections!

Hardware and History

The Wii U is an oddball in every sense of the word. Compared to the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360, it’s fairly competitive, and even leads them in many crucial ways. If the Wii U had launched instead of the original Wii, it would have made for a very interesting race back in those days. It’s important to realize that Nintendo nearly universally designs consoles to be profitable from the start on a unit-by-unit basis, and has never pushed hardware specs to the limit. This has worked fairly well for them, and the proof is in the profits and respect from longtime gamers. They have some problems though, and that is perception amongst the newer generation of gamers that look at them as childish compared to Xbox and Playstation. There is a serious number of people who dismiss Nintendo as a children’s-only company.

While I agree that Nintendo has a very family-oriented focus, I don’t really see this as a really true criticism. While there may always be something ‘cooler’ than playing Nintendo titles, things like Halo, Call of Duty, etc, tend to come and go over the years, with older titles becoming very stale and not much worth replaying, even ancient Nintendo first-party titles are ludicrously fun with tons of depth. Fire up Super Mario Bros. 3 for a great example. The NES was about as powerful as a pocket calculator, and the CPU wasn’t even 5(!!) MHz, but that game has insane amounts of depth, deft playcontrol, and sublime level and character design. By and large, this has remained true through the years, with some lesser outings along the way, but the overall quality of 1st-party Nintendo titles is VERY high.
Getting back to the hardware for a moment, there is plenty of power on tap to make for some great games. Theoretically cross-platform titles from 360/PS3 should look and play great, but there are some problems with expecting those. For one, the kind of gamers looking for those titles aren’t usually looking for those titles ON a Nintendo console these days. Secondly, it’s a bit late in the current-gen battle to expect many great releases with the devs shifting almost exclusively towards new releases on PS4/Xbox One. Thirdly, with the new PS4/XB1 using X86 and AMD GCN technology along with 8GB of memory, cross-platforming against those guys will mean HUGE amounts of developer work and expense, and it’s just unlikely to expect that moving forward.

In retrospect, I would have preferred somewhat if Nintendo made the ‘tablet’ an option (or simply used 3DS instead), and put those resources into making the CPU/GPU/Memory a little more stout. I guess it’s not a huge deal in the end considering that the existing power will be more than enough to have some great Mario/Zelda/Smash/etc on there, but it’s a thought, and a crucial key in what to NOT expect. Don’t expect many big next-gen titles to show up from PS4/XBox One. That’s okay, they won’t have Mario/Zelda and company ;)

Price

With prices varying from $299 to $349 commonly for the current sets, I have a hard time recommending them as an investment right this minute when the current small library is concerned. I expect a price drop, and perhaps some great new bundles this fall however. Perhaps something like a $229 16GB SKU, along with a drop to $269 or so for the 32GB. This is purely a guess, but prices around there along with a bundled game or two, and of course, more GAMES in the library, will make this pretty attractive to us long-time fans of the Nintendo franchise titles.

The Games

Currently we have a side scrolling Mario which is pretty fun, Zombie U, Monster Hunter 3, and a handful of others, but things are about to get a lot better :

Super Mario 3d World

Super Luigi U

Zelda Windwalker HD Remake

Mario Kart 8

Super Smash Bros

Brand new Zelda

Pikmin 3

Donkey Kong Country

Rayman Legends

Earthbound

Scribblenauts DC Comics

So, a pretty cool lineup of stuff. If they can keep their price point competitive, and keep their legacy as always having fun titles for all ages, it can be a vibrant and fun platform for years to come. The Wii sold a ton of consoles due to the initial hype, but I think a lot of the buyers simply used the Wii Fit or a handful of games and never went further. WiiU doesn’t have to set sales records to be a profitable platform and a fun place to go for titles that you can’t find anywhere else. If you already have a 360 or PS3, and don’t yet have a Wii or WiiU, it might be worth picking one of these up instead for a lot less than a PS4/XB1, and you can enjoy a great number of fantastic Wii and WiiU titles while waiting for some of the dust to settle on those new consoles. If there’s anything I’ve learned over the years on consoles, it’s that waiting for the platforms to mature and for more games to show up along with revisions and price drops, it’s always rewarding. Comments and feedback always appreciated!

Viking Fury : A review of Valhalla Rising

June 21, 2013 Comments off

Valhalla Rising is a 2009 film from director Nicolas Winding Refn, who also penned the script along with a relative unknown by the name of Roy Jacobsen. Nicolas Refn is a quickly rising star on the critical and commercial success of the film ‘Drive’, currently in theatres.

This film really is a world apart. Let me first say that this isn’t for everyone by any means. This is a gritty, brutal, sparse, and phenomonally beautiful piece of work. You could probably fit the entire dialogue of the film on a single typewritten page or two, and there are only a few moments of any significant action. If you’re prepared for it, it’s truly a monumental achievement as a film.

The story, for what it is, follows the mute Viking slave known only as ‘One Eye’, who in the opening sequence is shown to possess such qualities of violence and fortitude that he seems hewn from the same craggly rocks and severeness of the very landscape that he inhabits. He does not celebrate, he does not mourn, he simply exists as a silent and resolute testament to the strength of his own will. As he moves through the story, he is drawn by a series of visions towards his destiny, and the sheer magnitude of his character is the undeniable center of the world in which the others revolve around. He is said to have been raised up from hell, and that’s where he aims to return.

The photography is absolutely stunning, the direction impeccable, and the music highly effective. The performances didn’t have any flaws that I noticed whatsoever. There are many scenes and indeed portions of the film with no dialogue at all, it simply is almost a dreamscape that is inhabited by these disparate and mostly violent souls. One can interpret certain elements a number of different ways, and it’s a testament to the skill of Nicolas Refn that this all comes together and works as well as it does.

I can imagine that this was a hard sell, and indeed it never saw a real theatrical release. Without a doubt this is not for everyone, I can’t stress enough that this is NOT a typical film by any measure. Think of it as a two hour exercise in the art of film, and do not expect any conventional elements.

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I rate the film 10/10 for me personally, which aside from Casablanca, Citizen Kain, and Schindler’s List, I have never considered a film utterly perfect as what it was. For most viewers however, I would imagine a much lower reaction, as this couldn’t be more opposite of what dominates the box office.

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