You are on page 1of 63

Q3

2006 6
Table of
Contents
4 A Medium of Moments 44 Persona Visits E3
Mobile Gaming Comic
10 The N-Gage is Dead; Long Live An E3 Survival Guide
the N-Gage 52 Introduction
Nokia—N-GAGE 54 Hard Drive Optional
56 How to Get Back into E3
20 Medium Possibilities 59 E3: Unwrapped
The Music of Double Dragon 2
62 The Drinks Are on Keith
30 Console Identity Intellivision Party—E3
Sega—SMS, GEN, GMG, SCD, SAT, SDC
66 Mechanical Donkeys
34 Crossing the Boobicon M.U.L.E.—A800, C64, NES, PC
The Physics of Heavenly Bodies
80 Worship the Glitch
38 Death in the Impasse Valley The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion—WIN, 360
Fushigi no Dungeon 2: Furai no
Shiren—SNES 82 A Broken Robot at the End of the World
Planetarian: The Reverie of a
42 Your Mileage May Vary Little Plan
Videogame Transportation
90 In on the Auction
A Letter to SCEA
94 A Brief Note on Pacing in Videogames
The Soul of Wit
98 Untold Tales of the Arcade
Stand-Up Role-Playing Games
106 Stay Awhile, Stay Forever!
Further Adventures in the British
Games Press
120 Why Game?
Reason #5: Scoring Culture

1
From the
Article or Article or
Editor
Section Title Section Title
Staff
Issue Overhaul of the machine they are attached to or an Editor In Chief: Staff Artists:
Matthew “ShaperMC” Williamson Mariel “Kinuko” Cartwright
By Matthew Williamson excuse for the price tag toted. Now I just shapermc@gamersquarter.com kinuko@gamersquarter.com
wish I could get a handle on the games
Managing Editor: Jonathan “Persona-Sama” Kim
You may notice right from the (very lovely) themselves and see if they are trying to “Super” Wes Ehrlichman persona-sama@gamersquarter.com
cover that we have once again done an expand in the way they connect with the superwes@gamersquarter.com
Benjamin “Lestrade” Rivers
entire overhaul of the magazine. This player. Assistant Editor: lestrade@gamersquarter.com
should be the final format thanks to the Not all E3 was about new and fresh M. “dhex” O’Connor
selfless efforts of the amazing Benjamin ideas though: if you wandered into the dhex@gamersquarter.com
Copy Chief: Cover Art:
Rivers. So now that things seem done with lonely and quiet Kentia Hall you would Mariel “Kinuko” Cartwright
Tony “Tablesaw” Delgado
this issue I can finally get back to playing find yourself knee-deep in classic gaming. tablesaw@gamersquarter.com kinuko@gamersquarter.com
Steambot Chronicles, something I have The History of Video Games exhibit took
been trying to do for a couple of weeks. up most of the center of the hall and
Editorial Staff: Contributing Writers:
The last three months have been ranged from arcade greats to console Colin “Wilkes” Booth
Ancil “dessgeega” Anthropy
exciting for the magazine. You will get abnormalities, and everything in between. dessgeega@gamersquarter.com Matthew “Mr. Apol” Collier
Mathew “aerisdead” Kumar
more detail about it in the comic section I really wish that I had more time to spend Heather “Faithless “ Campbell Paul “SFC Lilly
as told by Jonathan “Persona-Sama” there, as it feels like all I have been faithless@gamersquarter.com “Don” Marco Michilli
Kim, but a fair amount of The Gamer’s doing lately is exploring older and classic Ash and Dan Pringle
J. R. “Mr. Mechanical” Freeman Marc Spraragen
Quarter team got together at this year’s games. It is always refreshing to see that mr_mechanical@gamersquarter.com Chris “GSL” St.Louis
Electronic Entertainment Expo, and those an industry that seems to always seem to Amandeep “ajutla” Jutla Contributing Editors:
that couldn’t make it were there in spirit. be moving forward is also remembering ajutla@gamersquarter.com “Zack” Fornaca
E3 itself was good as well, but the team their past and displaying it with pride. Tim “Swimmy” McGowan
finally coming together was really the I am almost done living in a hotel after swimmy@gamersquarter.com
Page Layout & Design:
highlight. ten months. I have realized that I play too Jeremy “ApM” Penner Benjamin “Lestrade” Rivers
As seen at the show, the future of many games, or not enough. When I came ApM@gamersquarter.com
Website Design & Layout:
games is headed in so many direc- to the hotel, I had only a handful of games Sergei “Seryogin” Servianov “Super” Wes Ehrlichman
seryogin@gamersquarter.com
tions. Some companies are focusing on and a bunch of systems, but I have come Image Researcher:
innovative ways to play games, others to accumulate a collection of current- John “Szczepaniak” Ancil “dessgeega” Anthropy
Szczepaniak@gamersquarter.com
are focusing on optimizing the way that system games while expanding on my
games are currently played, and even older consoles. Now I just have to worry Andrew “Mister” Toups
mistertoups@gamersquarter.com
more are focusing on both. With all the about how to move them all one thousand
Francesco-Alessio “Randorama” Ursini All content © The Gamer’s Quarter 2006. All
hardware in the headlines right now, miles. All things considered, I am far more randorama@gamersquarter.com images and characters are retained by original
it is fairly difficult to look at anything excited to see my wife than play games in company holding.
specifically about games themselves. a proper setting.
The games just seem to be an extension

2 The Gamer’s Quarter Issue #6 Staff 3


it in their list, making carrier relation-
ships vital to the developers. But how do
the companies advertise these games?
I recently observed an ad for Doom

A
Article
Mediumor
RPG on GameFAQs and rarely I’ll see an
advertisement in an industry magazine,
but other than this, when is the last time

of Moments
Section Title you ever saw an ad for a mobile game?
Usually all a carrier provides is a small
description, maybe a screenshot, and a
price tag. This adds an inherent element
Mobile Gaming also introduced in 2001. These were of danger to downloads, because at up
By Matthew Collier games like Falling Numbers—where you to $9.00 a game, the price can add up
would dial your keypad to correspond quickly for games that you may later find
The Buggles once sang in the 1970s with numbers falling from the top of the to suck. The interesting thing though, is
about the video format killing the radio screen to the bottom—and classic, recog- that the sales curve for mobile games is
star. All in all, they were right. Television nizable games like blackjack and poker. almost the opposite of console games.
soap operas overtook traditional radio The technical development of the Whereas most console games are ad-
dramas and destroyed an entire genre games improved dramatically with the vertised and marketed so that as many
that many men and women sweated introduction of the J2ME Java Runtime people will get it at launch as possible,
blood and tears over. However, one Environment. J2ME allowed most anyone most mobile games catch on slowly and
genre, starting out as some pixels on a to make a Java application for a cell end up progressively selling better not
monochrome screen, has the potential phone. Later on, the more powerful because of any direct marketing, but
not to destroy, but save another genre Binary Runtime Environment for Wireless because of word of mouth.
dear to us. (BREW) was developed, further pushing I recently talked to Taline Augereau, a
Mobile gaming can save classic the envelope. With more memory and market researcher at Genplay. Genplay
game design. colors than before, mobile gaming could has developed several in-house games
To start off, let’s have some history. be more sophisticated than ever before. for mobile phones, as well as several
The first game to grace the screens of The quick development of technology and ports of popular Namco classics like
mobile phones was a black-and-white resources for mobile gaming is interest- Galaga. It’s Taline’s opinion that while
version of the seminal classic Snake. It ing. It’s twenty years of game design the market for the games is on the rise,
was built into the Nokia 6110 phone and crammed into ten. It’s seeing what would mobile gaming will never be more than a
was Snake’s simplest incarnation (as if happen if you gave game designers in the simple distraction, incapable of any sort
Snake could be that complicated). You ’80s current hardware and told them to of artistic expression. Maybe we’ll never
control an ever-growing line moving con- go nuts. see a Silent Hill or a Xenogears on a cell
stantly around the screen, collecting dots Mobile gaming is a rapidly growing phone, but is this a bad thing?
that lengthen you and trying not to crash industry. Business Week cites a study by Right now, if I open my phone, within
into a wall or yourself, both of which end Screen Digest reporting that in 2010 the five movements of my thumb, several
the game. Food for thought: why would revenue from mobile-game downloads games are available to me. I can play Orcs
we automatically interpret a line of pixels will be nearly $8.4 billion. The unique & Elves (a fantasy-themed role-playing
as a snake? Why not a worm? Guess we’re aspect of the market is that you simply game built on the Doom RPG engine), Be-
still not over that whole Garden of Eden can’t go out and buy a game for your cell jeweled (a puzzler that’s seen huge suc-
thing. Simple, monochrome games like phone like you can with your Nintendo cess in the market), Megaman, Galaga,
this became standards on many phones DS or Sony PSP. In order to purchase a Tetris, Ghosts ’n Goblins, Doom RPG, and
without color screens—something Nokia game you want, your carrier has to have Afterburner II. I can load up these games

4 The Gamer’s Quarter Issue #6 A Medium of Moments 5


at any point without the need to change development, both the pros and the cons. having to worry about quality. It’s go- the gamepad on the phone itself—usu-
out cartridges or CDs. Whether it be while He brings up the point that, generally, the ing back to the old technique of brand ally a tiny little directional pad—was
I’m waiting in line somewhere, riding in budget for mobile games is quite small loyalty, and as far as mobile gaming not very fun to use with action-intensive
a car with a friend, or if I’m just simply and this limits what you can accomplish goes, it works to an extent. The problem games. So, what Carmack did was build
bored, I can open my phone up, go to my and how long you can spend on the proj- is that it places limits on innovation, the game around the way the player inter-
games and play something for a moment. ect. Carmack observes a paradox in that something that really doesn’t help in the acted with it; he made it turn-based. This
Moment is the key word here. Moments the technology is only going to improve, long run. Sure, you can make an action not only allowed the game engine to run
are what mobile games were made for. I but the budgets are going to stay the game, but it better have a Marvel Comics smoothly, it allowed the game to be more
can play Tetris just long enough to get a same. To quote Carmack, “It will still wind superhero in it! Want to make that racing user-friendly and fun to play. I found out,
tetris. I can clear the first level of Ghosts up being like developing an Xbox title for game? Better base it on The Fast and with Doom RPG, that Carmack wasn’t a
’n Goblins. I can shoot down ten planes $500,000.” Though, is this really a bad the Furious! The market is full of ports of bad game designer; he simply needed
in Afterburner II. It’s this ability to play thing? I see it as a major advantage to classic games and playable versions of limitations.
for a moment, and then stop without any small companies wishing to break into a current movies and hit television shows. Limitations make games great. Limita-
obligation to continue, that makes mobile rapidly growing market. It’s a chance for With Jamdat—one of the major players in tions keep you focused. Metal Gear was
gaming so attractive to me. I’m the sort independent developers to get high-qual- the mobile games industry—now owned originally envisioned as an action game,
of person that will pop in a shoot-’em- ity, innovative products to customers by Electronic Arts, I can honestly only but ended up focusing on being stealthy.
up like Ikaruga, play until I’ve lost one without a big corporate budget. In a lot see this problem getting worse. But, This was not because that was the game
credit, and quit. I’ll put in Resident Evil of ways, I see the mobile gaming market mobile gaming can be much more, if only Kojima wanted to make, but because
and see how far I can get before I get as the Wild West of the games industry. because of the inherent limitations of the MSX couldn’t handle lots of scrolling
tired and give up, never stopping to save Right now, it’s a level playing field, and the format! or a high number of on-screen sprites
Carmack touches on this, but I really very well. In the end, these limitations
don’t think he understands exactly what caused Metal Gear to become something
he’s discovered. Doom 3 was a perfect memorable and exciting, instead of just
example of this. The visuals in Doom 3 another run-and-gun. People still pro-
were amazing for the time, yes, but the gram amazing and beautiful games for
major complaint from critics of the game Tim Sweeney’s text-based masterpiece
was that the gameplay itself wasn’t up to ZZT, even though the limitations on what
par. It was as if Carmack had been play- you can do with it are horribly severe
ing with Lincoln Logs for years, but then (think text-mode with a basic ASCII char-
his parents bought him the shiniest, new- acter set for graphics). Limitations force
est, most complicated set of Legos they innovation, whether the designer wants
could get. In the end, he just didn’t know it or not. Limitations made Doom RPG a
what to do with it all. They spent too better game than Doom 3.
much time focusing on visuals and not Increasingly, games have become
enough time figuring out how to make a more complicated, placing more and
solid shooter. But, if you play Doom RPG, more elements in when they’re prob-
you’ll understand where he went wrong. ably not needed. When I was a young
along the way. Needless to say, this has any hotshot programmer has a chance to Did he really need all that power and all lad, playing bootleg floppies on my Atari
made playing many role-playing games be a hero. Though, there’s one problem. the flashy visuals to make a good game? 800 8-bit computer, I didn’t have cinema
quite hard. But with the games on my Remember earlier when I said there When he was making Doom RPG, he scenes; I had gameplay. I would slide
phone, there’s no obligation to keep play- was a major lack of advertising, and realized quickly that he couldn’t make a in Bruce Lee, proceed to kick ninjas and
ing more than a few minutes. that downloading the games is a risk real-time 3-D engine, or even a ray caster sumo wrestlers in the face, turn the game
John Carmack, of Doom fame, keeps a sometimes? To avert this, companies will like the one used in Doom, and have it off and go outside to throw a Frisbee or
blog where he’s posted several interest- use a movie tie-in or a recognized brand run on the widest range of phones pos- something. These games didn’t have
ing observations about mobile gaming to sucker in curious customers, without sible. What Carmack also realized is that cut-scenes or even dialogue. Hell, most

6 The Gamer’s Quarter Issue #6 A Medium of Moments 7


of them didn’t even have proper endings.
There were always more ninjas to kick. If
the game ran out, well, you started over.
Break time!
Games were games, movies were mov-
ies, and books were books. I liked the
simplicity of it all. Everything’s become
so complicated these days, what with all
this line-blurring and all. Am I such a bad
person to want to play a game, just to
play a game?
It isn’t a matter of old-school vs. new-
school though. It’s a matter of games some interesting views on the future of
focusing on what’s really important. The the medium. He suggested the possibility
limitations on time, budget, and technol- of using cameras built into phones to play
ogy in mobile games are preserving this certain games (imagine a Fatal Frame
simplicity. The idea that mobile gam- game played by using the phone’s cam-
ing will only get more complicated and era to take pictures of ghosts superim-
obfuscated as the technology evolves posed over the real world) and of having
worries me. It makes me really hope that games that give players the opportunity
Carmack’s prediction comes true, and to play and manage characters in online
that for the most part, the games will games such as World of Warcraft while
stay the same, just on more powerful on the move.
hardware. Doom RPG is a step in the right direc-
Even if the catalogs are currently full of tion, even if the creators only vaguely
hastily made ports of games I played as understand what they’ve accomplished
a kid, mobile gaming has the potential to or where they were going. The possibility
rediscover a design methodology that’s is there though. The bat is in the develop-
long been bogged down in unnecessary er’s hands; it’s up to them to swing.
garbage. Is it any surprise that one the Mobile games may never make you
most downloaded game for cell phones shed a tear, or think deeply about life and
is Tetris? Why would anyone rather play the universe. Ironically, classic gaming is
Nethack instead of Final Fantasy X? Nos- saving mobile gaming, while mobile gam-
talgia can’t be the whole reason people ing is saving classic games. These games
enjoy Sonic the Hedgehog and don’t will probably never be considered artful
enjoy Shadow the Hedgehog. There’s got or moving. But this is the point I’m trying
to be some reason why Duck Hunt is more to make. Mobile games need to keep the
fun for some people than Time Crisis 3. designs of classic games in mind and not
Too many designers have forgotten that try to be something they’re not. The mo-
there is beauty in simplicity, and power ment is what mobile games are made for,
in restraint. Flash does not necessarily and designers need to keep this in mind.
equal fun and bloom effects don’t always As Augereau put it so well, games played
make that level look better. As of yet, on your phone are “just a certain pastime
mobile gaming hasn’t fulfilled what it for those boring moments.”
possibly could on a design level. Ignacio And you know what? I wouldn’t have it
Reyes, another Genplay employee has any other way.

8 The Gamer’s Quarter Issue #6


multiplayer over the Bluetooth standard, very seriously the fact that their games
and the system could communicate were a physical product which you could
through more than just the phone by buy in stores. Unfortunately, packaging is
allowing you to check your e-mail or do small in the grand scheme of things, and

The N-Gage
Article or is Dead;
instant messaging, with the potential to this wasn’t enough to make up for some
some day use these features in games. of the other issues that the N-Gage had.
The original N-Gage also doubled as an With the good out of the way, let’s

Long Live
Section the N-Gage
Title audio player, allowing you to play MP3 or
AAC music files on your phone, or even
record your own from the built-in FM
look at what went wrong. Better get
comfortable though, because other
than being a powerful game device
radio. It also had all of the standard cell- and fairly well-rounded cell phone,
Nokia—N-Gage were. Could it be possible that they were phone features such as a calendar, alarm, the answer to that question is: “pretty
By Wes Ehrlichman spending all of this money and all of this and access to the World Wide Web. It was much everything.” For a phone that was
time trying to figure out exactly what it a powerful device with pretty much any meant to combine a cell phone and a
Part I: The History of was that gamers want, making costly feature a cell-phone user would want at game machine, the N-Gage had at least
the N-Gage misstep after costly misstep nearly the the time. one important detail of each of these
In November of 2005, Antti Vasara, entire way? It’s also worth noting that the functions deeply flawed. When used as a
Nokia’s vice president for corporate When this thought hit me, I decided to packaging for N-Gage games was cell phone, users were made to look like
strategy, made the announcement buy a second-hand N-Gage to see if the phenomenal. Every game featured a color complete idiots by holding the device
that “N-Gage is still being sold, but system was ever actually worth owning. instruction book, a two-sided poster, up to their heads on its side like a taco.
it was not a success in the sense of The results have been “interesting.” But and a sturdy case that looked like a DVD Using the device to play games wasn’t
developing a new category,” effectively before I get into that, let’s take a deeper case but was half the height. Within much better, as when players wanted to
rendering Nokia’s entry into the games look at what went wrong. the case was room for two games and switch games they were required to take
market dead. No gamer anywhere was Actually, I lied. Let’s look at what went another, even smaller, plastic case that the battery out, swap games, and wait
surprised by this news. The system right before we get into the bad stuff. was included with each game and could for the device to power up again before
had been around for two years and Contrary to popular belief, the N-Gage be removed and used to carry up to four they could start playing again. The odd
they had only sold two million of the actually did do a few things correctly. At games or memory cards. Most cell-phone way of holding the phone was particu-
projected six million systems. To call it a the time of its release, it was extremely games don’t come with any packaging at larly painful for Nokia, and mockery of
failure would be an understatement. To powerful by handheld standards. With all, so it was nice to know that Nokia took the N-Gage actually became a minor
most, the N-Gage was dead on arrival, enough effort on the developer’s part,
spent two zombified years digging its the N-Gage could accurately emulate
grave, and then jumped in it when the games from the Playstation generation.
aforementioned announcement was The device’s form itself solved several of
made. A funny event followed this the problems that continue to plague cell-
announcement, though; almost as if phone games by simply coming closer
someone important at Nokia’s games to resembling a videogame-controller
division was sick on the day that the layout, and doing so without removing
memo was sent out, Nokia continued to the standard ten-button cell-phone
support their device. Throughout late keypad. Despite the large number of
2005 and early this year, Nokia released buttons, the system did a pretty good
several brand-new games, with more to job of relieving confusion by elevating
follow. I was intrigued when I noticed this the two main action buttons and keeping
was happening. I’ve never met a gamer non-game-related buttons to the edges
that was able to take the N-Gage very of the button field. It was also the first
seriously, but maybe Nokia themselves videogame system to feature wireless

10 The Gamer’s Quarter Issue #6 The N-Gage is Dead; Long Live the N-Gage 11
internet fad when the website Sidetalkin’ situations a chore. It also didn’t help that had been expecting Nokia to launch the awareness. A huge audience of people
launched. This site showcased hundreds despite having so many buttons, some system at $199, so it surprised everyone now knew what the N-Gage was, and
of people holding absurd objects up to important functions such as volume when Nokia announced that when the the Nokia name meant an abundance of
the side of their head at odd angles as if control were delegated to in-game option system hit shelves on October 7th, 2003, coverage from both gaming and techno-
using them to talk on the phone. screens, making stealth play during it would retail for $299. This price was far logical media. A lot of coverage doesn’t
These weren’t the only problems business meetings near impossible. above expectations, and unfortunately, guarantee good coverage though, and
with the device though. The screen was As a cell phone, the system didn’t not much was shown at the expo to although it was clear Nokia had spent a

vertically oriented, which can be good fare much better. The screen wasn’t as justify that price. Games were set to run large amount of money advertising the
for some puzzle games and scrolling bright and crisp as it could have been, anywhere from $30–40 a piece, which N-Gage, their ads didn’t always get the
shooters, but bad for nearly every other and while the talk time was comparable was a little on the high end, but much point across. Many of the posters and
genre. Developers learned to make do, to cell-phone standards at the time, closer to what was expected. Interest brochures distributed at E3 were openly
but some of the early games suffered playing a game for longer than a few continued to fade. mocked by the gaming community.
greatly because of it. Sonic N, for minutes would reduce the battery consid- Further complicating things was Sony’s One particular ad displayed a guy in his
example, added horizontal bars at the erably. It quickly became obvious to all announcement at the same event that twenties kneeling down near a skate-
top and bottom of the screen, reducing that the system was a jack of all trades, they also had plans to enter the handheld board and a NASCAR car, holding his
the already-small screen to an even more master of none. But as with all consumer arena. This meant that Nokia would have N-Gage in a way that makes it look like
difficult-to-see size. Also, despite being electronics, this can be forgiven if the not only Nintendo’s Game Boy Advance, he’s either really getting into the game
well placed, the number of buttons was price is right. the reigning champ of the handheld he’s playing, or trying his hardest to
another issue. It made sense for a phone In May of 2003 at the annual Electronic arena, to deal with, but also a new keep the console as far away as possible.
to have a full ten-key number pad, but Entertainment Expo, Nokia revealed console by the number one home-console Mike Krahulik, from popular gaming
the N-Gage had twenty-one buttons, and much of their remaining plans for the manufacturer in the world. webcomic Penny Arcade, responded to
as a gaming device, this made finding system—including the price—and not all Despite these setbacks, E3 provided this advertisement in a public news post
the right buttons to press in different was good news. Major gaming websites Nokia with one important benefit: brand by asking, “Is this supposed to make me

12 The Gamer’s Quarter Issue #6 The N-Gage is Dead; Long Live the N-Gage 13
want to buy your pile of shit phone? Am I was Nintendo rather than cell-phone systems, the N-Gage is still a perfectly the games,” but as a company that’s
supposed to relate to this jackass? Is that manufacturers such as Motorola, viable purchase without any games, and primarily focused on hardware, Nokia
a gamer? What the fuck is wrong with his Samsung, and Sony-Ericsson, Nokia many customers were content without must not have understood this. Their
face?” This began a streak of webcomics raised the expectations of the gaming buying any. biggest failure—the one without which
in which Penny Arcade would make fun of community. It’s likely that this fact hurt Two weeks after the unit launched, they may have been able to make the
nearly every wrong move Nokia made. their business much more than insulting on October 23, 2003, Gamestop and device a success—was the lack of a single
Feeling the overall gamer apathy when their customers had. When viewed as Electronics Boutique stores everywhere game at or near launch that didn’t have
E3 ended, Nokia went on the offensive a phone that plays games, the N-Gage reduced the price of the N-Gage by $100, an alternative, better version on another
and publicly attacked not only Nintendo, was actually pretty impressive; but as a making the price $199.99. This price tag system. It wasn’t just a lack of a killer
but also Nintendo gamers. In a Dow Jones game machine that doubles as a phone, it was much more rational, but dropping app that did the N-Gage in; it was the
article, Ilkka Raiskinen, head of Nokia’s wasn’t quite up to snuff. the system’s cost so drastically early in lack of any unique applications at all. The
entertainment division was quoted as On October 7th, 2003, the system the system’s lifespan didn’t do much to system launched with a lineup consisting
saying, “Game Boy is for ten-year-olds. finally launched. Despite the strong reinforce people’s faith in the N-Gage. of nothing but ports of existing console
If you’re twenty or twenty-five years product awareness brought by both Even worse, the price drop didn’t improve and handheld games. Pandemonium,
old, it’s probably not a good idea to widespread marketing and internet sales by much at all, and early adopters Tony Hawk, and Tomb Raider were all
draw a Game Boy out of your pocket on mockery, the system launched to who had at this point spent $100 extra ports of Playstation games, Sonic N and
a Friday night in a public place.” This sales that are rumored to be below to have the system a few weeks ahead of Super Monkey Ball were ports of GBA
comment quickly spread throughout five thousand units. I was working at time felt betrayed by Nokia. versions of these games, and Puzzle
gaming news networks not only because Gamestop at the time of release, and I So what could they have done better? Bobble VS, and Puyo Pop were half-assed
it established that Nokia had no clue who can say from my experience that interest The easy answer is that they should have original versions of games that had
their audience was, but also because it was extremely low. We had a total of two done the inverse of everything listed already appeared on virtually every other
established who they felt their audience sales in our entire district the morning above, but really there’s more to it than console imaginable. Launching with even
had been in the first place. Prior to this it was released. The game selection and that. The question remains whether a single game that Nokia could point to
comment, the N-Gage had been marketed sales were just as pitiful. Not a single the concept of a cell phone and gaming as representing the N-Gage’s unique
as a cell phone that doubled as a game original title was available at launch, and device in one is flawed. I don’t believe experience would have helped them
machine instead of a game machine several of their games were, ironically it is, but I don’t think there’s any doubt immensely.
that doubled as a cell phone. By estab- after Raiskinen’s comments, ports of that the two need to be handled a bit Worse yet, without any original
lishing that they felt their competition Game Boy Advance games. Unlike other differently than how Nokia handled games or characters to focus on, their
the N-Gage. For convergence to work, website and marketing materials focused
the device needs to exceed or at least on Tomb Raider’s Lara Croft as their
meet the standards of all the products unofficial mascot. Lara’s original game
the device is meant to combine. In the was seven years old when it arrived on
N-Gage’s case, it did not. Convergence the N-Gage, and after several mediocre
should save the customer money by sequels on the original Playstation and
utilizing the parts of the products that a nearly unanimous bashing of her four-
overlap. The N-Gage was portable, had month-old Playstation 2 debut, Lara had
an LCD screen, played music, and had lost nearly all of her appeal. In some ways
a powerful processor, all of which are Lara Croft did make a good mascot for
present in both portable gaming systems the N-Gage as her latter games represent
and mobile phones. Using these parts of how a company that’s out of touch with
the N-Gage for both functions may have what its customers want can destroy
saved Nokia money, but their flaw was something with a lot of potential.
that they didn’t pass these savings on to It’s difficult to blame the lack of games
the customer. exclusively. It’s likely that more games
Gamers often say, “It’s all about may have come along if Nokia had solved

14 The Gamer’s Quarter Issue #6 The N-Gage is Dead; Long Live the N-Gage 15
the obvious hardware issues prior to that fixed nearly every aspect of their With this cheaper-to-manufacture whether the influx of new titles was by
launch and gotten a decent installed ill-fated system: the N-Gage QD. With device the cost of the system was also design or by lack of developer support,
user base. It’s not always a good idea to this release, the design was modified so reduced. Offering rebates for new cell- but during the N-Gage’s second year,
listen to gamer opinion when releasing that the player was no longer forced to phone contracts was explicitly forbidden Nokia finally began creating games that
a game or game console, but in this remove the battery in order to change by Nokia prior to the release of the QD— couldn’t be found or wouldn’t be possible
case Nokia could have benefited from game discs, and, much to the chagrin of perhaps as a way to make the device on other handheld platforms, and some
responding to their critics. Side talkin’ side talkers everywhere, the phone could more appealing for standard game stores of them were surprisingly good.
and removing the battery to change now be held like a normal phone. They to stock—but with the release of the QD, Shortly after their millionth system
games were complained about as early also reduced the size, making the outer Nokia actively pushed service-contract sold, the N-Gage had its biggest influx of
as March 2003, when developers and US edge and buttons rubberized and more rebates, which would bring the device’s games yet. In November of 2004, eight
Press first got their hands on the system durable in the process. This updated cost down to $99 from the standard $199 new N-Gage games were released: Call of
at the Game Developers’ Conference. If design wasn’t all pluses though, Nokia if taken advantage of. Duty; Requiem of Hell; Pocket Kingdom:
The QD also brought with it the N- Own the World; The Elder Scrolls Travels:
Gage’s most unique feature, the N-Gage Shadowkey; Asphalt: Urban GT; Fifa
Arena. The Arena was Nokia’s network for Soccer 2005; Colin McRae Rally 2005;
playing N-Gage games online. In order to and Pathway to Glory. This marked the
start up the service they actually bought first time that Nokia showed a clear focus
Sega.com, a force that had been instru- on original games, and some of these
mental in bringing the Dreamcast online games, Pathway to Glory in particular,
just a few years prior. Nokia very clearly were actually very good.
took the Arena seriously, and ended up Finally realizing that “if you build it
creating a service very similar to Xbox they will come” only works for baseball
Live; with friends lists, online rankings stadiums, Nokia began to show off their
and tournaments, game demos, chat, and renewed focus on quality to people
message boards all accessible directly who could get the word out, sending
from the phone twenty-four hours a day. advance copies of the new device and its
This was Nokia’s greatest achievement upcoming games to a broader range of
yet, but few games took advantage of it major magazines and websites. Sites like
right away. Penny Arcade, who seemed to have done
With its lower price and vast hardware nothing but mock the system relentlessly
improvements Nokia’s system sales from the beginning, were given a chance
improved. In September of 2004, they to see how the N-Gage’s faults had been
sold their millionth device; far from the rectified. Penny Arcade’s Jerry Holkins
six million they estimated, but much summed up the marked change in compe-
better than the five thousand systems tency in his news post for November 26,
sold at launch. Improved hardware alone 2004: “Are they finally figuring something
Nokia had listened to the criticisms that also removed some of the less used would not be enough to turn around the out? That they have created a platform
arose here they would have saved a lot and more costly features, such as the system’s successes. They would need with strengths and weaknesses, and
of money and ridicule, but instead they FM radio, the MP3 player/recorder, and better games. The platform continued to that development can accentuate one of
chose to wait until it was obvious that stereo output from the device’s speakers. receive nothing but ports of games from those and downplay the other? I’ll be God
these things were affecting sales to do Strangely, despite removing the radio other systems right up until the release of damned.”
something about them. and music player buttons, an “accept” the QD. Thankfully, around the time the Nokia had finally weeded out all of
On July 26, 2004, less than a year after button was added, reducing the number QD hit shelves, Nokia began to release their mistakes and the N-Gage seemed to
the original N-Gage’s introduction, Nokia buttons on the QD to a total of twenty internally designed games that seemed be doing everything right. Unfortunately,
released a revised version of the N-Gage instead of the original’s twenty-one. tailor-made for the system. It is unknown November 2004 also marked the US

16 The Gamer’s Quarter Issue #6 The N-Gage is Dead; Long Live the N-Gage 17
release of the Nintendo DS and the Legends; Falcom’s Xanadu Next; and month of Antti Vasara’s announcement I was extremely interested in the game,
Japanese release of Sony’s PSP. Nokia’s a graphically impressive Splinter Cell: that the device’s retail life was over. This but at the time I knew no one else who
competition was heating up just as they Chaos Theory. Some of the games must have been the point that it became would have been willing to play it with
had established that they were ready released during this period were also painfully obvious to Nokia that no matter me, and I wasn’t quite compelled
to be taken seriously. Then more than on other systems, but unlike past ports, how much work they put into making the enough to learn how to play the game
ever, it would have paid for Nokia to these were the best portable versions system worthwhile it was never going to by myself, so I quickly filed it in the back
have marketed the machine as a game of the games available. They actually take off. of my mind where its memory waited to
console with cell-phone features rather took advantage of the system’s features be sparked again.
than a cell phone that plays the best while downplaying its faults. In other Part II: With the N-Gage That spark came, oddly enough, at
games. They could compete at least efforts to promote the system and the Dead, My Interest Was the Tokyo Game Show in 2002. Capcom
technologically with their previous rival, Arena service, Nokia began to offer Finally Piqued had bought the rights to bring the game
the Game Boy Advance, but the DS and free copies of the game Snake, a 3-D It is through the N-Gage’s final games, to Japan, and were releasing it as both
the rapidly approaching PSP were much enhanced, next-generation version of Catan specifically, that my desire to a board game and an online-enabled
more powerful. Gamers shopping for the game that everyone played on their own one—rather than simply follow- Playstation 2 version (the disc was
cell phones were not tempted to get an TI-83 calculators in high school. Despite ing the odd history of its lifespan—was free, but there was a monthly fee to
N-Gage because it was seen as inferior its shallow, thumbpad-only gameplay sparked. I’ve always been interested in play it). To help make the game appeal
to these devices, while non-gamers (or perhaps because of it), the game the boardgame Settlers of Catan, but I to Japanese customers, they had hired
shopping for cell phones weren’t tempted worked extremely well on the device. had never had the chance to play it. I first Susumu Matsushita, the cover artist
to get it because it was viewed as a It was the perfect type of game to play learned about the game while working at of the number one gaming magazine
phone for gamers. at places where people often break out BradyGames one summer during college. in Japan, Famitsu, to do the artwork of
The system continued to sell sporadi- their cell phones to play games, and the One of the editors, Ken Schmitt, would the in-game characters. At the show, I
cally over the next year, bolstered by game received rave reviews because spend much of his downtime playing an received a cardboard approximation of
intermittent releases of games such of it. Unfortunately, at this point in online-enabled DOS version of the game. the game board, along with a sheet of
as King of Fighters: Extreme; X-Men the system’s life, too many mistakes When I came into his office to watch him plastic houses and a page of instruc-
had been made and the damage had play, the strange hexagon-covered grid tions. It was all in Japanese so I couldn’t
been done. The PSP, DS, and Game Boy and screen full of menus would stare read it, but I knew that since one of my
Advance were all doing so well that any back at me, appearing as a complicated favorite Japanese companies had bought
good news Nokia had about its system statistics problem just begging to be the rights to the game, it had to be
ended up getting lost in the shuffle. solved. I couldn’t understand a single something special. I waited and
And thus when David went up against thing that was going on, and I barely had waited for a US release of the videogame
the giant Goliath, he was trampled to any idea what the point of the game was, to come, but the it was destined to
death under his mighty feet. With its but I knew that certain pieces needed stay in Japan.
final and most important retail support to go to certain places so that certain With one exception: the N-Gage
gone, the most unique titles of the N- numbers were larger than other numbers, version.
Gage’s entire lifespan—titles such as and I desperately wanted to know what The one and only N-Gage game ever
Glimmerati; System Rush; Catan; Rifts: those pieces and numbers meant. As I to be released by Capcom also happens
Promise of Power; X-Men Legends 2; watched the screen, baffled by the num- to be the only version of Settlers of
One; Mile High Pinball; High Seize; and bered menus he was selecting from, he Catan to ever appear on in America
Pathway to Glory: Ikusa Islands—were informed about the game’s history. The on a videogame platform. The online
released for sale through online sites game he was playing was an adaptation playable N-Gage version used the same
only and barely found an audience at of a German boardgame that he played cute Susumu Matsushita artwork as the
all. Every single one of these games a lot in college. Settlers of Catan haa a Japanese release, and from the screen-
was released between the months of huge following in the geek underground, shots it was apparent that the game
August and October of 2005, with many and the version he was playing was an was as full of numbers and menus as
of them falling in November, the same unofficial fan adaptation. By that point, ever. These screenshots were enough to

18 The Gamer’s Quarter Issue #6 The N-Gage is Dead; Long Live the N-Gage 19
“Well yeah, the system itself may since Advance Wars, and Pocket Kingdom the games, but not everybody wanted
suck, but isn’t it all about the games?” is the type of game that works perfectly a cell phone that looked like a gamer’s
was my response. “So, do you have any on mobile. Surprisingly, the Elder Scrolls device. The hardcore, a lot of them carry
systems in?” game was the most disappointing, but the iPod and then the PSP as a dedicated
“No, and I wouldn’t sell one to you if that’s mostly because the graphics try to machine, so now what we’re doing is tak-
we did,” he said. push the system almost too far, and as ing N-Gage games and releasing them on
Even though I didn’t have a device yet, a result the engine chugs along a bit too a variety of phones. Our phones are quite
I ended up buying Pathway to Glory; The slowly for my liking. high-end, and we have different models.
Elder Scrolls Travels: Shadowkey; and My other package of games arrived When we launch in the first half of next
Pocket Kingdom, partially just to spite later, including the legendary (at least in year, there will be approximately five to
the employee. I had the employee check my eyes) Catan. After all of that build-up, seven devices in that product portfolio
in their tracking system for Catan and it turns out that I really don’t like it that that the gamer will be able to go out and
discovered that Gamestop had never much. I enjoyed trying to figure out how purchase and actually have the ability to
carried it. They had stopped carrying to play it, but now that I understand all play games on.
new N-Gage games shortly before Catan of the numbers I don’t feel like I have any Here are our estimates for next year
was released, so continuing my search reason to keep playing. Thankfully, the with our sales of devices. The platform
there was futile. With Gamestop out of other games he sent were much better. launch should be about fifty million
the picture, I knew the only place I’d be Rifts: Promise of Power is a great mix of devices by the end of next year. So
able to find Catan was the internet—or American-style role playing with Final that opens up our games to many more
so I thought. Amazon, eBay, and Froogle Fantasy Tactics-style battles, and High people. The other problem we’ve found
had all returned no results, and most Seize, a pirate game by the people who is that when people buy mobile games,
major online retailers didn’t even have made Pathway to Glory, is also excellent. there’s a bit of a fragmentation problem.
inspire me to begin my search for an any N-Gage games at all. I did end up He also sent the Pathway to Glory sequel, Some of the games you can only get from
N-Gage and its games. purchasing a system from eBay, but Ikusa Islands, which is every bit as your carrier, some of the games you can
To tackle this mission, I set off to the without Catan my mission would be a addictive as the original. So the system only get online.
local GameStop, the only store in which failure. I guess when the N-Gage died, didn’t turn out to be that bad after all.
I’d ever seen N-Gage games being sold. it did its best to leave no traces of its Consider me an N-Gage fan. TGQ: I’ve found that finding games is
After reminding the employees for the remains. Having given up the hope that a very difficult part of playing mobile
thousandth time that I’m not interested in I would actually be able to buy a copy of games because you’ve got to wade
selling back my used games, I wandered Catan, I ended up calling in a favor from Part III: Talking to Nokia through everything.
over to the N-Gage bin. There was no a friend who works at a major gaming With the N-Gage mostly dead, and no
Catan to be found, but I was able to find website. He was able to send me a copy real reason to continue supporting their Nokia: What we’ve developed is a play
most of the N-Gage’s library for just of the game as well as several other late system, it was strange to see that their application that’s embedded on every
$6.99 per game. As I sifted through the N-Gage games. booth at E3 had actually grown in size device that we ship, and it allows you
bin, one of the employees walked over Later that week when my system this year. I made it a point to speak with to buy, manage, and share all of your
to me. arrived, I could finally see if the N-Gage’s one of their marketing people to find games. You can invite friends via a
“You got an N-Gage yet?” he said. bad reputation was truly deserved. It out why. friends list or you can compare games.
“No, not yet, but I’ve been looking turns out that my suspicions were right It’s very similar to the [Xbox] Live kind of
around for one,” I said. and the system was far from terrible. It The Gamer’s Quarter: I don’t think environment that you’ve got on the con-
“I hate it.” certainly has its share of bad games, but enough people have looked at the recent sole side. So you can purchase a game
“What?” I said, confused. that much I had known. As expected, N-Gage games. for a day. Purchase it for three days, for a
“That system is garbage,” he said. the games that understand and take week, or purchase it outright.
“So you’ve played it?” I asked. advantage of the N-Gage’s strengths are Nokia: What we’ve found is that, even in
“Yeah man. It’s garbage,” he said, sure extremely good. Pathway to Glory is the the community today, you see that you TGQ: Is the old N-Gage related to the new
of himself. best military strategy game I’ve played have a lot of dedicated fanbase. They like N-Gage at all, or is it mainly a brand of

20 The Gamer’s Quarter Issue #6 The N-Gage is Dead; Long Live the N-Gage 21
first party games? Are you still going to open to that. And that’s where we’re Nokia: The positioning was and still fanbase. We’re not just going to take a
purchase games in the store or … ? going too. With our mobile application, is: it’s a phone for gamers; if you’re a recent movie license and just put it on the
we’re now connected to the PC as well, gamer, buy this phone. Now there are phone. There’s got to be something about
Nokia: No, the first N-Gage was very so I mean it’s all about just managing the a lot of people that game. Like myself, I the game that makes it fun and addictive.
directed at retail. We learned a lot of games and what he talked about. consider myself a hardcore gamer, I don’t
lessons from that. Now we have this play necessarily have to have the widescreen TGQ: There’s a big difference in how you
application embedded on the phones. If TGQ: I thought part of the focus of the landscape because I still want all of the can price a physical product versus a digi-
you look at all the women that play Snake original N-Gage was to try to alleviate other features of my phone: the Wi-Fi, tal download because the digital down-
and how addictive that was, you’ll see some of the problems with mobile-phone the pictures, the music. Just like with all load feels a lot more temporary than a
that they play a lot of embedded games. games. It looks like, with these phones, of our devices, each one will be targeted physical product in terms of ownership.
So if we have, say, fifty million sales at you have are moving back in the opposite at a specific segment. So it all goes back Paying more than $10 is hard to justify to
the end of next year, we can embed an direction. Let’s take the issue with the to the original question, “Well, what is yourself when you’re on your phone, so
application on there and carefully design controls, for example. It’s harder to de- N-Gage?” Is N-Gage a device? Is N-Gage how are you going to price things?
it so that one click will buy the game. And sign games when they’ve got to accom- games? That brand that we’ve invested in
there will be an over-the-air distribution modate specific phone layouts. is the experience. The N-Gage experi- Nokia: We’ve done pricing studies, and
that would be like a two-to-three-meg file ence is a quality game. Above Java, I’ve seen some of the numbers. It varies
size. See, the experience that I’m think- Nokia: I don’t think we’re being handi- above what you’ve experienced before, per region. Since Nokia’s a global com-
ing of—and that Nokia is thinking capped in any way by the devices. We’re all of those headaches you’ve had with pany, games typically have to be lower
of—is if you’re on the road, you can buy not saying, “We’re developing our game purchasing your content. priced in Asia/Pacific. In Europe, people
the game right there and get it. Or you based on this medium, and we can’t have are willing to pay a little more, and in
can check in—this particular phone, complexity or any of that nature.” A few TGQ: So is this new direction for the the USA—actually some of the games,
the N-91, will link to my music. You can of our devices on the road map, in the N-Gage kind of a direct response to the you know, I bought Skipping Stone the
buy the game, transfer the game to my long run, and even in the short run, will feedback that—a lot of people have said other day, I think it was from a European
phone. My phone immediately knows be optimized for gaming. This one [point- lately that there’s just a huge number of company, for $5. I know what I’m getting.
how to install it, set it up, and register it. ing to the N-91) is optimized for music, mobile games. There’s so many that the Skipping Stone is a Java experience—one
as you can see. You see, at any time I can only way to know what to buy is to base it button and pretty simple. So, OK, that
TGQ: What did you think when Bill Gates play, stop … We will have phones like on a license, and you’re not buying them was $5, that’s what people are willing to
got on the floor at the Microsoft confer- that in the product line. It’s a matter of for the experience. You’re not netting the pay now. I think some of the other games
ence and said that mobile phones are choice. From our feedback, we’ve seen hardcore gamers with the licenses. You’re go for $6.99 or $7.99 USA. That’s what
going to have your Xbox Live friends list that a lot of people didn’t buy the N-Gage getting the sale of that game, and that’s people are paying for that kind of con-
and all of the Live features? Is that your because they didn’t want to be known it. By building the N-Gage brand are you tent. We’re looking at the pricing model
competition now? as a gamer. But they still game, and they trying to theoretically become something now. How much development goes into
still want to have the cool phones that like the Nintendo of handhelds, where these games? How comprehensive are
Nokia: Could be. He’s going in the right slide out or do whatever. people buy a game regardless, just be- they? And if the customer’s not willing to
direction. You want to take everything cause they know it’s quality? pay a certain amount that they may deem
with you. Not speaking as a Nokia em- TGQ: It seems like the N-Gage’s failure too high, can we offer them a smaller
ployee, I’m a 360 fanatic. If I could have was mainly due to the marketing and Nokia: That’s what we want. Any game amount to …
an application on my phone that kept positioning as opposed to the virtues of that we develop first-party—and third-
all my friends with me and say, “Hey I’m the system. It seemed to be positioned as party content as well—should be of qual- TGQ: Episodic content kinda thing?
gonna be home at 5:00, and we’ll be able something for gamers. Rather than as a ity because of the tools they have. If you
to hook up at this time,” or somebody cell phone that played games, it was po- look at N-Gage’s history, the majority of Nokia: Exactly. Well, certainly that’s in
texts me, one of my friends, and says, “A sitioned as a game system that doubled our games have scored pretty well—the our road map for add-on packs and bits
new Oblivion pack is released, gotta get as a cell phone. Switching that up, just ones that we’ve really pushed. When and pieces. I don’t have the figures on
it tonight,” and he’s in a completely dif- that alone, would have helped immensely you take Pathway to Glory and such, Oblivion in terms of their horse armor or
ferent time zone or something, I’m totally with that perception. each of those have their own dedicated the quarry quests but certainly I bought

22 The Gamer’s Quarter Issue #6 The N-Gage is Dead; Long Live the N-Gage 23
them, and I know a lot of other people content, then they liked the game well good. And a huge advantage is knowing cell-phone button layout, I’m turned off.
that did. enough to pay for it. what phones are coming next. Our devel- More than anything else, these games
opers already know what’s coming next made me feel that moving away from
TGQ: You bought the horse armor? Nokia: But you’re right, we have to move so they can start planning for that. being a “phone for gamers” might be a
Nokia: Not the horse armor! that price point. We can’t just say, “OK, So that’s the big picture. But yeah, I step backward in playability from the
here’s Java poker for $5; we’re going to think you’re going to be excited. It’s going current N-Gage design.
TGQ: I don’t know anybody who … price ours at $8.” to be interesting. The N-Gage community Before leaving, he led me over to what
itself, it wants to live on and it is active. may go down as the definitive game for
Nokia: Actually, I did buy the horse TGQ: And it’s in 3-D, and it’s really nice, But by taking it outside of this realm—I the current N-Gage, Shadow-Born. It is
armor. If people actually like the game, but you’d have to get across that it has think there’s a lot of people out there a unique mixture of an RPG, virtual pet,
they’re willing to pay for the experience. all of these nice features by letting them that are purchasing very simple games and dungeon-crawling adventure game.
try it. on their phones, and a lot of people are What makes it distinct is the way the
TGQ: I bought Zuma for $10, but it has making money, and we want to reach different parts of the game interact with
nothing to do with how deep it was. It Nokia: And we both know that free trials those people as well and sort of say, the standard cell-phone features of the
was because it was $10. I wouldn’t have really drive a lot of full purchases. You “Hey, N-Gage quality is something to N-Gage. The game is meant to interact
paid any more than that. If you’re going to want to try it first. believe in.” You know any game that with you just as much as you interact
price things more than that, it’s probably It all comes down to quality. Your you get on our platform is going to be with it and in order to create a more
something that you’re going to have to first point was, you know, everybody pretty solid. immersive experience it will actually
move the market into. just does movie licenses—you’ve got send e-mails, text messages, and set
Paris Hilton doing Jewel Jam, you’ve alarms for you when you’re not playing.
Nokia: One way we might price things is got all these other titles, but whether Shadow-Born has the likelihood to fully
this. Let’s say you have this fishing game, we develop High Seize or Pathway to Our talk ended with that, and he took realize the potential of the convergence
and you really enjoyed Costa Rica, and Glory, or you know, the games that we’re me around the booth, showing me an between cell phone and game console
you had a blast, and you’re power level- working on, we’ve got a lot of experience in-engine movie of the next-generation that the N-Gage made possible but never
ing, you hit that sector gate that says, designing for mobile, and we’re picking N-Gage version of the fighting game, followed through on. It’s a shame that it
Ok, we’re taking you to Scotland—a level the right developers. We’re offering them One. It looks good, really good, but also has the potential to be the last
we’re working on right now is Loch Ness, the right toolsets to make games that are looking at the phones on the floor, I game developed primarily for the
right? So you hit that sector gate and that don’t think there was a single one that N-Gage device.
little red dot says, “Aww, gee, you don’t had a button configuration that would Even if they sell fewer than a hundred
have this pack yet, do you want it?” You make it possible to play a full-featured copies of Shadow-Born to current N-Gage
know, maybe they’re willing to pay $4–5 fighting game other than the N-Gage. users, it won’t matter. The mistakes that
for that because they know the experi- The next game he showed me was a Wild Nokia has made with the N-Gage and
ence, and they know that they’ve been West game with big-headed characters. the lessons they’ve learned have helped
playing on the plane, the bus, wherever. It had pretty backgrounds and nice them get to the point where they can
That’s why we’re doing a lot of investiga- explosions, but the stylized characters produce the games they’re publishing
tion into the pricing. looked really out of place on the realistic now, and whether gamers liked the
western backgrounds, so I wasn’t all original N-Gage or not, fifty million
TGQ: That’s a good way to do it, to kind of that impressed. The final next-gen game devices sold by the end of the next year
sneak an extra dollar here or there. he demonstrated was an unnamed FPS is a whole lot of cell phones. It’s likely
which showed off some awesome lighting that the next phone some of us buy will
Nokia: Well you know, it isn’t really effects, superb graphics, and a smooth have some form of the N-Gage on it, and
sneaking, you’re spending … frame rate. It was probably the most thanks to everything Nokia’s failures
impressive mobile graphics that I had have taught them, most of the games
TGQ: Well no, obviously if they’re going ever seen, but again, when I think about should actually be good.
to get to the point where they need more playing that on anything with a standard

24 The Gamer’s Quarter Issue #6 The N-Gage is Dead; Long Live the N-Gage 25
components that could be studied, but does things that might not even be
for brevity’s sake, let’s just focus on one: considered by some live performers.
harmony. Harmony is essentially two or So, the music of DD2 demonstrates not
more different notes played at the same only that videogames have the basic

Mediumor
Article
time. A guitar chord is a harmony. But tools available to potentially compose
beyond chords, harmony is rarely used just about any music, but also that
to full effect in most popular songs. complex and interesting tunes have been

Possibilities
Section Title Harmonies are difficult to compose,
and as such, instrumental harmonies
are often avoided in most pop and rock
composed in videogames. Presumably,
an analogy could be pushed to the other
artistic aspects of videogames, such as
songs.2 The amazing thing about DD2’s the visuals and storytelling, to show that
The Music of Double Dragon 2 realizes that these silly tunes are often music is that many songs employ a videogames have at their disposal the
By Ash and Dan Pringle more involved than one might initially double instrument harmony throughout tools to make complex and interesting
think. Structurally, almost every song in the entire song, often in very complex works in these fields as well. But, this
The debate about whether videogames DD2 involves what are essentially two scales! Whole songs are composed from article clearly does not have the space to
are “art” is a tired one for most people. guitar tracks, a bass track, and a drum a sort of double-guitar harmony, where discuss anything more than music.
Artists generally don’t care about video- track.1 Just like many songs you might both “guitars” play complimentary Despite these facts, music in video-
games, and videogamers generally hear on the radio, these four “instru- harmonies throughout the entire song. games is still limited. First of all, the
don’t care about art, and so discussion ments” perform the same functions as This trick is used to great effect in DD2, sound technology of videogames limits
between the two fields is fairly their real counterparts. The parallels are and some of DD2’s songs are among the its potential. For example, the music
frustrated. But, the question remains: rather astonishing when you first realize most memorable from the NES era. The of DD2 is nothing more than blips and
Is it possible that a good videogame it; the “bass” lays down the low end root intro track is forever recognizable, and bloops. Structurally, just about any note
might be more than just a well-crafted notes in a consistent rhythm, over which the music of the final boss (for those or combination of notes is available, but
piece of entertainment? Setting aside the second “guitar” sometimes plays that reached that far) is stirring; it sets the tone and sound quality of those notes
“art,” let’s first just look at what video- a more melodically noticeable rhythm, a mood one would not think possible in is very limited by the technology, and as
games may be capable of creatively. In and the drums tie everything together such an old game. This sort of music is such, the music often can’t reach its full
order to better understand this question with a consistent beat, complete with a difficult to compose, and hard to play potential. Many cover bands nowadays
let’s look at a creative element of a bass drum, cymbal accents and a solid live. In some ways, the music of DD2 have realized this, and have begun
videogame, at the music of the NES snare beat. The “lead guitar” often takes
classic Double Dragon 2. on double duty, functioning as both the
We are hardly music experts. We’ve “vocals” of a track, when it plays the
deconstructed and covered the songs melodies of the main verses, and as
of DD2 on real instruments, but our the actual lead guitar, when it plays the
music credentials hardly stretch beyond solos and riffs that we would normally
this. The point here is not to give a associate with a lead guitar. All of it adds
detailed examination of the music of together to make a song, so, structurally,
DD2, but, rather, to better understand DD2 has all the ingredients required
how music fits into the overall design to make just about any song (notes,
of a videogame, so that one may better rhythms, and “instruments” to play
understand how videogames compare to them), demonstrating that videogames
other mediums. have available to them the basic tools
On a first listen, the music of DD2, required for making just about any music.
and probably the music of most old Beyond the basic song structure of 1 For any synth nerds out there, the two guitar tracks are square synth waveforms, the bass is a
triangle waveform, and the drum track is a very strange noise waveform.
NES games, sounds almost whimsically the music of DD2 is the actual song
2 To my knowledge, the first rock band to make real use of instrumental harmonies, specifically guitar
simple. But with a bit of examination, one composition. There are many musical harmonies, was Thin Lizzy. Many metal bands employ the trick as well.

26 The Gamer’s Quarter Issue #6 Medium Possibilities 27


to reinterpret and reconstitute many mature readers. But, in recent years the
videogame songs with live instruments. status of comics has steadily increased,
Of course, modern videogames have to the point where many comics and
much better sound quality, but the point graphic novels are now considered
still stands; even the best of videogame modern classics. Of course, nothing
music can never match up to a live band. significant about the form or structure
More importantly, the music of video- of comics has changed this time; rather,
games is limited by the structure of it was the opinions of the critics that
videogames themselves. In the case of changed, as they came to realize that
DD2 and many videogames, the songs comics are in fact a medium capable of
must often effectively avoid having a telling stories and conveying messages
beginning and an end, since they must just as meaningful and enthralling as
loop throughout the level. Without a any novel, film or painting. Many had
beginning or an end, the music is nothing to realize that comics were not merely
more than a clip of sound, relegating it to the combination of drawings that were
the background. There are other specific be fine in a movie or novel often seem more limited than paintings and writing
limitations to videogame music, but forced and out of the player’s control in a that was more limited than novels, but
the important point is this: videogame videogame, ruining the experience. instead a unique medium all its own.
music must conform to the limitations So, the argument can be made that Comics add together limited aspects of that is something that no other art
and requirements of the game first and videogames naturally limit the individual many mediums to make an experience form can ever achieve. The art is in the
foremost, not to the music itself. The aspects that make the game up, such as that is unique to comics. If the visuals combination of these elements, however
music of a videogame must reinforce the musical, visual and narrative. But, were too involved, or the writing too limited they are. One could go even
the experience for the player, not simply is this necessarily a bad thing? There is involved, the comic would actually suffer; further and say that they must be limited,
be good music; and certain musical another medium that shares these same comics benefit from having limited in order to make a good videogame. In
freedoms must be restricted in order to limitations: comics. writing and visuals by combining them to this way, videogames should be under-
make the music work within the game. In comics, the visuals and writing are make something that is impossible with stood as their own medium. We cannot
Structurally, videogame music can never restricted by the form of comics; the just one of the aspects. A comic can tell compare videogames to paintings
be as complex as a complete song or writing must generally be simple and to a story in a way that neither a movie nor or musical compositions or writings,
composition. the point in order to avoid distracting the book ever could.3 because it would be a mistake. Just as
So, at least one aspect of videogames, reader from the action on the page, and We would argue that videogames comics have been misunderstood as
the music, would seem to be limited in the visuals must be divided into panels are similar to comics, in that they add juvenile and limited art forms, inferior
its breadth and potential. Presumably, and simplified in order to give emphasis together limited visuals, narrative, to the individual art forms that they are
another analogy could be made with the to characters and objects that are most story, and images to make something composed of, so too have videogames.
other creative aspects of videogames. important. Similarly, a videogame’s that would be impossible in any other But, so too should videogames not be
The visuals can never be as complex or visuals, story and music are restricted by medium. Rather than create stories that viewed as an amalgam of artistic works
as deep as a painting because the player gameplay; all three must avoid being too are different from any other medium, inferior to their respective types, but
must play in this visual space, and certain complex or intricate, so as not to get in as comics do, they create an experience as a medium unto itself, with its own
important objects and pieces of scenery the way of the player’s experience with that is different from any other medium. degree of quality and its own possi-
have to take on functional importance, playing the game. The narrative, writing, visuals, sound, bilities, separate from other mediums.
limiting the artist’s choices about how Comics, like videogames, have and music may be limited compared to In this sense, a good videogame can be
these parts of the game can look. Also, traditionally had trouble establishing other art forms, but they combine to considered a good videogame, and also a
the story must not become too involved, themselves as a legitimate form of together to make a gameplay experience good piece of art.
or the writer risks limiting the player’s expression. Just like videogames,
interactivity with the game; unexpected they were considered children’s enter-
changes in plot that would normally tainment, not worthy of the attention of 3 Scott McCloud talks about this better than we ever could in Understanding Comics.

28 The Gamer’s Quarter Issue #6 Medium Possibilities 29


I didn’t prefer Sega over Nintendo—I was I developed my ability to judge and feel
simply more familiar with the brand. So, and perceive—as I grew aware that I, and
when the Genesis came out, it was time everyone else, was dying, I received a
to upgrade. The Game Boy was released Sega CD for my fourteenth birthday.

Console
Article or
to great fanfare, but I lugged around My affair with Sega was long past the
a Game Gear, dutifully replacing the stage of familiarity. When I asked for
batteries every six hours. My Game Gear a Sega CD for my birthday (and as the

Identity Title
Section even let me play my old Master System
games, and the thick, ergonomic edges of
my Sega portable were tucked into
reward for another year of straight As),
it was not because it was just another
Sega product. Sega’s consoles meant
my back-pack when I entered High something to me now. This shelf of black
Sega—SMS, GEN, GMG, SCD, SAT, SDC a Master System. Of course, I went to a School in 1992. boxes—the Master System, the Game
By Heather Campbell very small school in Chicago: my fourth- Sometime around the start of Gear and the Genesis—represented
grade class had a total of nine kids. So, freshman year, I began to form what I seclusion and isolation. When I asked for
I don’t remember elementary school. sure, I wasn’t casting the widest net, but
What I retain from my childhood is a considering that Nintendo had a 90%
record of my actions without memory of market share, it’s not a surprise that I
my motives. I can recall doing things— didn’t have Sega friends. Truth is, my
joining the basketball team, going to the school was so small I didn’t really have
library, watching Moonlighting—but I any friends. With only nine people in my
have no access to the philosophy of my class, I was the entire geek clique.
youth. I think that’s because I wasn’t yet Still, a couple kids had Nintendo.
conscious. And while they were stomping their first
In fact, I don’t think any kid is really goomba, I was slicing through enemies as
self-aware. Consciousness is a difficult Hayato of Kenseiden. Other kids collected
and constant self-examination. It’s not the Triforce; I was Wonder Boy in Monster
just knowledge of one’s surroundings; Land. I even got the rare, shutter-based
it’s a sapience, a processing of experi- 3-D glasses. I had a decade of atomic
ences, an understanding that one exists. bomb nightmares thanks to Missile
I would argue that you can’t appreciate Defense 3-D. And Ronald Reagan.
that you exist until you can fathom that I’m not writing about these titles to
you will die, and children are rarely aware come off as an elitist douchebag. Quite
that they’re dying. the opposite: the Sega Master System consider to be my personal identity. I a Sega CD, I wasn’t just upgrading. I was
When I got my first game console, I was not a badge of honor. Playing Ghost became aware of a constant, infrequently choosing my console identity. Genesis
had just turned eight years old. It was House did not make me cool. The Master changing self. My actions took on a had become a common household
1986, and I was still unconscious. My System was a small forgotten village, considerable weight; doing was not just system, but I was asking for something
parents chose the Sega Master System and its games were irrelevant folklore. a question of choice, but also of reper- special, solitary, and secret. I was asking
because my father believed in investing Even now, I have a few friends who grew cussion. It probably had a lot to do with to be alone. To be left alone.
in “superior technologies,” regardless up casually playing video games—they being made fun of all the time. I had a I unwrapped my Sega CD in the fall
of their market share. Habitual early know Mario and Zelda, and maybe a few really terrible haircut. of ’92. The Chicago autumn was cold
adopters, we got a CD player in ’85. Or, of them remember Pit. But none of them I’ll bet that other kids became self- and dark, and my double-pane windows
to put it another, less flattering way: my know who the hell Opa-Opa is. aware earlier. Regardless, for me, it still let in a draft. I shoved my television
family owned three Betamax machines. By 1989, though I had tried Nintendo at wasn’t until High School that I became behind my bed, and tucked all my games
And a Betamax camcorder. my cousin’s house, I had become a Sega sensitive to the timeline of my own underneath the frame. I had physi-
I was the only person I knew who had loyalist by habit. I was still unconscious. thoughts. And as I became conscious—as cally cut myself off from the world and

30 The Gamer’s Quarter Issue #6 Console Identity 31


fashioned a fort where I could retreat ciated epilogue on Sega’s new machine; my avatar—I was appreciating their
to play uninterrupted. When the system in Heart of the Alien, you become an placement and pace. Music cues
was hooked up, and the evening had set awkward pale behemoth, desperate to weren’t just the background noise of
in, I pressed Power, and was met with save an injured friend, only to lose him a level; they were compositions, timed
my first ever console boot screen. Before in the final minutes of the game. Broader to heighten tension. When I played
me, the Sega CD logo floated in space, fare, like the licensed Bram Stoker’s Sonic CD in the winter of ’93, I appre-
and my loneliness was given a visual Dracula, was slow and desolate, due in ciated Sonic in a whole new way. He
metaphor. I spent ten minutes with that part to the use of full motion video to wasn’t just running, he was animated,
screen, anxious to drop in Sol Feace, but populate its barren landscapes. Even each frame a graceful choice.
quieted by this graphic solitude. It was Sonic was forsaken on Sega CD: a year Sega CD games were deliberate: the
like Sega knew—the satellite logo was earlier, Sonic was given a sidekick, Miles power of the CD system had to be bottle-
my lonesome affirmation. “Tails” Prower, in the Genesis game Sonic necked through the Genesis. Loading Sega CD was a turning point, both for
Sega CD games were all atypically 2. Tails was absent, however, in Sonic CD, times were often placed mid-action (as myself and for Sega. After the triumph
lonely fare. Ecco the Dolphin, one of the and the animals Sonic had once struggled in the pause before finishing moves of the Genesis, Sega stumbled through
Genesis’s flagship titles, was given new to save were replaced with flowers. Sonic in both Eternal Champions and Mortal systems before finally bowing out of
levels and a Redbook soundtrack for its was completely on his own. Kombat); these strange shortcomings the hardware race altogether. Perhaps
Sega CD incarnation. A game already As high school dragged on, and the full seemed to mirror the anxiety of my own it was a failure of character: future
miserably desperate (you play as the only inelegance of young adulthood set in, I consciousness. For the first time in any Sega machines would try to embrace
dolphin left in the sea, and one gamepad sought out polish and refinement in the game I had played, there was a hesitation the market with gimmicky controllers,
button is dedicated to a cry for help), game worlds of my Sega CD. In an effort in the action, as if the conflict itself was hardware add-ons, and even a coat of
Ecco was rendered almost unbearable to find a place uncluttered by insecurity, racked with doubt. white paint on their formerly all-black
with a lush, muted, high-fidelity score. I became aware of game design. Soon, I got my next game system, a Saturn, catalogue. Unable to retain a brand
Out of this World was given an unappre- I wasn’t just seeking out obstacles with in the summer of 1995. But coming consistency like Nintendo, incapable of
into consciousness with my Sega CD capturing the mainstream market like
meant that all further consoles would Sony, Sega struggled to define who they
be described by how they were Not Like were until the very end.
Sega CD. Every controller was foreign Ironically, there was no hardware
in my hands—they were strange varia- developer that defined me more than
tions on the six-button, nine-pin Genesis Sega. The Sega CD helped me embrace
gamepad. Anything that came on a loneliness—the quiet whir of its single-
cartridge was antiquated—the sound speed drive is a melancholy comfort few
quality alone would damn a title. Even understand. Games that no one knew
the time it took to physically drop a game became my secret mythology—they
into the machine was a kind of quality. taught me that you don’t always have to
The original Sega CD had a mechanized share stories to appreciate them. And
loading tray—the Saturn, Dreamcast, whenever I get overwhelmed, I have a
Playstation, and Gamecube did not. It place to which I can retreat: a citadel built
wasn’t until the PS2 that someone got behind a bed, where a blue logo shines
it right again—and they even made that deep in space. A place where I can be
system black. myself, alone.

32 The Gamer’s Quarter Issue #6 Console Identity 33


rotting in the sun. Then again, even the teenage male seems to occupy a similar
most physically fit young man would space as bad psychedelic art, despite
never be able to carry nine guns and a containing far more fucking than fractals.
belt-load of grenades, so focusing on Continuing to live in these mental spaces

Crossing
Article orthe
appropriate content (within the context of as one grows up seems to be the marker
a largely absurd medium) is probably the of a wrong turn at Albuquerque. (This
best we can do for the time being. isn’t limited to conventions of potheads

BoobiconTitle
Section I also don’t know whether such art
truly scars young minds with unrealistic
and exceptionally shallow expectations;
or game players; the annual WFMU
Record Fair contains a similar sense of
haughty specialization, sexual desper-
I doubt they carry that much importance ation, and nerd-stink, though there’s no
The Physics of Heavenly Bodies The female form is a perfectly in light of the blazing sun of biology (and cosplaying.)
By M. O’Connor reasonable artistic endeavor, a natural the far dimmer solar flare of cultural But this is not a moral complaint,
collection of shapes that draws the eye instruction). I cannot speak for women, despite these choices having some
I’m sick of crossing the Boobicon just to and intrigues the senses. Making it a dull, but the internal monologue of the impact upon our lives, at least as far as
play a goddamn videogame. plastic caricature is a farce that lacks
I never would have bought Sin any sense of self-awareness. At least
Episodes 1: Emergence had I seen the the Dead Or Alive franchise knows it’s
cover art in a store. Had I paid more the world of Russ Meyers seen through
attention to Steam’s advertising I the thin sleeve of an orientalist kimono.
probably would have eventually figured Emergence doesn’t have enough humor
out that something was amiss. I can’t in or intelligence to aspire to ’70s sexploi-
good conscience say it’s either disgusting tation flick status, content to remain a
or degrading, except maybe to the late night feature that’s been edited for
audience it expects to impress. “sexual content and mature situations.”
It’s not even tasteless. The art lacks And it’s not alone in its failure to
imagination�another perky young appreciate the sorry state of human
sidekick in improbable clothing gives representation. Realism and videogames
you a permanently impish glance. More rarely meet, even in passing; realistic
importantly, it is a high-heeled panty- male leads are about as rare as realistic
shot of a kick to the head that just female leads, unless men with forty-inch
screams, “Wow, that’s lazy.” chests and eight-inch quads are your idea
This is part of a larger cultural current, of realismo. Our avatars and enemies
one that is conspiring to make the live in largely fantastical worlds of
female breast boring. It is depraved in improbable events and diminished conse-
its attempts to wrest from us one of the quences, and should not be expected to
most inspiring manifestations of physical provide role models, much less model
beauty and grace found in nature. It gives roles. One (wo)man against the world
life-nurturing food to newborns and doesn’t leave much room for the ample
holds up camisoles. It is a tactile joy and or obese, unless you’re playing a Coney
an aesthetic marvel, and the erosion of Island hot dog eating contest RPG. An
its manifest mystery by a craven cadre alien invasion would likely find a whole
of art directors throughout nerd-driven lot of people losing a lot of weight right
creative industries is nothing less than a quickly, either by getting into fighting
conceptual Original Sin. shape or dropping the poundage by

34 The Gamer’s Quarter Issue #6 Crossing the Boobicon 35


game-store browsing goes. The legions of
tie-dyed stoners who make up the public
face of the legalization movement help
the War on Some Drugs by providing a
conveniently icky strawman. Those folks
who care about the War on Some Games
as Art should be similarly concerned
about the halter-top-and-short-shorts-
totally-boobtastic-ninja-warrior-chick.
She casts a swollen, conical shadow
over the memeplex driven by those who
wish the form were held (and would hold
itself) in higher regard.
A brief pause to convey an obvious
point: I really like female breasts. They
make New York City summers bearable
through their comforting lilt. And I’m not
alone; according to the internet, boobs
are a big deal. Why, there are 98,500
hits when Googling “gazongas” alone.
Wikipedia offers well over 100 synonyms,
from “ta-tas” to “chesticles.” And though
most never get past the shallow end of
the CollegeHumor.com laugh pool, they
do indicate a general attitude of aching
obsession, if not envious awe. Female
breasts are a natural stop sign for people
interested in such signals, and they carry
cultural and social implications even for
those who have no sexual investment in
their hypnotic sway. in some sense. Surely not everyone Entertainment.1 (To be fair, this applies gamers would be treated to a new kind
Obviously, a lifetime ban on the went to art school solely to draw 36- to far more than just character design; it of heroine—a perky young sidekick in
female form rendered in absurd clothing 24-36 leather spacesuits? And stepping also includes level design, sound design, improbable clothing who gives a sultry,
and dimensions would have separated outside of my infantile landscape, the scripting, voice acting, animation, the box come-hither stare between bites of pie.
me from many classics, like Darklands contextually realistic appearances of art and the readme files.) I guarantee a plus-sized Rumble Roses
(whose atrocious boxart is supplemented Alyx from Half-Life 2 doesn’t break the One solution would be to start would destroy sales records, gorging
by one of the best game manuals ever fourth wall; the game would have been providing players with big-boned foils. on a market that’s already a few sizes
printed) or Arena, the first Elder Scrolls far poorer�and the franchise would Artists could indulge their deepest too small.
game. deserve less respect�had she the Need desires for death-defying double-Ds and
Despite this, every step through a for Speed-style yellow biker halter set
game store hears my soul cry out, “Stop of Emergence’s female sidekick. To
demeaning my cuddlemuffins!” My sexist consider the wreckage Emergence’s 1 That some enterprising young designer-in-training has no doubt created a “Sexxxy
possessiveness�which some women giant-breasted antagonist would have Alyxxx mod for HL 2 is one of those sad facts I don’t care to confirm or even think
find absolutely adorable, by the way�is on this masterpiece is heart wrenching, about, regardless of context; as a rapidly-aging curmudgeon, I find myself wonder-
at least engaging the problem at hand, and I am thankful Valve is not like Ritual ing why good old-fashioned pornography just isn’t enough for kids these days.

36 The Gamer’s Quarter Issue #6 Crossing the Boobicon 37


weapon),” while a capital “W” is “Wear quest, not just a dungeon, and the music
(a piece of armor).” Without this great grows graver the closer Shiren comes to
multiplicity of options available to the Table Mountain and to his destiny.
player, most random dungeons in console The game diverges from other, muter

Death
Articleinorthe
games feel bland�without much to do in roguelikes in other ways. The game
the dungeon, its randomness renders it understands that the a roguelike game,
uninteresting. with its lack of saves and its unavoidable

Impasse
Section Title
Valley The Fushigi no Dungeon games are
the exception. Though their library of
usable tools, of actions to perform with
sense of consequence, is played by
rushing into the dungeon, dying, and
learning from one’s death. In a PC
them, and of monsters to use them on is roguelike, death would mean rolling a
Fushigi no Dungeon 2: Furai no Shiren, or “Shiren the more limited than their PC equivalents, new character and starting a new quest.
Furai no Shiren—SNES Wanderer,” is the second entry in the vast amount of absurd situations When Shiren is slain, he loses all his
By Ancil Anthropy ChunSoft’s Fushigi no Dungeon series. the games’ logic allows the player to get experience and items and returns to the
Fushi gi no Dungeon is often translated into and out of makes the games unmis- start of the path. But along the path are
“Mysterious Dungeon,” and refers to the takably roguish. villages and towns, and those towns
A man stands on a small hill, a brief nature of the mines and caverns Shiren Many of the games in the series are contain people and relationships that
pause in what has been a long journey. will traverse in his journey to the heights cloaked in licenses�Squaresoft’s Final persist past Shiren’s death. The more the
The path runs from his feet down into a of Table Mountain. What is mysterious Fantasy, Namco’s Druaga, and more player plays, the more those relation-
forest, and beyond the forest he can see about them is that every time a treasure- recently Nintendo’s Pokemon and ships develop, the more allies the player
the ridge of a mountain. And beyond that, seeker�called a “wanderer” by the inhab- Square-Enix’s Dragon Quest VIII. That’s gains, the more formidable Shiren will be
a sheer rock wall rises from a curtain of itants of the valley�embarks on the path not the first time a game has worn the on the next attempt.
mist, and rises until it stops at an unnatu- to the Land of the Sun, he will find that Dragon Quest franchise—the first Fushigi And there will be many, many
rally level ridge. the path has changed. Different rooms, no Dungeon game follows Dragon attempts. True to its nature as a roguelike
The valley is called Impasse Valley, and different passages, different treasures Warrior IV’s merchant Taloon as he game, death lurks around every corner.
the edifice which rises from it like a fist is and monsters. plunders a mysterious dungeon to bring The items and monsters, coupled with the
called Table Mountain, and it is the object A randomly generated dungeon. back goods for his store. game’s relentless logic, provide a variety
of the man’s quest. He adjusts his broad Shiren is, at its heart, a roguelike game. But Shiren is where Fushigi no of unexpected situations for one to find
rain hat and steps down from the hill, “Roguelike” refers to the early 1980s Dungeon is allowed to shine uncloaked, oneself in, and an inexperienced player
toward the trees, a white weasel following UNIX game Rogue, which generates and it gleams. Shiren’s adventure takes will not see a way out the first time.
at his heels. The rain hat is a gift from a random dungeons composed of text place deep within the backroads of a The path through Impasse Valley is
friend now dead. So is the quest. characters through which players mythical Japan, a place of sunken forests littered with the bodies of players who
Legend speaks of a great golden navigate, locating tools and treasures and wooden-plank bridges balanced were ambushed by situations they were
condor that once soared over the valley, and fighting monsters. The game has a precariously over quiet streams, a unprepared for. My own save file is up
bringing fortune to its inhabitants. Where long and proud lineage on the PC—Moria, country of villages cut from forests of to over fifty tries at the trek through the
the condor roosts, says the legend, is Angband, Ancient Domains of Mysteries bamboo. Where PC roguelikes are often Valley–fifty journeys that ended, sooner
a golden city, gleaming with splendor and NetHack—but a very small one on mosaics of text characters, the Super or later, in a situation that was over my
and ancient treasure�the “Land of the videogame consoles. Famicom world of Shiren is lush. It head. Death, a trip back to the Valley Inn
Sun.” The condor has not been sighted in This might be because roguelikes breathes. on floor one, and then I march on again,
many years. The condor’s perch is Table fill their random dungeons with a It sings. Shiren’s soundtrack conveys my tools gone but armed, perhaps,
Mountain. large variety of encounters, items�and much of the emotion of the quest, with the knowledge that blocking a
The man is called Shiren, and this keystrokes. NetHack has a huge vocab- sometimes playful, sometimes brash. Brownie’s arrows with another monster
is the beginning of Furai no Shiren, ulary of player actions; each key on the Sometimes it is silent but for the quiet is a bad idea.
released in 1995 for the Super Famicom keyboard performing at least two duties. rushing of a stream. It grows moody In March of 2006, the game was fan-
by ChunSoft. For example, a lowercase “w” is “wield (a and introspective. Shiren’s dungeon is a translated into English by translation

38 The Gamer’s Quarter Issue #6 Death in the Impasse Valley 39


I was dead. So the lesson here is that Once, as I was wandering around in the
women are very dangerous mines, I came across a lost little girl
monsters indeed. named Surara. Being the gentleman that
–Christopher “TOLLMASTER” Bruso I am, I agreed to escort this girl home. As
we traversed the mines, we came across
Death on floor 25. an enemy I’ve never encountered before,
Literally, I was killed by Death on floor a Flame Priest. I put the girl behind me
25. Three of them. Just as well I guess, I and struck the demon with my sword
was at 4% satiation and out of anything twice. Sadly, it counter-attacked, and
particularly useful. my heavy shield could not withstand its
My partner [O-Ryu, a blinding witch] blows. As a last-minute effort, I tossed
got separated and was killed somewhere my only “Genocide” scroll I crafted from a
in the mines, and for the last 8 floors blank piece of paper and a suggestion by
or so I had been moving for the exits a traveling fortune teller. Unfortunately,
as quickly as possible. Once I hit 25, the demon’s flames burnt the scroll
however, which is a system of wooden before it hit it and it attacked me again
bridges over a ravine, there was no more viciously. I was down to my last legs so I
running. Death flies through “walls” tried once more to strike the demon, and
group Aeon Genesis, and since then those Mamals were like ants beneath (over open space, but same thing here) then it happened. The little girl, in a fit of
the Gamer’s Quarter message board my feet. and moves at double speed. Scrolls were fear and confusion, punched me. I keeled
has rapidly accumulated tales of death Right before the entrance to dungeon ineffective, as they’re limited by room, over and died.
and woe in the mists surrounding Table level 3, I stepped on a hidden switch. and though I managed to disable 2 or 3 of The moral of the story?
Mountain. Here are some stories from the Apparently it made a bunch of traps them with a well-placed Confuse, it didn’t Don’t rescue lost little girls�or
brave, the doomed, the readers of The appear all over the dungeon floor. I was take long for a fresh group to zero in. something.
Gamer’s Quarter. four steps to the exit, so I thought I would Utterly hopeless. –Raphael “sushi_d” Valenzuela
be okay, but then a spring came up –Eric “dark steve” Trageser
and launched me to the other side of Is hating your brother so bad? Am I really
the level. This stupid death is actually O-Ryu’s. the other sandal to the pair?
I was at some sort of river-fording, being I did make it back to the exit, but I had Stepping into the marsh surrounding I was getting hungry on the 6th level
swarmed by those little Brownie guys fallen asleep a few times with a monster Table Mountain, I was quickly surrounded and ate a rice ball. Then my brother
with arrows. As I made a break for the hitting me, got my food rotten, had three by an Absorber Larva and a Sabre Gator, started to get hungry and refused to
exit, one stepped in front of another’s boulders fall on me, and right before I who were taking turns bapping me. Being move until I fed him one. I had no more.
line of fire and was killed, granting the got to the exit I was told that some gas the quick-witted person she is, O-Ryu Is it evil to leave him there to die? He
shooter a level up. I took another step switch was triggered and “everything blinded the Gator. I took a step back, and was punching me instead of the enemy,
and it happened again, turning the cute looks weird!” I didn’t think much of it the Absorber followed me—right in front earlier. I ran into a rice ball later and
little guy into some sort of arrow-firing (previous trap locations looked like of the Gator. The blind Gator attacked threw it at him. I realized that this may
tank, which fired and killed me on my flowers) because I thought it would wear what was in front of it, and the Absorber not have been the best idea because he
fifth step, dealing 150% of my maximum off when I got to the next floor. went splat. Earning the Gator a level up. died shortly thereafter, and I was left to
HP worth of damage. It didn’t, but I didn’t realize that at first. Unable to see, the beast lumbered wander the woods hungry.
–Eric “dark steve” Trageser I went to floor 3, saw a group of (what about looking for something to kill. And I have not seen Summit Town in
I thought were!) three girls, and soon O-Ryu, bless her sweet heart, gave it a a long time.
I was on level two of the dungeon in the found out that the arrows they were firing smack. The creature turned to her, claws –Matthew “ShaperMC” Williamson
forest, and I was doing pretty well, except were hitting me. I turned to attack them lifted.
for the cursed shield I was carrying. I but by the time I finished up on the first Splat.
pretty much thought I was invincible; and was heading to the second “girl,” –Ancil “dessgeega” Anthropy

40 The Gamer’s Quarter Issue #6 Death in the Impasse Valley 41


let the transport break the story. The
standard solution for adventure games
is the trusty map that allows immediate
movement to significant places around

Your Mileage
Article or
the world. Gabriel Knight, in Sins of the
Fathers, “realistically” strolled through
New Orleans, and yet could use the map

Section
May Vary Title to essentially teleport to the church from
Dr. John’s voodoo shop, without taking
me out of the story.
In RPGs, the magic map approach can
Videogame Transportation sprite. However, even the most lush get a little trickier, as the “one screen,
By Marc Spraragen scenery only holds its mystique for a one scene” of straightforward adventure Lions” in Wind Waker. Ocarina went even
limited time, and there were not always games doesn’t apply as strongly. The further by giving the younger Link limited
I was lucky enough to grow up near a modes of transportation available to skip map in the Final Fantasy series could movement abilities, so that it felt that
small but beautiful countryside, and I scenes or otherwise break the tedium. get your character quickly from one hot much more empowering when he finally
was often found roving around the fields Moving around in Zork was typically spot to the next, but once there, it was became his older self.
and woods, looking for wildlife and other done one room at a time; to read an time for a lot of walking. No turning into a In a typical RPG, the more advanced
interesting sights – an abandoned play earlier paragraph in this article in a magical ball of light and zipping past the transportation modes become acces-
fort in the woods, or a greened-over similar manner might have you scanning astonished merchants. That was really sible as the game is completed. This
tennis court near a lake. At the same backwards word by word until you came a shame, because some of those towns seems natural, to signify and demon-
time I was even more excited to explore to the part you wanted to re-read. had a Tardis thing going; map dots on strate the character’s or party’s growing
adventure and RPG videogame worlds. Forcing the player to revisit older areas the outside, immense sub-worlds on the power, and also to facilitate wider-range
I, or my blocky little representative, became more of a schlep when graphical inside. A compromise, seen in Baldur’s exploration and the completion of side
would roam for hours through the low- adventure games were born, and the Gate, allowed players to set a “desti- quests. Conversely, when these powers
res castles of Atari’s Adventure. As I load/run times of their graphics and nation point” on a town or dungeon map. are stripped away, as in the obligatory
wandered, I found myself using some animations were added to the equation. Characters would, with luck, automati- “go directly to jail” chapter, you’d feel
inventive modes of transportation. I enjoyed much of Myst, but it required cally run to it. This kept the game moving grounded at an almost visceral level.
The “pocket shortcut” bridge was my much shuttling through familiar hyper- more quickly without much additional Better transportation as you progress
favorite traveling companion; with its cards. This lessened not only the beauty contrivance. means, essentially, that the world shrinks
help, I could warp between screens, and of the scenes, but even some of the “aha” More innovative solutions to transpor- as you grow, Katamari Damacy style.
eventually stumble onto the key to the of solving their puzzles. Riven and other tation issues in RPGs were often seen Ideally, transportation modes in
Easter Egg room. I also remember zipping sequels added “zip mode,” enabling the when the entire game world was on the exploration videogames should allow the
around in what was likely the strangest player to return more quickly to previ- same size scale. The Ultima series was freedom to move at the varying speeds
flying machine ever: I’d get eaten by a ously visited screens. Other adventures, one of the first to allow multiple and of thought, and also be a cool element of
dragon, who was in turn picked up by like the aptly named The Longest Journey, interchangeable modes of movement gameplay. Shall I walk, or take the mind-
the bat. Then, I could reach out of the employed a convenient run mode for the (foot, horseback, ship, hot air balloon, bending vacuum tubes? Ride the horse
dragon’s stomach, grab the bat, and character. However, the sprite never ran etc.) throughout the game. The Legend or call the owl? Make a slow-paced, fine-
move all three of us at high speed. quite fast enough for me. I can under- of Zelda series made getting around tuned search through the alley, or a quick
As exploration games became stand limiting movement to normal easier with multiple, well-integrated helicopter trip to headquarters? Multiple
more sophisticated, the domains they human speed; simply warping around transportation modes that were fun in – and well-integrated – modes of trans-
presented grew bigger and richer. This might break the atmosphere of the game. their own right. Not just a convenience, portation make a game world smaller or
was a generally desirable, even scarily The goal would be to reach a compromise riding Epona the horse was a highlight larger at will, and also more interesting to
seductive, trend – especially for someone – don’t let conventions unnecessarily of Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask, explore. And as the hero, you should get
who confuses his self with an onscreen constrain the transportation, and don’t as was sailing on “The King of Red a kickin’ ride.

42 The Gamer’s Quarter Issue #6 Your Mileage May Vary 43


44 The Gamer’s Quarter Issue #6 Persona Goes to E3 45
46 The Gamer’s Quarter Issue #6 Persona Goes to E3 47
48 The Gamer’s Quarter Issue #6 Persona Goes to E3 49
Break time!

50 The Gamer’s Quarter Issue #6


E3 Survival
Guide
Los Angeles, 2006
By Andrew Toups

As I sat in the media-registration line the such an early stage in development as


day before E3 started in the Los Angeles to be basically unplayable. More often
Convention Center, unsure of whether or than not, the only interesting-looking
not my credentials would be approved, I games are shown in trailers or are absent
tried to think about what I’d do if I were entirely from the floor, and when they are
denied entry. I eventually decided that I’d there, the noise and commotion make
spend the rest of the week at strip clubs them impossible to enjoy.
playing (or trying to play) my Nintendo This isn’t to say that E3 isn’t worth
DS. The experience couldn’t be too far attending; merely that the amount of
removed from how E3 actually was, al- bullshit one must endure to do anything
though I imagine the “Wii line” wouldn’t worthwhile is prohibitively high. It wasn’t
have been as bad. until the third day of the conference, as I
E3 is a funny thing. For many gamers, reached the hour-and-a-half mark waiting
the weeks leading up to E3 are a time of in line to play the Wii, that the solution
great anticipation, filled with exciting hit me like a brick with a lemon wrapped
announcements and dramatic revelations round it: get drunk. If you’ve ever been
about their favorite game franchises to a dance club where they play shitty
and consoles. But for the rest of us who techno music, body odor from people
actually have to go to the conference, sweating permeates the air, and you can’t
it’s often a different story. The sobering see or hear a thing thanks to the bright
reality of the E3 conference is that it’s lights and terrible music, then you know
actually kind of a drag. Once the glow of why most of the people there are drunk.
playing games that no one else will get By the same token, putting a few cold
to play for another few months wears ones down before braving the conference
off, you realize that most of the games is probably the best advice I can give you.
on the show floor either suck, are boring One thing though: be sure to BYOB. The
rehashes of popular games, or are at house bar is criminally overpriced.

52 The Gamer’s Quarter Issue #6 E3 Survival Guide 53


Hard Drive
Article or
Optional
Section Title
E3 Survival Guide
By Heather Campbell

Driving in Los Angeles is easy. Simply 4. When the police begin to chase you,
remember a few key tips to arrive at any try to out-run them. Regardless of visible
destination: helicopters and squad cars, all Los Ange-
les drivers must believe they can outrun
1. Look up your destination on Google the police.
Maps. Map out a route, and print a copy.
Crumple up your map, and put it in your 5. Abandon your car and retreat to the
car. subway.

2. Do not go to sleep. LA rush hour 6. There is no subway.


begins at 5:30 a.m., so many drivers head
out earlier, at 3:00 a.m. This creates a 7. Return to the car after the cops begin
second, “soft” rush. To beat this rush, to chase someone else. Drive to your
you must leave your house no later than location. You will be four hours late.
midnight (which will sometimes coincide
with the evening rush hour). 8. Park your car. You may choose:
a. A lot, for 40 dollars.
3. Roll down your window and throw b. A parking meter.
your crumpled map at the construction
site which blocks your route. Improvise 9. If you choose a parking meter, ap-
a new route. Suggested paths include: proach the nearest meter attendent and
sidewalks, parks, and kindergarten class- humbly ask for your parking ticket in
rooms. advance.

10. Before entering E3, take one last look


at your rental car. It will be gone when
you want to go home. Enjoy flagging
down a cab.

11. There are no cabs.

54 The Gamer’s Quarter Issue #6 Running


E3 Survival
Article Footer
Guide 55
Just Re-Register with a to be where he is and be doing what he’s
Different Publication doing, right? So make sure you’re walking
It’s entirely possible that in the future with purpose, acting like you know
they’ll close this loophole, but if you where you’re going or what you’re doing.

How to or
Article Get
write for more than one publication just Using your nice suit, there are several
re-register with your second credentials, techniques available to attempt to get
ensuring you’re dealing with someone into the show.

Back Into
Section E3
Title you haven’t already dealt with/been
seen by.
This is, without a doubt, the easiest
Timeshare a Pass
Have two other friends or co-workers
option, one which at least one person at E3? The door staff don’t pay any real
E3 Survival Guide Now, as soon as you lose your badge, I know proved to work. And if you feel attention, so simply allow your two
By Mathew Kumar consider yourself back at square one. To any pangs of guilt about deceiving them, friends to enter the show, and wait for
the ESA you are, no matter what or who well, it’s their rules forcing you to do this, one to leave the show with both passes
The ESA made a number of changes to you actually are, a blagger, and the first as you’re trying to write coverage of the and hand off one to you, so you can go
E3 this year, the most covered and rule of being a blagger at E3 is to never show, right? Coverage they wouldn’t get back inside (with a badge) and return it
celebrated/reviled was the new rule talk to anyone at the media help desk. unless you blagged. Everybody wins. If to the original badge owner. Do all of this
against too much exposed flesh (the Especially if they’re from the ESA. They this option doesn’t work: out of sight, natch.
“No Booth Babe” rule). This was prob- will not, under any circumstances, help
ably their best idea, even if it didn’t you. Indeed, what they will do is hinder Wear a Suit Use Last Year’s Pass
stop women dressing in incredibly tight you. I found myself, for a period of hours, The number one rule of any blagger If you have it, this is worth a shot. The
latex (they’re fully covered, you see). debating with a woman who claimed is look professional. If you already are door staff doesn’t pay attention, and
For media specifically, however, the ESA to be “second in command to Doug a professional (as I’d hope), you should if you still have your badge holder
had a slew of new rules, mostly related Lowenstien himself” that, despite have brought one suit to E3 with you (possible!), it’s unlikely they’ll notice
to accreditation, thanks to their (quite being a fairly well-known journalist anyway. the difference. This is only problematic if
good idea) of setting aside a morning (hey! I’ve been slagged off on an industry The more expensive and professional they’re scanning badges, which is rare as
of the show for pre-registered media. In insider’s blog!) writing for a show the suit, the better, because a dude in an it slows down the crowds.
particular, for online media they required sponsor, I hadn’t gone outside and expensive suit, he must have a reason
a business license. For any blaggers1 sold my badge for $1500.
particularly intent on going, it’s a trivial One major flaw in her argument is that
thing to get, but it’d be easier to just fake practically anyone at all can buy a badge
up a bunch of credentials from any local for $300 as a general attendee, and the
print media (not that I condone such a first thing they’ll tell you to do is to go
thing; the less people hogging machines and do that. So, if you were a crummy
with badges that say “Managing Director, badge salesman spoiling it for the rest
Financial Times” the better). of us, by their statement, you’d stand to
The one rule that is genuinely a make a profit of $1200 and still be able
problem, however, is that if your badge to attend E3. In which case, why would
is lost or stolen, they will not, under any you bother talking to the ESA in the first
circumstances, issue you a new one. place? And why do they accept this? The
I learned this the hard way. easiest way to avoid this reasoning:

56 The Gamer’s Quarter Issue #6 E3 Survival Guide 57


Wear your lanyard
anyway
If you can’t follow any of these other
options, the best option is to simply wear

Article or
your lanyard (or one of the spare ones
you’ll undoubtedly have picked up when
you were in the show) around your neck
and tuck the end away into your inside
jacket pocket, as if you were keeping your
badge in your pocket. If you’re walking
E3: Unwrapped
Section Title
with purpose, there’s a good chance
you won’t be stopped, particularly if E3 Survival Guide “grown-up” for anything E3 is going to
you attach yourself to any other large By Colin Booth involve.
groups of people who are being let into Set aside $40. That should be more
the show as a group or overwhelming I reckon there’s any number of reasons than enough to cover food for the week.
the door staff. This is by far the riskiest your standard two-by-four nerd doesn’t The $40 is not to be touched within the
option, however. If you ever are stopped ever go to E3. Ignorance is by far the confines of the convention center. There
by anyone, don’t patronize, don’t bully most popular. isn’t a thing in the whole building you
your way out of it—just ask to speak to When the phrase “not open to the need money for. Relax.
a higher up. This is usually too much general public” is thrown around, 95 That money goes toward what you
trouble for most, so be sure to take their percent of the riffraff shuffle off, hoping can’t get for free outside the show and
picture and name, and let them know to avoid inevitable failure. Another 4 what you can’t steal inside it. A good
you’ll be taking the matter to higher percent either have a reason to be at goal to have would be to try and spend
places. You can try walking in, letting E3, or are smart enough to realize any only $20 for the whole trip. That might
them know if they attempt to touch you, monkey can get in for the right price. Of seem unrealistic; I assure you it’s very
you’ll sue them with all your power, but in them, maybe one-eighth actually might manageable.
general this is the most high-risk option bother to go. I’m a liberal-arts major, so I If you’re in town before the show
available to the blagger. don’t rightly know what that translates to starts, do whatever you can to get into
in numerical terms; it’s a lot of nerds. the pre-show press events. (How to get
For those that do go and either are or in there is whole other story unto itself.)
aren’t part of some caravan forsaken by Sony and Konami are the sweet spots.
Honestly? I don’t want you to have God (IGN, Gamespot, timid Gamestop This year, Sony rolled out guacamole
to use any of these techniques if you employees, most any website’s staff), and Konami’s catering was 87 percent
happen to have lost your badge. But the financial burden of transportation, vegetarian—both with open bars.
they’re all available, and you may have food, and roof-over-head status can be Microsoft is a little easier to get into; the
to, as long as the ESA treats journalists a thick trouble. Los Angeles prices, for spread (and the presentation) is usually a
who have lost their badges as criminals, those caught unawares and unprepared, little underwhelming, though.
guilty with no chance of proving burn pockets like summer love. My Also: attend whatever parties you
innocence, with a rule that does nothing aim—hope—is to learn you something. are invited to in the evenings, if you can
but punish the unlucky. To impart this knowledge to you and, God stand it. This might be difficult if you
willing, save you at least a couple dollars are obligated to cover the event in some
on your next excursion to that three-day capacity following the show, or easily fall
1 Blagger (British Slang) noun
electronic holocaust in California. prey to fatigue. Still, it’s worth attending
1. A person who obtains by wheedling or cadging (“blagging”), as in, “she blagged free tickets
from her mate”. First: set goals for yourself. Not these parties to get something in your
2. Any person at a trade show who has no actual right to be there. History: of unknown origin a budget—the term “budget” is too stomach and to maybe walk away with a

58 The Gamer’s Quarter Issue #6 E3 Survival Guide 59


snazzy gift bearing the company’s logo on the fringe. Well, those in need, at the
(thus transforming something normal very least.)
into something “RARE”) you may later There are two major eateries in the LA
sell on eBay, to further recoup expenses convention center—the Compass Café
of the trip. and the Galaxy—each offering a range of
This approach to getting by might impossibly priced fast-food, including:
come off desperate to some. In fact, pizza, burgers, sandwiches (panini and
it is desperate. It’s an approach for otherwise), sushi, and salads.
the desperate. If you are familiar with the geography
Make sure you keep an eye out for of the Center, you are probably reading
survival. The media lounge offers free that last paragraph cockeyed, thinking
lunches, and a number of companies about where you might have eaten during
offer breakfast-looking pastries for your trip.
the asking. There are scattered eateries and This takes more guts than it seems.
And if I see you pay for a bottled miserable food vendors littered around If the paranoia of getting caught doesn’t
drink in that place, I will fuck you. I will the area; these places are slighted by the get to you, the invisible guilt just might. If
fuck you up. wise. You didn’t come to E3 for $8 tacos. the invisible guilt doesn’t attach itself to
Besides being the easiest item to Stick to the Galaxy and the Compass if you, social pressure might keep you from
“borrow” from the cafés, bottled water you want to eat without paying. trying this nonsense. In any direction, it’s
is given away free by most disreputable Perspective: Keep yours. Bear in mind better that not everyone tries it: it keeps
companies, along with soda or coffee. that there are a few thousand people those with the virtue to try and succeed
Worse comes to worst you’ll have to walk swarming the food areas at any given to keep right on succeeding.
outside and grab one of the bottles of time. Security doesn’t have any presence Just keep in mind to make use of
Mountain Dew the eXtreme promotional to speak of, and they stick out like these tactics at the above-mentioned
workers are handing out by their eXtreme crayon-purple warts anyway. And, really, eateries only. If you’re looking for a less criminal/
gReen trucks. with the prices they’re charging, if you’re A lack of options: there won’t always interesting way of surviving E3, I don’t
Next: before we go any further, I not stealing from them, they’re stealing be a safe alternative to arriving at food have a lot of answers for you. Starvation
should like to state for the record that from you. That’s how it is. without payment. There will be the is a popular rockstar-videogame-
it takes a certain malleability of morals The technique to taking food is as occasion you are left with no recourse— journalist option, while a box of granola
to walk away from the LA Convention such: act lost. you’ll need to buy food. If all the pieces bars will get you by, I guess. The latter
Center those days in May with the same Most people look lost, so you’re fall together, and you’re a resourceful comes off lame as hell, though.
experience of any person who came in, not going to draw attention. And do bugger who’s followed my instructions to Of course, the author (me) doesn’t
pockets lined with fifties. this alone. a fault, you shouldn’t be paying for more take responsibility for the hijinks of
I’m straight up talking about Standing in an atrocious line over half than one or two meals by yourself. Either readers. He will, however, revel in them.
stealing, folks. an hour long is well worth whatever’s of them will be in the morning or at night. If you follow my advice, there should
Stealing food from E3 might seem at the end; no real incentive in paying I suggest Mexican food for both. be no issue. Depending on your level of
like the most reckless thing one can do; $11 for a bad garden salad once you’ve Hole-in-the-wall Mexican places serve involvement within the industry, some of
might even seem like risking a cross- waited that long. You take your food, you excellent food on the cheap. A bean the above feats may be more doable than
country trip to save a few dollars—I walk around (maybe ask someone where burrito is as powerful an opening to a day others; keeping an open mind, acting “as
assure you, the risk is minimal and the to find the straws, forks, salad dressing, of E3 as it is a conclusion. if,” and exuding limitless confidence will
benefits obvious. et cetera), look frustrated and defeated, get you what you need for the show, no
(If you have money to throw around, and walk right past the registers. Walk doubt. Where there’s a want to survive,
you probably don’t need this advice. In right out the entrance, if you’re so there’s a way.
fact, the writer would appreciate you not inclined. It doesn’t matter; no one is
use it if you don’t have to—it’s for those going to stop you.

60 The Gamer’s Quarter Issue #6 Running Article Footer 61


Keith Roberts may have programmed
blackjack on more computers than
possibly anyone. In college when he
got his first Apple computer kit, on a

Drinks or
Article Are
microfiche machine at a local library, he
has written and rewritten blackjack as
a rogue programmer all over Southern

Section
on KeithTitle California.
In fiddling around with these machines,
he fell in love with programming and
computers. When the opportunity came
Intellivision Party—E3 electrical tic-tac-toe machine. It had to work at Mattel, he had ten years of more complicated games. Though there
By Matthew Williamson relays that would light up the display programming experience. Keith was is room for both, the industry has stuck
on a backlit screen made of glass. His pulling inspiration from the Odyssey and with the long-form game.
The first evening of E3 was doomed: description sounded familiar; I asked Fairchild Channel F, which were being Intellivision still believes that the
we were separated from the rest of our him if the machine he was talking about advertised on TV, and Computer Space arcade-style game is feasible in the
group, the party had been abandoned by was called the WOPR. He responded that, which was in arcades. But to him, none of United States. The newer games from
others, and the drinks were overpriced. indeed, the real-life gaming monstrosity these games were true computer games: Intellivision have come to integrate high
Though the party was for Intellivision, was the reason that he became a lifelong they were all hardwired. scores, saves, and even vibration. While
a quick look around revealed a lack of pacifist; it taught him that the only way As Keith sees it, the real turning point they are currently focusing on direct-to-
Intellivision games; Guitar Hero and to win was not to play. It also inspired a came when Taito put a microprocessor TV games, they have been following and
Street Fighter II were played by small lifelong passion for electronic games. into Western Gun (released in the United looking into the Wii Virtual Console, as
groups of people on couches, and dance In high school, he was in a computer States by Midway as Gun Fight). This well as Xbox Live Arcade. Still, even with
music was pumping though the speakers. club run by his geometry teacher. shift from hardware to software marked future plans in place, they are having
We needed to get out. Or at least get These computers used a punch-card the moment when videogames as we growing pains.
someplace with cheaper drinks. programming system, in a language know them became possible. This is The drinks were starting to go empty,
I sat outside trying to find a ride or called Fortran Four. In 1973, dinosaurs an important point in the history of and the evening was winding on. As
another party. When nothing worked out, roamed the earth, and girls who wanted Intellivision, one where Keith seems unprepared as we’d initially been for the
I joined Wes, who had been schmoozing a career for life were taught how to to be permanently entrenched. Even interview, things were falling into place.
it up with lovely Intellivision flack Melisa be keypunch operators. Keith would in the games being played at the party Keith was beginning to let out some
Glasberg. We had just been granted an send his coding sheets to be turned below, you can see where his interests interesting information. For example,
interview with Keith Robinson, cofounder into keypunched cards to be fed to the have stayed. he knew that the DS was the platform
of the most recent resurrection of computer. Weeks later he would get back Nowadays, according to Intellivision, for their next collection release. An
Intellivision, and its current president. the results (generally a printout covered the market is overlooking something: the Intellivision Lives! collection for the DS
Wes had also managed to score some with errors), make small changes to a arcade game. After the videogame crash was developed in-house in April ’05, but
free drinks. Once we were suitably card or two, and start the process over. of 1983/84, game development moved when they went looking for a partnership,
inebriated, we proceeded upstairs, After a bit of smooth talking and arm- to computers, and computers could save all the publishers said that the DS would
past small gatherings of gamers fragging twisting, a PDP-5 computer was donated progress. Before that, programmers had only have one Christmas before the
one another and into the VIP room to the computer club. No longer needing to develop games you could sit down PSP killed it. So now there is a finished,
where Keith was waiting with more punch cards, the computer used a and play—you would have a high score developed game sitting on a shelf that
drinks in hand. programming language called FOCAL. As when you were done, and even that can’t find a publisher, and Intellivision is
Keith began what he lovingly called a Keith put it, “It wasn’t even good enough would go away when the cabinet was out in the cold.
“grandpappy story.” In the third grade, for BASIC!” The first thing he did on this turned off. When consoles came back, Developing an emulator for
he took a field trip to the Museum of multi-thousand-dollar machine? Create programmers were used to incorporating Intellivision games for the Mac and PC
Science and Industry, where he saw an a game. saving, so there were now longer-form, is exceptionally cheap. But as Keith told

62 The Gamer’s Quarter Issue #6 Drinks Are on Keith 63


the wave that Mattel Electronics started
twenty-six years ago, Intellivision is now
aiming at those kids’ kids. The direct-to-
TV game is what they hope to hit them
with. These consoles-in-controllers
include not only the old versions of the
games, but graphical overhauls of some.
us, “Sony won’t allow you to release a Perhaps we were getting off topic. The They’re hoping to get these products into
game unless you show off the graphics.” drinks were direly low by this point, and the hands of 5–12 year olds.
This means that you end up paying the the conversation was drifting off to iPods Still, you can only repackage and has signed the artist 8-Bit Weapon.
most money for the interface. After some and downloading movies. I needed to resell the same game a certain number On top of that, Intellivision Gear has
finagling, Sony agreed to an Intellivision steer the conversation back on course, of times. With all the troubles that been created to jump on the boat of
release with a 3-D interactive arcade towards a topic that would score us more Intellivision has gone through with retro-gaming apparel.
as the games menu. Without that, they drinks: “So how healthy is Intellivision console releases in the past, they hope Gradually, we noticed the music
could have released the game dirt cheap right now?” now to migrate mainly to the computer getting quieter and people trying to
and made quite the profit. If they can sell the Nintendo DS version for future releases of their classics. If bid Keith farewell. The conversation
But is there even a point to releasing of Intellivision Lives, they’ll be extremely games come out for next-generation had been long and so had the day. My
games on a console if you can just healthy; nearly four hundred thousand systems, they will most likely be full shoulders hurt from carrying around my
download them for free and play them on dollars was invested in that development remakes with new graphics and updated laptop, and my eyes were beginning to
your computer? Intellivision controls this project. It is currently just about impos- gameplay. So don’t expect to see the close from alcohol. We still had two blue
by releasing the original ROMs from their sible to self-publish the game. And while pixelated running man anytime soon on a tickets left to redeem for free drinks.
own website. Searching on the internet they are confident that, if they got a future console. Packing up our things, we thanked
reveals that most bootleg ROM sites will publisher, everyone would make money, And games aren’t the only things Keith Robinson for his time only to find
link to the Intellivision homepage, where the publishers want to see big numbers. Intellivision is working on right now. out that it was too late: the bar had
you can get them free. Intellivision knows Even though Intellivision knows they can “The generation creating the art, media, already closed.
that when you come out with products sell 150 thousand titles, the publishers and music of today don’t remember a
with packaging, people want them. They want a five-hundred-thousand seller. time when videogames didn’t exist,”
give you something to unwrap under the So Intellivision is shifting their says Keith. He’s decided to support that
Christmas tree. And Keith had found the demographic. In the ’80s, Mattel spent generation with Intellivision Music, which
truth about copy protection, that you a lot of money telling kids that the
still won’t sell those bootlegs that Intellivision home console was “the 1 “Vibration in Astro Smash is evil!” Courtesy of the Intellivision 100, the hardest of hardcore
people download. closest thing to the real thing.” Riding Intellivision fanclubs.

64 The Gamer’s Quarter Issue #6 Drinks Are on Keith 65


I later transcribed. people who helped make M.U.L.E.
Sadly, out of more than seven thousand what it is.
words that I acquired through these Not only do they cover the making of
interviews, less than a thousand were M.U.L.E., but they also speak about the

Article or
used in the article. Having read these early days of Electronic Arts, and of the
energetic and emotional stories, I felt development atmosphere of the early
guilty at not being able to publish them in 1980s. It was truly a different time, with

Section TitleDonkeys
Mechanical
their entirety. I also felt that it would be
wrong of me to simply lock away the micro
cassettes and leave the transcriptions
different attitudes; and anyone who is
even remotely interested in the history
of American videogames should find the
to degrade on my hard drive. So here I following anecdotes to be incredibly inter-
M.U.L.E—A800, C64, NES, PC with each other and the store. The goal present to the readers of The Gamer’s esting. Read them and remember, these
By John Szczepaniak of course is to have enough produce to Quarter the full interviews I conducted, are a part of your gaming history.
ensure the efficient running of your little containing the personal views of the
M.U.L.E. was one of the greatest games plots, and also sell enough to eventually
developed before the 1984 crash. become the richest of those playing, and
Initially released for the Atari 800, it was then be crowned the winner at the end of Joe Ybarra
ported to several systems, including twelve rounds. It works better in practice, Having gone to great lengths acquiring his details, I
the Commodore 64 and Nintendo and is very easy to learn. The beauty of it first contacted Joe Ybarra, formerly a producer at EA
Entertainment System. Its simple yet comes from the wheeling and dealing that
perfectly formed gameplay is still a joy goes on between each player, which is
(one of their very first producers, in fact), and currently
to experience with other players. Despite why you need some friends. “Vice President of Product Development” at Cheyenne
not pumping out millions of polygons or Wishing to prove to people the above Mountain Entertainment. I phoned him at his office, and
a licensed soundtrack, it can still hold its claims—some will think I’m exaggerating, he kindly spent time answering questions.
own against modern games, at least in but I assure you, I am not—I wrote a
terms of raw multiplayer fun. This is both four-page feature on the development of
a promise and challenge to the readers of M.U.L.E., for another magazine. In doing TGQ: Can you tell me about your issues that came up. Financial, sched-
The Gamer’s Quarter: find two friends, or so, I also pulled in a few favours I had with involvement with the development of uling, procedural, resources, design,
kidnap some locals, and play at least one industry insiders I knew in order to get M.U.L.E. and the core team of four? whatever. So, essentially what I needed to
simultaneous three-player game—a full the contact details of the original team. do was just be involved in the project at a
twelve rounds. Four players is best, but Dan Bunten, the leader behind the group, Ybarra: OK. Well, let’s see, how can I very intimate level.
three will do. Once the basics have been underwent surgery to change genders explain this? At the time when we built
learned, I guarantee you will have some and became Dani Bunten. She sadly M.U.L.E., it was one of the first projects TGQ: Did you have much creative design
of the best and most intense multiplayer passed away in 1998 due to lung cancer. we started up at Electronic Arts. And input regarding M.U.L.E.?
gaming of your life, right up there with There is an excellent memorial found on at that time, we were still inventing the
Saturn Bomberman, Super Monkey Ball, the website Anticlockwise (http://www. concept of what a producer does. Up until Ybarra: I actually did have quite a bit of
and even Halo. anticlockwise.com/dani). that point, in the history of our industry design input. In fact, a lot of the issues
The game at its most basic involves But I did manage to track down Joe there were no producers. So essentially that we discussed before we even began
grabbing plots of land, equipping a Ybarra (formerly a producer at Electonric what I was doing, as part of being a the design of M.U.L.E., were things that
M.U.L.E. (Multiple-Use Labor Element) Arts), Trip Hawkins (EA’s founder), and producer for any of the teams, but particu- Dan and I spent a fair amount of time,
with one of four industries (food, energy, Jim Rushing (who is still with EA). I also larly Ozark Softscape, was to essentially along with Trip, talking through the idea
and two types of mining), and then got in contact with Ted H. Cashion, who … my party role was liaison between of … starting from the premise that the
setting it to work. After some produce worked on the project. They all very kindly publisher and developer. But I also had to only real successful game that was based
has been harvested, you and the other answered many questions and agreed to pitch in and do whatever was necessary on money has been Monopoly. In that
players buy, sell, and generally trade phone interviews, which to help the developer work out whatever regard, there were a lot of elements of

66 The Gamer’s Quarter Issue #6 Mechanical Donkeys 67


board games that we wanted to make As well as the chance of “community time when Modem Wars was built, the EA, because in many respects it really
sure that we incorporated into the design chest” cards. There were random events penetration of modems and connectivity exemplified the values that we really
of M.U.L.E. And of course at the time that came up in that game, and that was in computers was very low. It was only wanted the company to be perceived as.
when we were building M.U.L.E., we didn’t another component that we wanted to being done by the hardcore customers. From the standpoint that it wasn’t a game
know it was going to be called M.U.L.E. make sure got embodied in there. And even the hardcore customers would that was catering to violence, that it was a
In fact we had no idea what this game Beyond that, I think a lot of where only do it because they were most likely game that had lots of underlying training
was going to be like. What we had was my contribution came in, in the creative doing it as part of the work they did. and educational value, it was just a heck
a template, with the work that Dan had process, was essentially helping really Since it was not something you would of a lot of fun, and it was highly acces-
done between Cartels and Cutthroats, playtest and tune this thing. I probably expect the customers to have. sible. One of our mottos at the beginning
and then another product that he had personally invested about between Nevertheless, the point is that we of EA was that products needed to be
done, that had an auction system in it that two hundred and four hundred hours of always felt that, at some level, games are “simple, hot and deep.” That was sort
was not dissimilar from M.U.L.E. We could gameplay on M.U.L.E., just helping make about interacting with other people. We of a credo that we had in product devel-
look at those two products and ask what sure the thing played correctly. Between talked about that, actually, in the original opment. And M.U.L.E. really exemplified
do we want to do with a game that was that and actually just taking the builds, business plan for Electronic Arts, about all of those elements. Of being simple
essentially a financial game. providing criticisms where appropriate, how we felt that at some level we wanted to play; it was very hot in that it was
Trip brought into the equation … and accolades where appropriate, that to create products that would encourage exciting; and then deep because the
one of the things he really wanted to was kind of my bit. people to interact with one another. This more you played it the more you began
embody was some fundamental teaching was wonderfully easy to do at the time. to realize how much depth there actually
and training principals. So he made a TGQ: What was some of the reactions to was in the simulation. So to that extent,
significant contribution in that area. And Dan’s belief that the future of gaming was TGQ: Rumour about the sequel in the I think M.U.L.E., for many years actually
then in my area, because of the orien- multiplayer? Was there any resistance? early ’90s, and additions of combat? Can at EA, really did serve as a philosophic
tation towards the board gaming world you comment? model for us.
and various different other elements, Ybarra: Well, there was resistance from I think that another thing that was
I contributed things like the additional the standpoint that at the time—we’re Ybarra: No I can’t, because all of these really interesting about M.U.L.E. was
map screens and the whole concept of talking about the early ’80s—there events transpired after I left EA. I would that M.U.L.E. really helped us legitimize
how the map would work. We needed to wasn’t really any marketplace or vehicle only see Dan sporadically, so I never our company in the eyes of the people
have some kind of a play field that the for us to support really core multi- found about the existence of this product that were very conservative—and in
players engaged in, so they actually have player play, other than in the consoles until well after it had been cancelled. particular, I’m describing the investors
a visual and tactile representation of themselves. As you’ll know, the Atari and the original capitalization of the
where they were. That’s what Monopoly computer system had the ability to take TGQ: Did the Wampus come about company, as well as various other people
does for you—you’ve got the board, the four joysticks. While the Commodore because of the old computer game Hunt including other employees and the other
counters; you move around in a big circle, with some jury-rigging could support four the Wumpus? developers too. I think the fact that we
buying houses; and there’s a lot of tactile players as well. So within that context, were publishing a game like M.U.L.E.
relationship there. we clearly had no objection whatsoever Ybarra: It was. really made the development community
Dan came up with the idea of to supporting multiplayer play. I think feel like EA was an environment that
about how that screen would actually the real question became later on in the TGQ: Despite the different spellings? would support the creative processes
functionally work, and of course it was evolution of both Electronic Arts, and and would take risks. It allowed us to do
his work that created the underlying that led eventually to Modem Wars. And Ybarra: The spelling was different, but things that people had not done before.
economics system. If you’re a player Modem Wars was the type of product, the concept was exactly the same. For many years, that was very much the
then you’re aware of the fact of that, as well as Robot Rascals, were we would case with EA. Some of the final products
the way that the [unintelligible] in there try and address the concept of multi- TGQ: Do you have any personal message that I got to work on at EA were all very
is done in a very orderly and systemic player play by doing so in an environment or thoughts regarding the game? experimental. Products that I think had
way. Those were all contributions that that was not going to require us to do never been done like that before. In fact,
Dan made. Otherwise, that was the area something like we would see in a modern Ybarra: Sure! M.U.L.E. was a rather that’s the reason why EA Sports even
that I wanted to make sure got in there. MMO now. Again, bear in mind, at the interesting product in the portfolio of exists now, because of the work we did

68 The Gamer’s Quarter Issue #6 Mechanical Donkeys 69


on One on One and John Madden Football stuff together. But the time had come for yards! If it was associated with getting
particularly, and then Skate or Die after- the end for us, and then he was, in turn, the product manufactured, the producers
wards, and other products that came out produced by David who worked with him did all the work. I remember a lot of
in the late ’80s and ’90s. on Robot Rascals. nights there staying up until one or two
I also want to say that Dan was tremen- o’clock in the morning playing M.U.L.E.
dously respected in the company. More TGQ: Can I quote you from the tribute and thinking, “Wow, this game is good!”
than just respect, I think he had the love site? There are some good anecdotes. It was a lot of fun. And then thinking to
of most everybody there as well. His myself, “Gee, I wish the AI would do this.”
character and the nature of the way he Ybarra: Absolutely. Go for it. By all So I took notes and took them along to
interacted with people, and again the means, do so. Dan, and say “If you do these kinds of
values that he represented, I think we Another interesting anecdote that things at this point in the game, this is
all just felt very special at having that … I’ll never forget this, because of the what happens.” He would take parts of
relationship with Dan, and the rest of the impact, starting a new company like EA, those notes, and a couple of days later I’d TGQ: It certainly showed, all the hard
team. I really enjoyed my time with Dan. building a new product with all these get a new build and be back in that main work you put into M.U.L.E. Twenty years
I think one of the more interesting points different developers, and then inventing chair back with my daughter on my lap, later people are still playing it.
in my career was, after we completed the processes—it was a very funny time. I once again testing this thing and checking
Heart of Africa, it became pretty deeply remember that early spring, after January, to see if it worked. More often than not, it Ybarra: Yeah! I’m, just shocked about
obvious that the relationship that Dan February, March … because we started did. That was a really special time. that. [laughing] I don’t understand
and I had as producer and developer was M.U.L.E. roughly in the November of ’81. What I’ve told people over the years it. Yeah, I just don’t get it. Hopefully
coming to a close. Because there was no Or was it ’82? I guess it’s ’82. And we of EA was—it was my personal opinion, someday there will be some people
real growth going on for either one of us. launched the product, I believe it was May and I’m not sure if this is a true statement grown up now that never saw M.U.L.E.,
I felt for me personally that working with 23 of ’83. So the entire development cycle anymore, but it certainly was at the will get to play it.
Dan, although it was really immensely for that product was six months. Right time—that I thought that M.U.L.E. was the
enjoyable, that we had pretty much about the mid-point of the product, when most-playtested and best-balanced game TGQ: Yes! Hopefully! There’ll be a four-
plumbed the creative process between we were starting to get first playable, that that EA would produce for many, many, page article on it. It’ll hopefully get more
the two of us. From that point of view, I was when I started my several-hundred- many years. And that was simply because people interested. If I need any more info,
think he wanted to find out what it was hour journey of testing this game. I can there were lots of people that really I’ll e-mail some questions.
like to work with somebody else and remember many nights I would come loved that game, and put a lot of love and
experiment in areas that I had no interest home from work and fire up the Atari attention into that thing, and really knew Ybarra: Very good.
in. So that was sort of a parting of the 800 and sit down with my, at the time, what they were doing. Because of that,
ways between the two of us. two-year-old daughter on my lap holding we could make really insightful comments TGQ: Thank you for your time.
It kind of reinforces my thinking about the joystick that didn’t work, while I was about how the AI was working, or how
how closely in parallel a development holding the joystick that did work, testing different code elements were working, Ybarra: Thank you, and good luck with
team—and the process of creating this game. And I’d probably get eight or and so on and so forth, that really made your article, and thank you for calling and
games—is very much like rock-and-roll ten games in at night, and I would do that the development process a lot easier for talking about M.U.L.E.
bands. In the sense that you’ve got all for two or three or four months actually, both sides. So I was really proud of that
these disparate, different instruments trying to work out all the kinks in the project. But I think I may’ve mentioned TGQ: No problem, thank you very much.
and players working together to create product. somewhere in that article there, that the
a common thing. And that it’s extremely By the way, at that time in the history of best product I did with Dan was the one
difficult to sustain the energy and enthu- EA, we had no testers. In fact we had no we would do next, Seven Cities of Gold.
siasm and excitement for a really long assistance—we didn’t have anything! So And of all the projects I worked on at EA,
period of time. I guess Dan and I worked producers had to do everything. I tested that was my favourite.
together for … what, about four years I my own products; I built my own masters;
guess? Something in that neighbourhood. I did all the disk-duplication work; I did all
It was great, we did some really amazing the copy-protection; I did the whole nine

70 The Gamer’s Quarter Issue #6 Mechanical Donkeys 71


Trip Hawkins TGQ: You mentioned designing how the Hawkins: We did take testing seriously,
The next interview was done by e-mail, with Trip economic principles were used in the and it was organized as an official
Hawkins of Digital Chocolate, who was the founder game, could you elaborate on this? department of the company very early
on. Mark Lewis and Chris Wilson were the
of EA, and the one who tracked down Dani in order Hawkins: The key principles were supply first testers hired by the company. Mark
to have M.U.L.E. made. While his answers are more and demand and how they affect pricing; went on to become a VP at EA. Chris has
formal (since they were pre-written), they are still economies of scale and how they affect been in the industry ever since and is
incredibly fascinating, and they reveal a lot about output and costs; the learning-curve now a manager of testing at Microsoft. Is
both M.U.L.E. and the foundation of EA. theory of production and how it increases the thirty-five hundred number from the
efficiency at a certain rate based on liner notes? If so, it is probably tongue in
experience. In the game, one of the cheek and a wild guess. But the truth is,
TGQ: Tell us about your involvement with got their inspiration for the look of the great strategies was to organize a way of course there was a ton of testing! This
the development team of M.U.L.E.: Dan M.U.L.E. from the Imperial Walkers that to control the market for Smithore by was one of our first games and it was fun
and Bill Bunten, Jim Rushing, and Alan had debuted in the second Star Wars film dominating production while withholding to play, so it got “tested” a lot.
Watson. What were they like to work that had come out a few years before. The supply from the market. This would drive
with? M.U.L.E. was cute, and the theme song the price way up. We also increased the TGQ: How did the Wampus come about?
that introduced the game is one of the all- marginal rate of return as your experience
Trip Hawkins: In 1980, I became one of time best. This became one of the first EA of producing a certain ore went up. Hawkins: Ozark came up with that one,
the founding board members of Strategic development contracts that I put together This gave you an incentive, like a real but I’m not sure who deserves credit. As
Simulations Inc. This was one of the first in the fall of 1982. These guys were truly business, to specialize in certain areas you know, there had been a popular text
computer game companies, and in 1981 among the nicest people I have known. and become the leader. The game had game on timeshare computers called,
they published a game called Cartels and Very good people, down to earth, unpre- an innovative mechanic for the market- “Catch the Wumpus.” I thought the
Cutthroats that was a business simulator tentious, while also being very creative place of buyers and sellers, where you way they implemented this in M.U.L.E.
that I loved. When I founded EA, I went and technical and professional. Bill was literally walked up or down the screen to was ingenious, and it was a lot of fun.
to Joel Billings of SSI and asked him if I a very sociable guy who was fun to hang set your price, and if you intersected with It became one of the industry’s first
could buy out his rights in C&C so I could out with, but his contributions were another party, it would initiate trading. examples of a “nice touch.” That is,
make a new and improved version. He minimal as he did not have a technical They presented all of these elements very something that did not have to be done,
declined. So, I figured out who had made background or relevant experience. Alan cleverly. but that was done anyway, in order to
C&C and found Dan Bunten’s name. I was a quiet and solid technical guy. Jim enhance the value of the play experience
tracked him down in Arkansas and asked was more of a management type and TGQ: How many months did development and give the customer something extra.
him if he was interested in having me eventually took that track in the industry, take? Were there any hiccups? Game reviewers would spot these things
fund an entirely new game with him that working with EA for many years. Dan and say, “Another nice touch that adds to
would try to be a more consumer-oriented was the key designer, key programmer, Hawkins: The project began around the quality and innovation is…”
simulation with a different theme. I had and the leader of the group. Dan had a October 1982 and was finished in May
specific direction on user interface, player background, I believe, in architecture 1983 for the Atari 800, becoming one TGQ: How well did it sell, relatively
choices, degree of difficulty, and also so he knew how to organize and plan a of the games that were part of EA’s first speaking? Did you have any inclination
how the rules of economics were to be software system. He was a good leader product launch. Other versions came later that more than two decades later it
implemented. I also ended up writing the because he had the right values. He cared for platforms including Commodore 64, would still be receiving praise and page
manual because I understood intimately about people and was very kind, and had IBM PC, and Sega. IBM paid us to make a dedication in modern publications?
how the game worked and was capable of a big personal commitment to innovation, version for PC Jr.
writing for mass consumers. Dan agreed technical quality, and using games to Hawkins: Commercially, M.U.L.E.
with all of that, and he got his group promote social interaction and learning. TGQ: Everything is very well balanced, how bombed. It sold only twenty thousand
together that became Ozark Softscape, Of course this was many years before Dan seriously was playtesting taken back in the copies. The album cover and name were
and they came up with the concept of the became Dani. day? Did the team really spend thirty-five confusing and failed to explain the
robotic M.U.L.E. on the sci-fi planet. They hundred hours playing the game? beauty of the game. It won more awards

72 The Gamer’s Quarter Issue #6 Mechanical Donkeys 73


than any other EA game, including Game because they are thinking and getting Jim Rushing
of the Year in Japan! But hardly anyone their neurotransmitter connections My third interview was with
bought it. We sold many more units of made, but also because the topics and Jim Rushing, who is still with EA.
the next Ozark game, The Seven Cities subject matter are worth learning about.
of Gold. And many more copies of early And the games were high quality in terms
I first spoke with Mr Rushing via
titles like Hard Hat Mack and Pinball of usability and professional execution, e-mail, where he elaborated on
Construction Set. We were all very disap- so they succeeded in their purpose. You several points.
pointed that the public couldn’t fathom cannot play M.U.L.E. without inadver-
M.U.L.E., because all of the developers tently learning as much as a college
and employees and critics thought it was Economics 101 course would teach you.
the cat’s meow. This all contributed to And you understand football much
M.U.L.E. becoming such a cult classic. better if you play Madden. However, Jim Rushing: I joined EA as an employee graphics design and some programming.
what is disappointing is how consumer in 1989. I was in the Redwood Shores Jim—programming and implementation
TGQ: Do you have any personal message interest moved towards the exercising Studio for sixteen years in a variety design. Bill—creative design, gameplay
or thoughts regarding the game, or of our testosterone, and towards of positions: programmer, producer, tuning, and business aspects of the
anything related? property licenses that leave less room for technical director, director of devel- company, no programming.
innovation. So, if you wanted to present a opment. I’m currently in EA University I met Bill in graduate school, and
Hawkins: The vision I had for the industry topic like economics today, the producers creating leadership training programs he introduced me to Dan. Dan and I
was games like M.U.L.E. and Madden, today would put it in a Harry Potter game for development directors and producers immediately hit it off. Dan was writing a
games that are really fun, but satisfy and would include shooting and fighting. (and still doing a little programming on business-simulator game called Cartels
my ethos of “simple, hot, and deep.” My Personally, I have a higher opinion of the side). and Cutthroats for SSI. Bill and I were
idea was that consumers would learn humanity and aspire to help people reach I believe that the rights to M.U.L.E. are his first testers. We would all meet up at
at the same time they are having fun, for that higher level. owned by Dan Bunten’s estate, although Dan’s house in the evenings and play the
I can’t say with any certainty. Dan may latest version of the game. By the time
have assigned the rights to EA during I had finished school, EA was getting
the aborted Genesis version. When I started, and they contacted Dan to do a
left Ozark, Dan bought my interest in game. Trip had played Cartels and had
the product, and as the others left, he loved it. Dan decided to quit his job as an
became the sole owner of the property. industrial engineer and go full-time into
gaming. I joined him shortly thereafter.
TGQ: Tell me a little about your role in We met Alan through mutual friends.
development, and that of Dan(i) Bunten, Bill kept his full-time job as a directors
Bill Bunten, and Alan Watson. I’ve heard of parks for the City of Little Rock and
you were the programmer, and according worked with us in the evenings and
to Trip Hawkins, “more of a management weekends, etc.
type.” Trip was probably referring to my
strength being more technical and
Rushing: There were four partners management-related rather than in the
in Ozark Softscape: Dan Bunten, Bill creative-design arena. Although Dan was
Bunten, Alan Watson, and me. We all the driving creative force, we had regular
did various jobs, and each wore several design meetings where we all were able
hats in the company, as you can imagine. to express our opinions and ideas on the
Dan—was the creative force and creative design. I was quite strong in implementa-
genius of the company. He was also a tion design, however.
very good programmer. Alan—all art and We all know Dan was a genius … I feel

74 The Gamer’s Quarter Issue #6 Mechanical Donkeys 75


very fortunate to have worked with him. or just wanted to take a break, we would Rushing: Sure. Rushing: Yes! For the most part. Of
hike around the lake, sit under the trees, course, once we began working with
TGQ: I’ve read that M.U.L.E. took several skip rocks on the lake, etc … . TGQ: I’ve read some reports that in the EA, Joe Ybarra was our producer, and he
initial incarnations. Was anything left out Slick Willy’s was a sports bar in Little early ’90s a sequel to M.U.L.E. was called was very much staying in touch with us
of the final game? Rock. It was close to the main Post Office, off by Dani Bunten due to someone at EA throughout the development, and would
so when we would make a milestone wanting to add combat to the formula. fly out to Arkansas occasionally, although
Rushing: We can discuss more on phone, delivery to EA, we would go over to Can you comment on this? he didn’t really drive the creative. But he
but … Trivia: Slick’s and celebrate. They had arcade was there offering suggestions and was
games and pinball, foosball, etc. And Rushing: Er, yeah. It’s um … I don’t want a great sounding board for his interpre-
• Working title of the game was beer :) Just a place to hang out and relax to get too deep into that. But basically, tation of what the greater market was
“Planet Pioneers.” after crunching to make a milestone. this was around the Sega Genesis period. and what would resonate with them. And
• The “planet” Irata was “Atari” spelled I don’t know, at the time I wasn’t involved Joe was a big game player, so he came
backwards. with it. I was at EA at the time, but was with a wealth of experience about playing
• M.U.L.E. came from the concept of the involved in other projects. And so I don’t games, and what he thought was going to
old Wild West (circa 1800’s where you He then kindly provided me with his cell really know what transpired. So I don’t work well with the audience.
could strike your fortune with “forty phone number, and we spoke as he was really know if I should comment on what
acres and a M.U.L.E.” driving someone to their destination. An either Dan was feeling or what EA was TGQ: You were the programmer on the
• Also influenced by a Robert Heinlein interesting conversation, since he came feeling. But my understanding is that project?
science-fiction story. across as very human and shared many project just didn’t work out because Dan
• The Wampus was a tribute to the very personal anecdotes, despite working and EA could not come to terms on the Rushing: Well, yes, if you’re going to
ancient Hunt the Wumpus game in at EA; a company with a reputation for creative side. They couldn’t come to an put labels on people. Like I said in my
BASIC that we played when we were having a, shall we say, different outlook agreement. On the creative side. But I e-mail, we all contributed to different
learning programming. on things. While I can’t comment on would be careful about positioning it, parts. Like my, I guess you could call it
what EA is really like, I can say that all its that it was because of weapons or things my “day contribution,” was the auction
TGQ: Can you tell us about Broadmoor employees whom I have spoken to have like that. I just don’t know for sure. sequence. I designed it and programmed
Lake and Slick Willy’s bar, and their been helpful, friendly, open, and above it. But, everyone … you know, we had
connection to the game? all passionate about videogames. TGQ: Can you comment on what devel- these design sessions, so again, there
opment was like? I’ve spoken with Trip were only four of us right? And we would
Rushing: The international headquarters TGQ: Good morning … Do you have a few Hawkins and Joseph Ybarra on what sit around the table and just talk about
of Ozark Softscape was a house we free minutes to discuss things? the business side was like, and I was the game. Everyone would have ideas,
rented in a residential neighborhood in wondering if you had any personal and contribute ideas. Undoubtedly Dan
Little Rock, Arkansas. We each took a Rushing: I do. Unfortunately you’re going anecdotes? was the creative genius. I wouldn’t want
bedroom as our individual office. The to have to bear with me, I’m dropping to take any of that away from Dan. I
house was great because it was quiet, someone off right now. Rushing: Oh, well … there were just think he really was a genius. Hold on one
had a huge refrigerator, couches, bean- so many. It was a really interesting, moment…
bag chairs, etc. It was a very creative TGQ: Oh, I’m terribly sorry about that. innovative and exciting time, for me [Speaks to passenger]
environment for us. As the game was personally, and I think for the gaming I would never want to take anything
being developed, the house was a Rushing: No, that’s not a problem, it’s industry as a whole. You know, that was like that away from Dan. He really was
perfect place to focus group parties. We just that you’re going to be hearing a lot back when a team of four people could the genius behind the whole thing. But,
would setup up multiple games in the of other, ah, noises. If that’s OK. actually make a game that a lot of people having said that, it was very democratic
den and living room of the house and wanted to play. in the sense that, if I or Bill or someone
have our friends play and give feedback. TGQ: No, that’s OK, you’ve already came up with a good idea, and the group
Broadmoor Lake was a small lake that answered quite a lot via e-mail. So I TGQ: So you had a lot of personal thought it was a good idea, we would
was across the street from the house. thought I’d ask for some elaboration on creative freedom? do that. It was just a very tight, trusting
When we were looking for inspiration, some things. group of four guys, as you can imagine.

76 The Gamer’s Quarter Issue #6 Mechanical Donkeys 77


And because we rented a house, and it TGQ: Were there any things that you had to set aside. We were pretty happy And EA brought a lot of the infrastructure
was a very laid-back kind of environment wanted to include but were unable to? with the game. I’ll just kind of leave it at that we didn’t have, so they had some
… It was a little bit like a fraternity, if that, I guess. technical resources that we relied on, and
you can imagine, and we would have Rushing: Wow, you know … I think that some things like that. I dunno, I guess for
people over there all the time, playing the little bit about the magic of M.U.L.E., TGQ: Do you have any personal message me it was just a long time ago, but it was
our games. And we would be working on you know … and there has been so much or thoughts regarding the game you’d also a very magical time for me.
them during the day, and then we would discussion and everything on the net, like to add?
have people over in the evening to play, and there have been these sort of tribute TGQ: That all sounds good. I think I have
and it was such an environment that sites, and people have tried to design Rushing: Well, I would just say, like I enough information here along with the
could make those turn-arounds in a day. “M.U.L.E. 2.0,” and so on, and they said in my e-mail, I feel really fortunate e-mails to supplement the article. Thank
So we could get the feedback from the come up with a lot of good features and to have been a partner and to have you very much for your time.
previous day, and we could incorporate everything, but, I don’t know … There’s worked with Dan Bunten. He was such a
that and then have people back over the something that to me just says the cool person on so many different levels, Rushing: Oh, you’re quite welcome. Any
next night. So it was just a really fun and simplicity of the original M.U.L.E. is hard and he really, really had a passion for time. I am flattered that you contacted
exciting time. to beat. And I think we did have some gaming, and he had such a great innate me and wanted to do an article on
stuff that we couldn’t get to, obviously sense of what was fun. And I will just M.U.L.E. It’s still a good game.
TGQ: Fascinating stuff, I like the sound every game development team does—so always remember the years that I spent
of all that. You also told me some trivia there’s either things that they wanted to with Dan, both through the EA period TGQ: Well, more than twenty years later,
in the e-mails? Like the working title was do that just wouldn’t work at all, and they and before. Because I worked with him people are still playing it.
“Planet Pioneers.” had to set aside. Or the kind of strain for about a year before we connected
being such that there just wasn’t time with EA. And you know, he had his own Rushing: I know! I was very intrigued by
Rushing: That was the working title for a to finish everything. But to tell you the demons, obviously, but he was just that link I sent to you on the network.
long time, yeah. truth, I can’t really think of anything large such a cool person on so many different I have actually not had the time to
that we were not able to do, or that we levels, and for me it was a very magical download that, and to try and play it.
point in my life. I had just gotten out But it looks quite interesting, and I sent
of school, so there was a little bit of the link around to a couple of people,
the fraternity still going on, we were and they were very, very interested, and
doing something brand new, something they thought it was a great idea to bring
exciting, something a little bit out of the some of the older games back to a wider
mainstream. I remember my parents audience.
being horrified that I didn’t go and get a
real job after school, right, and was going TGQ: I had a look at it.. [Explains
off and doing this computer gaming. emulators.] … Which is why I asked
They were … I mean my father was just, about the rights to the game. Because
like, disgusted, and practically ready I was contemplating the idea of “what
to give up on me. You know, but it was if M.U.L.E. was available on Xbox Live
something that I felt I wanted to do, and it Arcade,” multiplayer.
was just so exciting and brand new, and
were just … And you know, it was small Rushing: Oh yes.
enough so that we could get stuff done,
and there wasn’t a lot of politics, and TGQ: Like Joust or Gauntlet. I was actually
EA was brand new at the time, and EA thinking of mentioning it in the article.
brought a lot of really cool things to us as
well. Working with Joe Ybarra was great, Rushing: You know, I think recently,
he was a really good producer for us. your interest, and with this thing that

78 The Gamer’s Quarter Issue #6 Mechanical Donkeys 79


showed up on the net, there are a couple TGQ: That’s very interesting. And it Ted H. Cashion
of people that are interested. In fact, the certainly bears thinking about. I also spoke with Ted H Cashion, via e-mail, as he
new executive producer for The Sims, his was connected to the project and knew several of
name is Rod Humble. He’s from the UK Rushing: It does. Ok, well, anyway, thank
actually, and he is a M.U.L.E. fanatic, and you very much, it’s been a pleasure
the people behind it. His e-mail is interesting, since
is very much thinking around in his head talking with you, and I hope I’ve been a it highlights just how much things have changed,
right now, how can we do something like help. and how far people have moved on since those
that. But again, everyone asks about innocent days in the early 1980s.
the rights to M.U.L.E., and it’s a little bit TGQ: You’ve been a great help; I’m
murky, I think. Someone would need to honoured to have been able to speak to
get an attorney to really dig down and a member of EA and one of the original
try and understand that. We were one of team members.
the original contracts that EA wrote, and Ted H. Cashion: Hi, John. Basically, the computer club supplied
I don’t know if you know this bit of trivia Rushing: So, I have to know, what did Your e-mail brought back many Dan with a great group of game testers.
also. As it turns out, the launch for EA, I Trip and what did Joe have to say? memories. I definitely remember the We would have some knock-down games
think they launched six titles when they development of M.U.L.E., as well as Seven of M.U.L.E. I even bought an Atari so I
first came out, that initial launch. I think TGQ: Actually both were very compli- Cities of Gold. All this took place in Little could play M.U.L.E. As you know, Dan was
it was six. But anyway, M.U.L.E. was SKU mentary of the whole group, and of Dan; Rock, AR back in the ’80s. At that time, way ahead of his time in terms of multi-
number one. And it was just luck of the and Joe said something along the lines of, there was a very active Apple-computer- player and online gameplay.
draw because there was six that were it was one of the most interesting points users group, The Apple Addicts. Dan It’s been a long time, but there was a
coming out at the same time. But M.U.L.E. in his career, and feels very lucky to have served as the first president. By the time span of years where a bunch of us spent
ended up being SKU number one for EA. worked with the original team of four. he went through the operation, we had a lot of time together—testing games,
But anyway, what I was going to say Both had very, very nice things to say. drifted apart—computer clubs were no fantasizing about how computers would
is … I was part of the original contract for longer in vogue, and our paths seldom evolve (“one day you’ll have a megabyte
the game, and it was a very early contract Rushing: Terrific. They’re really good crossed. Also, I moved away from Little of RAM …”) over pitchers of beer. Glad to
for EA, and it was really unclear how the people, both of them. Rock in 1996, and have lost touch with all hear you’re doing an article, and I’d like
rights were going to live on. When I left of the club members you mentioned. to help as much as possible, because Dan
the company, I sold my portion back to TGQ: Anyway, I hate to cut and run like I don’t recall Joe Ybarra, but not all was a true visionary—I’d like to see him/
Dan. I think the other guys did also. So this, but … thank you very much! And I’ll of Dan’s company hung around the her remembered properly.
as far as I know, Dan ended up being the e-mail you at a later date regarding the club meetings, which, by the way, were Dan/Dani was way ahead of his/her
sole owner of the property. However, progress of the article. frequently held at the house where Ozark time. A pioneer in multiplayer online
when the Genesis M.U.L.E. project was Softscape officed as Dan’s games gained gaming, he/she was way ahead of the
underway, Dan was starting to get sick. Rushing: That would be great, thank you prominence. Have no idea where Bill rest of us, and is owed a debt of gratitude
And I think there was some kind of a very much. is, but last I knew of he worked for the by the entire computer/videogaming
temporary transfer of rights to get the City of Little Rock Parks and Recreation industry.
product done. Or something like that. But TGQ: Thanks, bye. Department. I vaguely recall Jim Rushing, Thanks for contacting me!
I’m not sure. But I believe that eventually remembering Alan Watson better as he Ted H. Cashion
the rights came back to Dan’s estate. So Rushing: Ok, b’bye. also worked in a stereo store in Little Memphis, TN
I would imagine, if I was going to guess, I Rock that I frequented.
would guess that Dan’s estate is still the
owner of the rights.

80 The Gamer’s Quarter Issue #6 Mechanical Donkeys 81


ficial goal of living happily ever after with I just love to see in recreational fiction.
the lady of the player’s choice. When What the hell, I thought.
the cuteness subsides, the power of the Right off the bat, Planetarian
writing takes hold; friends die or are smashed through all of my general-

A Broken
Article or Robot
otherwise irretrievably lost to you, and izations. A careless reviewer would
gentle souls are crushed ruthlessly and hasten to christen the game’s direction
permanently. ‘postmodern’, a catchall used ad

Section
at the End
Title
of the World nauseam to describe anything that
doesn’t jibe with traditional standards.
Planetarian is actually a work of
I was a little hesitant when I first minimalism in a field rife with predictable
Planetarian: The Reverie of a utterly uneducated might just lump every downloaded and played Planetarian’s conventions. Instead of pursuing a harem
Little Planet—PC title under the heading of hentai after trial demo. At the time, I knew of the of doe-eyed lovelies in a high school,
By Chris “GSL” St.Louis hearing about the common occurrence of visual novels as ‘those hentai games’ and the player attempts to tolerate—not
adult content in the genre. dismissed them all accordingly. Besides, woo—a slightly batty robot living in an
When I finished Planetarian: The I’m most fond of “visual novel.” they were all in Japanese. I can’t quite abandoned planetarium. There are no
Reverie of a Little Planet, I cried. I sat These games in the genre play like the remember how I stumbled across the branching storylines and no multiple
at my computer for a good ten minutes Choose Your Own Adventure novels project page for the English translation endings. In fact, there’s no user inter-
composing myself before finally clicking many of us enjoyed in our youth. You of Planetarian, but I was magnanimous action whatsoever beyond advancing the
out of the ending theme and closing the read through lines of story and dialogue, enough to suspend my misconcep- text. Planetarian is a short story that will
program. Planetarian was engaging and pausing occasionally to choose a tions and read through the translator’s take the speediest reader at most 5 hours
moving in a way that no game I’ve played particular response or line of action comments. It was billed as a short visual to plow through, but it’s 5 hours well
before or since could possibly be; that which later results in different narratives novel with maybe five hours of total worth the meager price of admission.
the extent of my involvement with the and endings. In most visual novels, the playtime, absolutely no adult content, The story paints a world without
title consisted of clicking from one line branches coincide with the pursuit of and the sort of post-apocalyptic setting any possibility of hope or redemption.
of text to the next is an testament to the one of the many heroines of the game. Humanity’s incessant consumption
power of story. And yes, some of them do culminate of natural resources sparked a final,
Perhaps you’ve heard of the obscure in a steamy (and sometimes slightly destructive war where chemical,
games known as visual novels. A staple depraved) encounter with the biological, and nuclear weapons were
of Japanese PC gaming since the late chosen lady. used with abandon, leaving the earth
1980’s, visual novels defy classification But to focus on these qualities is to permanently poisoned and the skies
as easily as they seem to defy integration do a great injustice to visual novels as permanently dripping with caustic, toxic
into the gaming mainstream. But ask a a whole. A large number of titles are rain. Major cities were sealed within
few non-Japanese fan, and odds are you for all ages, and the true joy of visual giant sarcophagi in an attempt to contain
won’t even get a consistent answer on novels comes not from the well-drawn the biological and chemical destruction
what they should be called. A frothing and possibly cute (if that’s your scene) wreaked during the destruction.
anime fan would insist on referring manga-style ladies, but from the writing Years later, humanity is on the verge
to them as bishojo games, from the itself. By the time you reach one ending, of extinction. The earth is barren, with
Japanese for “pretty girl.” The self- you’ve read enough damned good text to the global ecosystem in ruins on account
professed otaku would possibly call them fill a small novella, and that’s not taking of the deadly rain. Time has destroyed
ren’ai, romanized Japanese that literally into account the three or more other the barriers surrounding major cities
means “love game.” An average gamer storylines still left to be played through. and neutralized the biological threats.
may call them adventure games or inter- At some point, visual novelists realized Solitary nomads known as Junkers scour
active fiction, searching for the closest that they could weave a highly involving the ruins for food, tools, weapons, and
analogue outside of Japan. And the and emotional story into the more super- prewar luxury items like cigarettes and

82 The Gamer’s Quarter Issue #6 A Broken Robot at the End of the World 83
liquor. But the spoils do not come without order to recharge her batteries. But with Like almost every visual novel, We at the The Gamer’s Quarter
risk: automated tanks and drones patrol the building’s power depleted, there’s Planetarian is written entirely in strongly encourage you to purchase the
the cities—the sole combatants in a war nothing to recharge from. And as nice as Japanese. However, the translation title, rather than pirating it. Regardless of
with no humans left to fight it—and it’s the planetarium is, it contains neither group Insani has translated both the free your views on digital rights, $10 is hardly
never in a Junker’s best interest to work food nor supplies to sustain the human demo and the full game into English (and a devastating amount. Both the Japanese
with—or be a meat shield for—another Junker. done an amazing job). Their website, for game and its English translation are
Junker. From the beginning, the game more information on the game, is http:// labors of love more than anything else,
The protagonist—an unnamed Junker provides subtle foreshadowing—the Planetarian.insani.org. and for the creators of the game to not
with little left in the way of hope or entire city ought to be without power, The full version of Planetarian was receive due compensation for their work
optimism—has found the remains of a and the Junker entered the city for the initially released only as a web download is an obscenity of the worst possible sort.
sealed city from the war that bears no express reason of procuring rations and as part of the Kinetic Novel series
signs of investigation by other Junkers tools—but you are still met with anxiety published by Visual Art’s. At ¥1050
and so might still remain unplundered. when the pair decide to brave the mech (approximately $9.00–$10.50,
But once inside, he is chased by the patrols and caustic rain to escape from depending on exchange rates), the
robotic war machines that still patrol the doomed city. The heart-wrenching game is an amazing bargain.
the streets and is forced to take refuge climax is a Voight-Kampf test; only an Insani’s site walks prospective
in the planetarium of an abandoned android could hold back his tears. But buyers through the relatively
department store. The planetarium isn’t it-also invokes a feeling of, “Oh God, I painless process of
entirely uninhabited, however; the Junker should have seen this coming from way purchasing and activating
discovers Reverie, a robot in charge of back!” The author scatters small clues the title through the
greeting guests, and the device known throughout the story, producing the Japanese-only website. For
as Miss Jana, a circa-1940 planetarium vague unease that grows as the story those who wish to try the
projector fallen into disrepair. winds on. Only at the end of the tale do product first, a translated
Reverie seems to have more than her you fully grasp the minimalist essence of demo is available for free
fair share of short circuits as well. She Planetarian: a game stripped of all the download from Insani’s site.
seems unable to come to grips with the trappings of what constitutes a game in
idea that the human race is nearly all but our minds until there is only the story
extinct and highly unlikely to ever visit left, and the emotion created through our
the planetarium again. She cheerfully participation.
refers to the Junker as “Mr. Customer,” Yes, participation. We as readers
and irritates him to no end with chatter. play the game just as we would with a
Despite this, the Junker has something controller firmly in hand, only instead
of a change of heart and decides to of the victory and gratification of high
oversee the repairs of Miss Jana, scores or the slaying of demonic hordes,
reasoning that even a babbling robot we receive for our troubles a beautiful,
is better than evading mindless autom- moving, and even cautionary tale worth
atons set to “kill.” at least five “epic” cinematic RPGs. And
The story remains cute and amusing this is a claim I do not make lightly.
until about the halfway point, where
the writing—and translation—really
shines. Miss Jana is repaired, but it drains
the remaining power in the building’s
generators. Reverie reveals that she is
only active for one week of the entire
year, and then will soon shut down in

84 The Gamer’s Quarter Issue #6 Running Article Footer 85


broken in some way, and catastrophic people because by painting in these
bugs line the trenches of its history. gaps, Bethesda has started to back away
Abuse of loopholes—and modifica- from the unique qualities players once
tions to repair or expand them—helped used to make emotional connections.

Worshipor
Article
make it one of the more popular PC RPG
franchises of the past decade. The official Xboxification Sucks,
construction sets ensured an extended but What Are You Going
Section
the Glitch
Title life for the series when its technical
overreach would have killed lesser titles;
Morrowind’s many graphical updates are
to Do, Open Your Own
Design Studio and
Development House,
a must-have for anyone attempting to Negotiate Sweet Deals
The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion—WIN, X360 the box. In eighty hours of play, I had crack open the series. The series inspired with Publishers and Take
By M. O’Connor three crashes to the desktop and one people to strip it down for the better. the World by Storm?
video-driver-related freeze. It’s a ratio The “official” titles in the series have Oblivion is still an extremely open-ended
I was very impressed by the typed note I can live with. This miraculous mean steadily filled in the blanks of the political game compared to its peers, though the
(on Bethesda letterhead) that accom- was maintained despite adding a pile of and social world of Tamriel that was first wake of Grand Theft Auto and World of
panied the 3.5" floppy I received in the potentially exciting problems with their painted onto the now-flat environment Warcraft has revealed an audience more
mail. The disk held the latest patch “Radiant AI” system. It’s not perfect, but of Arena. Game content in book form has than willing to invest time and money
for Arena, the first Elder Scrolls game. it is interesting and somewhat effective been absorbed into the larger story of into playgrounds with relaxed rules of en-
I had written a letter to the company most of the time. It is also slightly The Elder Scrolls, even if it only exists to gagement. A decade’s time hasn’t broken
complaining about a game-killing bug broken, mostly in enjoyable—or at least serve as a backdrop to your character’s the feel of the series, but it has narrowed
in the main quest and the terrible insta- entertaining—ways. adventures. Oblivion’s polish enrages options. It certainly hasn’t been neutered
bility. The person who wrote back apolo- When Oblivion hit, the official Elder
gized for the problems I was having and Scrolls forums were aflame with the sort
said they hoped the patch would clear of fury that is only possible with the jilted
up whatever happened to be broken. If I expectations of juveniles. That many of
recall, I only had one or two crashes per these juveniles were in their late 30s is,
hour versus the dozens before the patch. of course, one of the great tragedies of
By modern standards, it was an atrocious our age.
mess, but for an open-ended PC title from Oblivion is the first Elder Scrolls game
the early ’90s, it was par for the course. to be released with any sense of polish. It
I don’t remember if I ever finished is nowhere near the buggy, insane mess
the game—I don’t believe I did—but of Daggerfall or the cold brown world of
I do remember the creepy early-3D Morrowind.
graphics and alien sandbox filled with The polish has enraged people. These
cardboard cutouts of characters to be games have an unexpected depth; no
slain and projected upon. While not the one recounts the big plot points of the
truly massive world of Daggerfall—an main quest in an ES game, and if they do,
ambitious follow-up that managed to be it’s as a part of a larger story about what
both more open-ended and more plastic happened on their journey. These stories
than its predecessor—it was certainly are often filled with strange glitches,
large enough and free enough to sustain bugs, and loops; prodded by player
a kind of love. abuse, this exotic freedom is a hook of
Oblivion is the first Elder Scrolls game tremendous emotional importance. The
that isn’t mostly broken straight out of Elder Scrolls series has always been

86 The Gamer’s Quarter Issue #6 Worship the Glitch 87


(or spayed) like Deus Ex, an ambitious entirely new fanbase for a game, one that later installments have not yet come
world followed up by a weak and flawed worlds away from its console brethren. close to matching (though a project to
title that failed to capture the spirit of The Japanese RPG model that dominates create unique textures for all of the books
the original. does not allow meandering away from in Oblivion is a nice start).
PC games have always been hit-or- the plot beyond sub-quests and item But depth is a tricky thing, and so
miss affairs due to a lack of standards. collection. It certainly doesn’t entertain “dumbing down” gets another turn on
With certain companies, especially such blasphemy as ignoring the central the whipping post. Oblivion features
those who took technological chances, plot entirely; after all, there are fathers fast travel, quest markers and for-pay
problems were part of the cost of entry to hate, giant robots to drive, orphanage plugins. Ugly or not, some of these
into their worlds. Origin did its best to alumni reunions, and, more to the changes make for a faster and more
make sure each title it released was point, God ain’t gonna kill himself. The streamlined experience; it may be dumb,
more complicated and expansive than chance to write your own story is a rare but some of us have to go to work, pay
the last; running them now is even more thing in the console world—but all the bills, and generally get on with life. If
difficult in many cases. The golden age manic teenagers on the internet, foibles being able to drop back in and out of
of the 1990s created the world to come, notwithstanding, are generally going to the world and accomplish some quests
in which the term “dumbing down” do a better job than the cookie-cutter without having to take detailed notes is
would be used to describe any move geniuses at Square-Enix. You own the stupid, so be it.
from perceived complexity to perceived story; you have deep directorial control And what a strange notion that really
accessibility. Ultima VIII was Xboxifaction over what happens next. Even if what’s is, at the bottom of the spittle and
before the Xbox—the closing of a larger “next” just means climbing more guild vinegar. Tying intelligence to play, no as text; hearing the same stories about
world in favor of something quite more hierarchies or rearranging the contents matter how complex, is a good way to mudcrabs from dozens of bystanders
linear.1 of an adopted home. Earlier installments crush the fun out of something. holding their own plastic conversations
Dual-platform development does featured hooks like Daggerfall’s banks just plain breaks your spine.
create significant hurdles. It also gives a and real-estate market, as well as a slew And What about That But the game itself? It is streamlined,
company the opportunity to hook a whole of dress-up opportunities—the rise of Whole Oblivion Thing? but it is also not a betrayal. Combat
slew of new customers. Morrowind’s personal webpages saw public demon- You Know, the Game? is now engaging all the time, and not
adaptation to the Xbox created an strations of virtual finery and fine living Voice acting is a difficult thing to do cor- just for the first twenty levels until you
rectly. Some folks know how to do it well, become a walking tank. Its technical
but most are lost in a mysterious world of flaws are few, especially considering the
ham and cheese; “so bad it’s good” has lineage from which it emerged. Out of
been destroyed by “so bad it’s hard to more than eighty hours, perhaps twenty
ignore” and the occasional “Eli, Eli, lama were spent on the main quest—the rest
sabachthani!” Morrowind was no great went into doing the same things one does
champion in this regard, using far too few in an Elder Scrolls title, seeing just what
actors, none of whom posessed anything you can get away with.
resembling range. Oblivion uses many of Don’t listen to the crazed jackals,
the same people but expands the amount for they are too absorbed in their own
of spoken lines to cover nearly every image—reflected from the pit of the
bit of text in the game. It is absolutely glitch that spawned them—to under-
maddening to have to listen to dialogue stand they stagger about in someone
that was generally not very interesting else’s dream.

1 Ultima IX was more of a debacle than an offering, because it was so broken, technically and spiritu-
ally. By the time it was fixed, no one cared what it had to say at the closing of what had become the
most ambitious series to ever grace a computer screen.

88 The Gamer’s Quarter Issue #6 Worship the Glitch 89


ready, same as in 2005, 2001, 2000, simple and modern proposal to your fine
1996, 1992 and so on. I hope you, Sony, and open-minded company. An honest
can agree this creates a large problem, as and thought-out plea for a more sensible
every PS3 sold for $1000 is $500 in profit method of ensuring not only that your

In on the
Article or
(per system!) for some opportunist. With loyal gaming customers get a PS3 this
a small $5000 investment and a maxed- holiday season, but they are paying for
out credit card, the $10,000 return the true market value of the system.

Auction
Section Title (minus shipping costs and eBay fees) is
enough to buy twenty more systems to
sell. Or nineteen more if the shameless
The proposal? Have an official Sony
auction website specifically designed for
the Playstation 3 launch. Every PS3 sold
profiteer keeps one for him/her/their self. for the launch will be auctioned off, no
A Letter to SCEA keeping the demand artificially inflated Selling those nineteen systems brings in exceptions. Assuming there will be 500
By Marco Michilli over $1000, so as to make the $300 or $19,000 and after the credit card is paid thousand systems for North America
$400 price tag in stores seem cheap by off the individual is now $14,000 – and for the launch window from November
In my employ at EB Games this past comparison. This wasn’t true to the best one Playstation 3 – richer. 17th to, let’s say, December 23rd. That’s
holiday season, I was privileged to be of my knowledge. The people winning the And 100 percent profit is a very modest thirty-eight days, a little over five weeks.
on the front lines in the eternal life-or- auctions wanted the 360 and couldn’t number. Currently, the Playstation 2 is So at roughly 100 thousand units per
death battle of selling videogames and find it in stores. With the holidays or the market dominator. Well over one week, that gives a number close to
videogame accessories. It was no secret birthdays coming up soon, paying so hundred million Playstation 2 systems 14,285 per day. The daily sales should
that after the launch of the Xbox 360 much is quite understandable. People have been shipped worldwide, with be near 6 thousand units before 6 p.m.
on November 22, it was not only hard can be impatient, desperate or simply too no clear schedule to stop production. (Pacific time) and 8 thousand units for
for Microsoft to meet demand for the lazy to see any other solution. Even with an MSRP of $499 or $599, the 6 p.m. to 12 a.m., the peak auction
people that preordered the system, but My issue isn’t with the poor suckers the number of people signing up for times after a business day. The remaining
also street sales. Tight quantities and a that were trapped in this commercial preorders on the Playstation 3 or saving 300 systems would be put aside to cover
high buzz helped sell the 360, but also joke of fair game, but the countless and so they can buy them at some midnight defects, giveaways, warranties, contests
damaged the chances for customers faceless 360 resellers – some profes- launch is already impressive. The same and other such causes. Have a few
that honestly wanted one. All too often sional, some amateur. It’s happened high demand and low availability will no auctions with proceeds that go to popular
the systems would end up on eBay, since before eBay, but on a smaller level. doubt create another eBay gold rush. charities. Discounts can be given – say,
fetching prices two or even three times Back then, it was restricted to newspaper Another bottleneck for real Playstation free shipping for certain states in certain
the manufacturer’s suggested retail ads offering $400 Tickle-me Elmos, $200 3 seekers to crawl or get squeezed auctions. Include free games or extra
price. When not in stock, we – the loyal Furbys and $700 Nintendo 64s. As eBay through. One thousand, two thousand, controllers if auctions go over $1000.
employees – would be accused of buying and other similar sites offer their services maybe even three thousand dollars? As long as there is a steady, reliable
them and selling them ourselves, even on a global scale, the number available Regardless of the launch numbers supply of Playstation 3 systems on your
though that is clearly not allowed in increases almost as fast as the consumer you may have planned, there will no auction’s website, the number bought
our store policy. I’m sure some people demand. This demand was perpetuated doubt be a shortage nationwide. That and listed on eBay will be low.
at some stores did so, but most of the by the many customers that would buy cannot be helped, unless you have an
Xbox 360 systems sold on eBay were a 360 with the specific intent of selling it extra ten million systems sitting around
placed there by your everyday average on eBay. As far as get-rich-quick schemes that you haven’t told anyone about.
customer. go, it was easy to do and returned high What can be prevented or maybe even
Occasionally, some of our customers profits, higher than those the game stopped are the terrible practices of
would not accuse us, but they would go stores and even Microsoft were making these PS3 kidnappers. These villains are
on to talk about the 360 auctions on eBay per system sale. buying systems that they don’t want and
ending at $1200 or $2000 as if we weren’t So as the Playstation 3 nears on the ransoming them off to the highest bidder.
aware of them. I would jokingly tell them horizon, all the opportunists will be I honestly see these eBay scavengers as
that Bill Gates was buying them and waiting in line and have their preorders a problem that can be fixed with my very

90 The Gamer’s Quarter Issue #6 In on the Auction 91


If you should choose to cards. But they really aren’t the “target
�����������
offer none to the brick-and- PS3 audience,” in my opinion – they
mortar game stores and aren’t the people who would pay $500
larger electronic retailers, or $600 and have HD televisions. Some
I really don’t think they might say this would raise the price of
would put up too much of the system out of anyone’s reach. But if
an argument, seeing as that were true, then who’s winning the
how they have traditionally auctions? Also, there is a slight possi-
made a very low profit per bility of some parties winning PS3s at
system sold. Furthermore, lower prices and selling them on eBay
the actual cost of building when the demand was greater, making
a system might be paid off the PS3 in to something like a videogame
completely with some sales. bond. However, if the website and sales
No auction would go for less than $500 are successful and go off without any
or $600 ever, especially if you allow for problems, the dependable and trusted
no preorders, even through your own Sony will still get more per system
website. Why offer a preorder to little auction instead of “Games4Less56”
Timmy Gamerstein for $600 when his on eBay.
parents might pay twice that? And so I can’t emphasize enough how
what if they don’t? There are millions important it is to strike while the iron
of other parents standing behind them, is hot. Holidays, new Playstation
hovering over their computers waiting system, Internet auctions – these come
for a chance to bid on their children’s together to create the perfect storm of
happiness; millions of technophiles consumer frenzy. Wasting this oppor-
wanting a less-costly Blu-ray movie tunity on the hundreds of thousands
player; millions of PSP owners looking of systems coming out could mean
for the shiny new fix. hundreds of millions of dollars lost.
The benefits, mentioned and unmen- If 250 thousand systems were sold at
tioned, would greatly outweigh the cost $500 and 250 thousand systems sold
for creating such a site and informing at $600 (averaging $550 per system),
the public. Such a bold and radical the total would be $275 million. If 100
plan would fetch a few interviews in thousand systems were respectively sold
magazines both videogame related and at $650, $700, $800, $900 and $1000,
unrelated. An online-only approach the total would be $400 million. That’s a
would be both revolutionary and very difference of $125 million US dollars, well
progressive. The Sony image would
become faster, sleeker, and even more
worth the financial investment of
the website. �����������������������������������
powerful. Newspaper ads, internet ads,
and movie ads should already be in the
Finally, Sony, I’ll take this quick
moment to openly admit that I’m only
�������������������������������������������
budget, right? Use these to inform and
educate how the public should plan on
guessing these really low estimates
and assuming 500 thousand systems
������������������������������������
getting a PS3 this fall. for the launch. You have the real market ����������������������������������
Sadly, I cannot say I don’t see any analysts, databases and resources to
objections to the whole matter. Not prove me sort of right or completely
everyone has internet access or credit wrong. ����������������������������������������������������������
�����������������������������������������������������
92 The Gamer’s Quarter Issue #6
a discussion I’ll leave for another day), Chrono Trigger isn’t the perfect length,
but this isn’t an ideal world, and we have it just has really good pacing. Those
to pick and choose our battles. It’s left up hours fly by when you’re having fun,
to the player to decide: Am I playing this don’t they? There is no perfect game

Article
A Brief or
Note on
game to see how the story plays out, or length, only perfect game pacing. How
am I just trying to blow stuff up and have often we see and do new things in the
a good time? course of our playtime determines how

SectioninTitle
Pacing Videogames When the issue of “did I get my
money’s worth with this game?” comes
up, I see that the discussion is often
well it is paced. Well-paced games give
us a sense of constant discovery and
progression; while badly paced games
dominated by game length, or options make us feel bored. A number of things
The Soul of Wit one of the most well-paced RPGs you’ll of how much content is available to contribute to good and bad pacing, but
By J. R. Freeman find simply because the story is told and the player (either through new levels, a prime example is the environment, the
revealed at a tight, steady clip without widgets to collect, minigames, power- actual space we play in. So, pacing in the
Maybe you’ve heard the argument too much room left open for distraction. ups, etc.), which isn’t the same as pacing. videogame sense means how often or not
before: “I spent fifty bucks on this? It However, like I said, story isn’t every- Good pacing can happen in a long game often we find ourselves seeing and doing
didn’t even last more than ten hours!” thing with videogames. In the beginning, as well as a short game. In fact, it’s the new things in the game space, which ties
We often see the popular argument that videogames didn’t even have stories. At matter of pacing that decides how well into our sense of progression through the
most discerning gamers expect a certain best, they had a brief plot synopsis. Most we like a game, more often than not. game as a whole.
amount of game for their dollar—or bang of them were level-based too, divided up For example, Prince of Persia: Sands
for their buck, if you will. Oftentimes into short playable chunks, which made it of Time is a tightly designed action/
in these discussions, the issue of easier to play to a certain point and then adventure game that takes an average
videogame length pops up. “How long is stop. Good gameplay pacing involves player around seven or eight hours to
too long?” and “what is the ideal length showing us new things constantly to keep beat. It doesn’t feel too short or too
for a game?” are frequent questions. our interest, either by slowly giving us long because the sections of fighting
However, discussing the length of a game access to better power-ups and abilities are balanced enough with the sections
ignores the greater issue. The issue being as in Metroid or by giving us a constant of platforming that we don’t notice
that it’s not how long a game is, but how sense of progression via new environ- the length of the game until after it’s
well it’s paced. ments with harder and harder enemy over and we look up at the clock on our
Any sort of entertainment, not just types, like we see most recently in God dressers and computer desks. Halo 2,
videogames, relies on good pacing. For of War (a game that has excellent pacing, on the other hand, has poor pacing;
books and movies, it’s how well the the sense that you’re always moving and at what feels like the halfway point of
story is paced; for videogames (since seeing and doing new things). the game, it is over and the credits are
they often don’t rely that heavily on the Now, there is often a divide between rolling. Whether this was an intentional
story element), it’s a bit more nebulous. the story aspects of a game and the move on Bungie’s part or not is beside
Story-heavy games need to have enough actual gameplay. This is the case for most the point, because the ending came out
interesting characters, plot twists, etc., games, but occasionally the two manage of nowhere and was unexpected. And yet
to keep things from feeling too stale too to team up for just the right combi- Halo 2 is slightly longer than Prince of
soon. It’s why RPGs like Dragon Quest nation. The Metal Gear Solid series, for Persia, despite it feeling much shorter to
VIII don’t need to rely so much on the instance, manages to have a story that is the average person playing. Pacing can
gameplay aspect; they’re showing us as fun to follow as the actual gameplay make or break even the greatest games
new things happening constantly on a surrounding it. Ideally, all videogames out there. (I’ve mentioned game length
regular basis. While Dragon Quest VIII would have the right amount of both here a bit, but only to distinguish it from
itself might not have anything new at (particularly without removing the player pacing. Length in a game is merely the
all to offer us in terms of gameplay, it is from gameplay via a cutscene, but that’s amount of time it takes to beat it. As I

94 The Gamer’s Quarter Issue #6 A Brief Note on Pacing in Videogames 95


mentioned above, pacing can make a is the definition of perfect videogame walking on foot for too long before they
short game feel longer than it is and pacing. Yet this does not necessarily encounter an area that requires a vehicle,
vice versa.) exclude longer games from the pacing one provided up front and in the greater
Now, open-ended “sandbox” games club. The Half-Life games are around context of the story of course, to advance
like Grand Theft Auto and Oblivion are a twenty hours in length and feature the with what they’re doing. Despite all of
bit of a different beast, but only at face best examples of pacing in a videogame this, the Half-Life games still manage to
value. What they do is simply offer the that we as gamers have probably stay close to the point and tell the story
player the choice to create their own encountered in all our years of playing. they’re trying to tell while guiding us
pacing. These games offer up a host It manages to marry its story to its through each scenario and giving us new
of things to do in their worlds, but it gameplay completely and in a way that is options with which to be engaged.
mostly just boils down to two options: transparent to the player. It isn’t broken Pacing is more and more important in
Do I feel like advancing the story right up by cutscenes but truncated by various this modern era of game design because
now or do I feel like exploring the world? scripted events. In between fighting off we, people who have been playing games
In these games, there is still a clear Combine soldiers and solving physics- for years, are growing up and moving
divide between the story aspect and based puzzles, we encounter various on with our lives and do not have eighty
the gameplay aspect, despite how well characters that explain the happenings in hours to spare towards a single game
integrated the two may be. At the end the story and gently prod us along to our anymore. It’s largely the reason I’ve
of the day you’re making the choice to next destination. The sense of progress given up on the RPG genre, aside from
either advance in the game or just manages to keep up with the scope of a few specific titles. I simply don’t have
screw around. the game, and since there is only ever the time to waste plodding through
Portable games, like those on cell one true, yet not immediately apparent, repetitive, careless game design and
phones and the DS, are perfectly paced “path” through each area, we never get mediocre story points to get to the good
because they are designed for on-the-go lost or have a chance to get bored with stuff. I prefer games that only take up ten
playing. Short, punchy, and to the point what we’re doing. The player is never to twenty hours apiece, because if the
pacing is all in place and the design is
tight I have the incentive to go back and
play through the experience the game
provides me multiple times.
The larger gaming community
doesn’t immediately recognize the issue
of pacing, but it should; for our sake
and for the sake of the hard-working
developers and designers that toil long
hours to bring us the rich experiences of
escapism we so crave.

96 The Gamer’s Quarter Issue #6 A Brief Note on Pacing in Videogames 97


lands. If you think you’ve read this plot
somewhere else, you’re right—Taito
decided to make a platformer/beat-’em-
up/hack-and-slash action game set in the

Untold or
Article Tales
lands of Cimmeria and featuring Conan.
However, since they didn’t want to pay
royalties, they changed the names and

Section
of the Arcade
Title wisely avoided to make explicit refer-
ences to Howard’s works, and thus they
created the rather cool game Rastan.
Now, it’s probably sketchy that they
Stand-Up Role-Playing Games the broad sense of the word. tried to avoid royalties issues, but this
By Francesco-Alessio Ursini In the meanwhile, though, I also played type of thing really doesn’t bother me,
a few fantasy games. A beloved of mine to be honest. When I was a kid, after all,
I have played a lot of games in my life; remains Gaiapolis, of which I talked at I cared about games and gaming: find a
some of them good, some of them bad. some length in the last installment of this new game in my uncle’s beloved arcade,
I also have played a lot of RPGs, of the column. Other games came dangerously put a coin in the slot, and be magically
dice-and-paper variety. You probably luring me into the perverse lands of myth transported into new lands of wonder,
know the deal, as you have surely had the and imagination, even prompting me to might, and magic.
experience of playing some of them (or read such reactionary books and stories If you have read Conan stories, you
knowing someone who played them), like as Elric of Melniboné” and “The Dream- would probably know that Conan himself
Advanced Dungeon & Dragons, MERP, Quest of Unknown Kadath.” is tall, very athletic and bronze-skinned
or perhaps one of the 3485.5 handbook- In any case, I confess, shamelessly because of his healthy life in the open
laden things with tons of useless rules to even, that I wandered around magical fields chasing down all kinds of dangers.
decide that, yes, you hit that poor ogre lands while playing arcade games. What’s The Taito character is a faithful rendition,
and killed it. worse, I enjoyed it, as most of the titles I and he prompted me somehow to
Most of the RPGs I played were set in played offered not only spells, orcs and discover the world of wonder behind
fantasy worlds, full of obnoxious things scantily clad fairies1, but also nifty game Howard’s creation. At the same time, I
like magic, mystic powers, and other mechanics, interesting challenges and played with some gusto the not-so-good-
insane ideas that can appeal to nerdy lovely graphics. Well, not all the time looking, but simplistically fun Rastan,
boys. Right now I’m 27 going 28, so I (Nastar Warrior anyone?), but often they identifying myself, somehow, with the
can sit back and relax when thinking defined worlds of wonder in which my sword-wielding sprite. routine of jumping slashes, which are
about it, but back in my teen years, I was young, excessively creative mind could Rastan is a very simple game, and I worth two hits, and thus four hits with
seriously convinced that a true scientific wander freely. have enjoyed its simplicity since its very the double-edged axe).
nerd should despise anything remotely first publication. Most of the gameplay On the other hand, Conan is also a
irrational like spells, ogres, and the usual The Wars of Rastania is hacking things, possibly in a quick rather simple type of narrative, as I
fantasy stuff. At some point, I started There was once a young man with a sequence, so that more special items discovered back then. Conan’s adven-
having sex and thus growing up; I also long mane and a fine broadsword, (gems for points and power-ups of tures are quests, and Conan is basically
realized that, no, at least for the moment, who decided to beat the shit out of the various kinds) can be triggered. There are a reckless fighter who wanders around
quantum phasers are a bit impossible. poor monsters and mythical creatures various platform elements, as jumping his world, trying to get as much as he
Just a bit. Hence, they are also fantasy, in who went around ravaging his beloved around from ledge to ledge (possibly with can for himself. Gifted with a good
the right tempo to avoid various killing sense of humour and various skills
devices), not to mention the boss battles, (unlike Ahnold’s portrayal, he is actually
1 For the most part. It was published in 1987, the year of his majesty Rainbow Islands, and many other which are all pretty easy if a player very knowledgeable and can read and
titles were also heavily score-driven. However, they were a minority, unlike in modern arcades. learns a very simple trick (i.e., the correct write various languages, and he’s also

98 The Gamer’s Quarter Issue #6 Untold Tales of the Arcade 99


a very able thief), he has a number of or other cutesy deathtraps) were one
adventures before becoming the king of of my fiercest problems, back in those
Aquilonia. days, with respect to jumping at the right
Back in those days, though, I only time. My father, once he saw me lose a
cared about slashing around enemies. couple of lives in a desperate attempt
The game itself is so linear that, in some to get past the first occurrence of this
sense, I found in its gameplay the same simple (but tricky) obstacle, told me to
happy and melancholic atmosphere leave the joystick to him and let him show
found in Howard’s novels. There’s really me how to get the jumps right. Not only
no more depth of gaming beyond the that, but he revealed to me the awesome
right hack and the well-timed jump, jumping-slash-that-does-twice-damage
exactly as there is no more depth in the technique, a great and magnificent
adventures of Conan beyond the struggle classic of barbarian gameplay (or simply
of a man to become a sort of benign Nazi, a useful trick for bosses). In a nutshell,
while stealing things and killing people he taught me wise lessons of life and
at random, and all for personal profit. If gameplay, indeed! to evoke the bizarre world of Rastania. not unlike the a waltz. There is a speaker,
score-driven gameplay is some sort of Rastan II (or Nastar Warriors or just The boss theme, with its classy epicness, probably an actor in his sixties, that
nutty philosophy of gaming, then Rastan Nastar), on the other hand, was rubbish. conjured a sense of impeding doom recites: “Oooh, Justice and Peace, the
represented, even in a time of score-light OK, even today, I find it oddly interesting. (blatantly destroyed by the ultra-cheesy two things that distinguish human soul
games2, a simple and honest feast of The main reason is its music; the second, bosses, I should add). from the depths of Hades,” or something
destruction and linear fun—no more than flabbergastingly enough, is its design. The ending theme, with its sad, similar. And then the song starts, with
a sprite-based illusion, but real enough While the animations are honestly crap, dramatic crescendo, always captured its elegant tempo. I can’t think of a
for Rastan to slay, love, and be content. there is something about the rough and my overtly romantic side, evoking game that evokes so many memories as
This is also one of the first titles on barbaric design and the lunar, distant melancholic musings upon exhausting Cadash. You too, while reading this name,
which I could resort to my father’s help landscapes that still capture me. And journeys. The final part makes me think, have probably already gone back to those
for tips and tricks: the three pillars that when I was a kid, I couldn’t but adore every single time I hear it, that the wonderful days full of shiny adventures
emerge from pits (or from lakes of fire, the main theme and its hypnotic ability second chapter of the wars of Rastania in the kingdom of Deerzar.
are simply a showcase for the beautiful Except that Deerzar is not really a
songs by Zuntata masters Yack and OGR. shiny, cutesy fantasy world. Cadash
For the rest of the game, though, I can is a pretty gory game, with violent
only wonder how weird I was as a kid that colours and bizarre monsters—a bit
I was willing to learn a game just to listen like the designers were high on
to its final theme! something dangerous while drawing the
sprites and reading, with all likeliness,
Two Things That “The Call of Cthlhu” instead of some
Distinguish the D&D-ish adventure. After a short tour
Human Soul in the lovely kingdom of Deerzar, we
There is a beautiful Renaissance rondo go down in the first dungeon—my first
in the Cadash OST. It’s a simple theme dungeon ever, actually.
done in the style of 15th century music, The memories are still vivid: an
the kind you often hear in those movies intrepid ninja throwing shurikens against
about knights and dames, with a rhythm giant anthropomorphic pigs, while an

2 Clearly a metaphor of yuppies and neo-cons.

100 The Gamer’s Quarter Issue #6 Untold Tales of the Arcade 101
epic theme played in the background. I order to cross the final barrier to the first time I read the dialogue with the magical way, this world of wonder. I can’t
was awestruck from the first second, I castle of Baarogue, you need to avenge princess: “Ah? My father is still alive?” A really think of a place at the time that
think. The whole concept of playing and the memory of a good man, slain by plot twist, the intuition that something didn’t have this gem. Everyone liked it,
leveling up was not exactly new, but as a thieves allied with the creatures of more sinister was going on. And then, and I can still remember the queues to
kid, I wasn’t particularly fond of Gauntlet darkness, while finding a way to talk the discovery that the mysterious bolted play and battle in the name of the round
or of Western games in general. with his animal friend, faithfully door at the very beginning of the game table.
But Cadash, if anything, was a pretty waiting for you. leads you to the main throne room, Knights of The Round is not the
Western-like game from Taito; and at Cadash represented, for many of us, where the king is revealed to be standard scrolling beat-’em-up by
the same time, it was a Japanese-esque the naïve beauty of the first fantasy Baarogue himself, a powerful dragon Capcom: the gameplay is a bit more
approach to the D&D theme. Aside from adventures, of the first heroic sword- with two heads. varied as the three heroes (Arthur,
The princess asks us, after we have Percival, and the adulterous Lancelot)
saved the kingdom, to remain and rebuild start their quest for the Holy Grail and
its former glory. But we have to go, in fight a number of improbable enemies
search of further adventures—a picture along the road.
of her beautiful face while the credits roll. Aside from these particulars, the game
is about the long spring and summer
Round, because Everyone afternoons spent with many, many
Is Treated the Same friends (the only other game that could
There is simply no human being on attract crowds to compel my uncle to
Earth, provided a heart, that can despise get more than one cabinet was Street
the Arthurian cycle. While I refrain to Fighter II). All were fighting for the cause
make any exercise of literary critique, of justice against the cruel enemies (and
its representation of early Renaissance the tricky game engine) that menaced
worlds, disguised as a quasi-mythologi- the lands of Britannia. Many coins were
cal England after the fall of the Roman thrown away trying to battle away the
Empire, has been the dream material of hordes of Garibaldi, often with my trusted
countless kids around the Western world. friend Pierluigi (a.k.a. Bob), while dreams
Celtic folklore, European castles, grassy of mysterious ladies in lakes pervaded
places, adultery—this story has them all. our first Pendragon campaigns.5
And, since at the same time I was playing Aside the strong parallel with my RPG-
the obvious addition of an (unbalanced) and-sorcery dreams. At the same time, the absolutely beautiful Pendragon RPG4 , based formative years, Knights of The
ninja character, it featured some of the it was the first arcade adventure in the the story of king Arthur, the heir of Round was also a story of friendship:
typical aspects of Japanese fantasy proper sense of the word. Many of us, Uther of Pendragon, enthralled me with Bob mainly, although neither of us
games, like a focus on hack-and-slash the generation that grew up and played like a siren’s chant. has ever fooled around with the other’s
mechanics (because after all we’re arcade games in the ’80s, still have fond At the same time, Capcom launched a girlfriends. (Maybe because he never
talking arcade here, dammit!), while at memories for the kingdom of Deerzar and rather interesting and original beat-’em- liked mine, I think.) But aside from the
the same time building stages with some its longing for justice and peace. As trite up, which introduced a rather compli- merry jokes, we cemented our friendship
quest-like plots to follow. as the ingredients were, it was a sort of cated scoring system and captured, in a by this shared experience, growing up to
Stages 3 and 4, captured me with the dream come true.
idea that the poor inhabitants had to But, as I learned, happy endings only
hide from the monsters invading their exist in Western games, most of the 3 Pendragon was first published by Chaosium, but is now owned by White Wolf. Together with
Ars Magica, it flawlessly captures the spirit of mythical Middle Ages. It is still stuff that makes me
lands. The fourth stage especially—going time. Once I discovered how to finally
shiver nowadays, but if you want to play something fantasy, these are the two tabletop RPGs you
down the viscerae of Earth, entering the get out of the maze of the undead and should really try out.
dreadful world of the undead3, crossing its gory secrets, the castle of Baarogue 4 While I’m on the subject, I never understood why the final boss was named Garibaldi, a historical
a river of flames—still captures me. In was waiting for me. I still remember the figure of Italy’s unification into a single state.

102 The Gamer’s Quarter Issue #6 Untold Tales of the Arcade 103
share each other’s joys and delusions,
before and after our gaming sessions,
while at the same time swinging swords I have played a lot of games in my
Break time!
in the name of the Holy Grail. life—some of them set in imaginary
Recently, with my uncle’s arcade gone places that are, nowadays, far away from
and the memories of epic battles of my mental landscape. And still, I visit
knighthood faded away, my friend Bob them, paying homage to the man (the kid
and I had an occasion to talk about things and teenager, actually) that I was—with
past. It was one of those melancholic a bittersweet smile of melancholy,

evenings in which we would brood about wondering who was the other self that
merry days of youth and innocence, played those games in amazement, while
of cheesy sessions of RPGs, of sweaty roaming on the plains of Pendragon’s
battles on Knights of The Round and reign, or sighing at the sight of the
a handful of other titles we played in beatiful sunsets over the valley of
tandem. We were at my place, the fire by L’Aquila.
our side, too much wine and meat in our There are still other stories of wonders
bellies, and we decided to play again that and perils to be told, though. But we
game, thanks to MAME. For a moment, will visit them in the next installment of
years seemed to disappear, once again Untold Tales.
battling in the name of the once and
future king. Again, we wondered at the
utter stupidity of last boss’s name, and
we admired Capcom’s gem of gameplay
and design, filled with wonder and perils

104 The Gamer’s Quarter Issue #6


Looking back, it’s here where the threads was finished, I took the train to Lofty
of my life started to unravel. Towers in Wrothendelshire, the home
“’Ello mate, that’s some good work. of the Lofty Writers syndicate. I walked
Pukka-like, know what I mean? Anyways, up steps to Bumblebry’s office above a

Stay Awhile,
Article or
my boss, right? The old geezer told me to fish ’n’ chippy, and slammed the papers
keep an eye out for that. How would you down on his desk. He assured me that it
like to be famous, mate? We’d like to use would be published within the fortnight

Stay
Section
Forever!
Title your work.”
Neither of us realized the utter chaos
that would ensue, or how much I’d be
and that my payment would be delivered
soon after.
I left, feeling exhilarated. To celebrate,
exploited, once I had said yes. I walked into the nearest indie shop and
Further Adventures in ihe British my grand visions to fruition—had slowly “Sure, sounds like a jolly good laugh, picked up an import copy of Katamari
Games Press faded. I resigned myself to a downgraded old chap! I’ve never been in a printed Damacy. The Prince of All Cosmos’s
By Paul Lilly dream; perhaps I could pass as someone publication. Cor! You’re from that ever-expanding collection of detritus
who writes about games if I could not syndicate of bookazines, Lofty Writers would prove a powerful metaphor for
DISCLAIMER: The following is fiction, actually make them? Incorporated, right?” the disastrous problems that would later
with fictional people doing fictional On cold Saturday nights, members of “Spot on, mate. We can’t offer you cling to me.
things. If it happens to bear a striking 60 Frames per Second would gather in a money, you understand.” He poured us
similarity to actual events that occurred smoke-filled basement to play Advance each a double gin before continuing. Chapter 2: Now They
in Britain throughout 2005, that still Wars and Halo, drink several bottles of “But,” I leaned closer on the table we Own You
doesn’t necessarily mean it is based on gin (or any other spirit-based elixir), and occupied, straining to hear what was A week later, I was lying on the mattress
or was influenced by those events. All publicly read aloud various games-based whispered next, “I can give you some that covered a section of floor in my
similarities to those events, or people, essays. (This was before the large influx of the latest games releases, to trade small unkempt apartment. Beneath
is purely coincidental. No, really, mate; of such work on the internet and in places in for a few bob. My boss, old Mr. Beets, the squalor, my phone rang out; it was
trust us on this one. You can trust us, like The Gamer’s Quarter.) says it needs to be expanded, like. Bumblebry. “’Ello, mate, how’s it goin’?
right? We’re not like the others, man. This is where I first met Fontleroy Reckon you can put a little meat on Mr. Beets ’ad a look at your piece, that
We’re your friends. Bumblebry, an Elliot Gould look-alike with the bones, mate?” thing on the ecobolical prices guff. He
a thick Mario moustache and a worrying I agreed that I would expand the rather liked it. He wants another one.
Chapter 1: In the sense of bravado to his mannerisms. feature, and that it would be handed Can you manage something by next
Beginning There This was the same Bumblebry you were in soon, for no actual payment other Tuesday?”
Was Hope introduced to in my last adventure in this than “getting a few games out of it.” I was hung over, but understood what
I fell into writing quite by accident. It magazine’s pages.1 Bumblebry would I was a fool, but I dare any man in a he said. “Yeah, I think. Wait a minute,
was near the end of November 2004, scout out gaming dens of iniquity, looking similar position to not be charmed by when the hell are you going to pay me for
and my college days were behind me. for high-quality tournament players, the prestige of being printed. Their the first article? Can’t you pay with, you
I was idly larking about, spending the long-forgotten coders, illicit warez, or business, after all, is to persuade know, money?”
dosh I’d earned running a small arcade a decent hack writer to publish in the people of things. Only the most skilled “Relax mate, good things come to
that summer. With a sense of nihilism, I pages of his many games rags. He was wordsmiths could have convinced the those who write, or some bollocks.
waited as life passed me by, playing too first put onto my work by his superior, a masses to buy Driv3r.2 When the work It’s me small budget, give us time.
many videogames at a local social club man I know only as Beets. My essay on
(“60 Frames per Second”), occasionally that fateful evening was “Socio-Economic 1 The article in question was “Soldier of Lost Fortune” in TGQ#3.
contributing lengthy essays to the Implications of Nintendo’s Pricing in 2 Driv3rgate was a situation in the UK where a certain magazine publisher was “allegedly” bribed to
group’s reading sessions. My original China.” A little pretentious perhaps, but give Driv3r an incredibly high score, despite the majority of other magazines giving it only a three
out of ten. To further worsen matters, development staff “allegedly” infiltrated gaming forums as
dream of joining the games industry and it was all part of the collective’s drunken
“plants” and began promoting the game as if they were normal consumers who had bought and
becoming head of a development team— atmosphere. Bumblebry liked the work enjoyed the game. Googling the word “Driv3rgate” should provide further info we would get
an auteur with absolute control to bring though, and so he introduced himself. sued for printing.

106 The Gamer’s Quarter Issue #6 Stay Awhile, Stay Forever! 107
man, and I believed that it would lead to inept errors being added to my work. I was tempted to argue the point
good things. Could I have possibly been Like anyone would, I complained bitterly. of her sloppy work and question why
more wrong? The work was handed in but When you readers condemn sloppy management hadn’t sacked her yet, but
it took a further month before there was writing, you must realize the blame does I decided not to. There was no polite way
any payment, and it was only delivered not always lie with us writers! Scads of to question whether management were
after a rather heated phone call. Upper personal time and energy are put into “getting their leg over with the bird,” so
management requested my services those features, and into double-checking to speak, so the issue was dropped.
again, but time had made me cynical every sentence until they are fine-tuned What could I do? I had become
(though sadly, as I’d soon learn, not to perfection. To have some barmy copy dependent on the money (supplemented
cynical enough). This time, I demanded girl make sow’s ears out of my silk purses by a weekend job at the local goat farm;
proper monetary payment. The boss, the was unforgivable. For the record, let me never let it be said that games writers
ephemeral Beets, deigned to give me a now state categorically that it was most aren’t willing to suffer for their art). Plus
contract. It defiled nearly all of my rights, definitely not I who wrote any of the the publicity had become addictive.
for a particle of a pittance. Lofty Writers following: Despite the hanging around for sparse
would own the work, own all universal • Kojima wears women’s clothes. commissions, and the budget problems,
and inter-dimensional rights to it, indefi- • Capcom invented cheese, in 1973. and the fact that other desperate
nitely and without question. I showed • J Allard keeps an army of cuddly wannabe writers were offering their
a fellow gamer the contract, and he monkeys in his giant forehead. services to the Syndicate for less, it
made a humorous analogy about African was a doomed ship this rat could not
workers on cotton plantations. I thought So incensed was I at one point, that I abandon. I lit a cigarette, and onwards
it was rather appropriate, though rather stormed into the company office during to hell I sailed.
unquotable here. a meeting and aggressively demanded
Bumblebry sympathetically explained, a full retraction and apology. By this Chapter 3: Between the
“Listen mate, it’s out of my hands. We all point, Bumblebry’s superior, Mr. Beets, Devil and the Dark Side
have to accept it—I do, other writers do— had been replaced with a baby-faced To expand my opportunities, I began
everyone accepts it. Management see us gentleman known as Jimmy; he snapped looking further afield for freelancing
as expendable. Stop thinking you’re his fingers, and two Karnov-like oafs opportunities, both online and off. With
so important, the Syndicate doesn’t dragged me from the office. enough sticky fingers in enough jam jars,
care. And watch yourself. Your arrogancy Bumblebry took me aside to explain life might be easier. I was introduced
is getting noticed, and they don’t like it, some things, pleading with me to stay to Jack Moon; he knew of my work for
mate.” Clearly, trying to change things calm. “You can’t do that, mate! Jimmy will Bumblebry and wished to get a foot in
was futile. It was a case of like it or flip out now. You know what he told me? the door of Lofty Towers. His goal was to
lump it. That you’re unprofessional and should be “go career” with this writing malarkey;
The contract, which purely protected sacked. But me, I like you kid, really I do. and while trying to join the Syndicate,
them regarding the rights to anything If it wasn’t for your old mate Bumblebry, he was also offering his skills to other
I’ll send you double the amount of produced, was eventually signed and my you’d never get another gig in games companies, like Steinerman Enterprises
games. Promise.” work continued. It was during this time again. I smoothed things over for ya! and their flagship mag Healthy Consoles.
I was still too gripped by the euphoria that the sad events of my last article Blindin’, hey?” We exchanged information, and I
of seeing my name in print to argue. came to pass. That article finishes with
“Sure thing. How about an exposé on the a quote from Doctor Faustus about how 3 I first tried to freelance for Geeq magazine at Delorean Publishing (the UK’s market leaders), but
underground Xbox hacker scene?” the Devil seeks companions in woe. Then the arrogant vagabonds are so enamoured with themselves you’re lucky if they don’t spit on you as
“Sounds brill, mate, get on it.” I added, “I certainly never ended up in they pass by. I phoned them and got through to their very Swedish editor. He said that writers like
myself would “soil the sublime decadence of such an ostentatious publication,” and he hung up. The
I was eager to appease my new hell like Faustus did.” Perhaps I spoke rumours about Geeq were true—they’d suffocated on their own pseudo-intellectuality for so long,
masters, and I slaved for many an hour too soon. that they’d all gone bonkers. Perhaps it was for the best, since there had been tales that, despite
to harvest the words. But I was a patient I started to notice glaring and painfully Delorean paying well, they were often late.

108 The Gamer’s Quarter Issue #6 Stay Awhile, Stay Forever! 109
began making preparations to try infil- I’ll have the work handed in next week.” percent-complete betas, accepting Chapter 4: Bad Vibrations
trating Steinerman’s empire, and other “…” “special donations,” extorting interviews, All Around Us
publishers too.3 I like to think that some hours later and living like a beggar. Finally, my debut When I was working for Healthy
When I casually mentioned all this to Rodge responded into a then-dead in Steinerman Enterprises’s Healthy Consoles, I met Brock, another HC writer,
Bumblebry, he was less than enthusiastic telephone with confirmation. Consoles hit the newsstands. whose Speccy-filled hole of an apartment
about my new plans, especially since Work on all sides continued: visiting I was in an arcade hustling some would come to be a weekly meeting place
these publishers were directly competing conventions, writing reviews with forty- foreigners on Street Fighter III when for freelancers. Jack Moon was there,
against him. “No way mate, they’re my my mobile began vibrating. It was having successfully wedged himself into
main rivals. The Dark Side. I’d have to Bumblebry. “You cheeky sod, this is just Steinerman and Lofty Writers. There
stop using you if you went with them.” typical! You promised me, and only me, was also a bloated Jamaican we called
“But it’s in my contract, I can freelance that I could have the article on breast- Tom Hotdog. I disliked him immediately
for anyone!” feeding gamers, and now I see Healthy and immensely. Tom was also a long-
“We shouldn’t even be having this Consoles is running it!” time freelancer, for both Rodge and
conversation. How do I know you’re “Calm down, geezer. You were taking Bumblebry, and he would incessantly
not a spy?” too long to commission me for work. natter about how important he was, how
The conversation was going nowhere, Budget restraints, remember? A man he knew all the right people on a first-
so I hung up and I continued my trek does not live on gin alone; I had to go name basis. He did have a definite skill
to join Steinerman’s small federation. I elsewhere.” for finding the juiciest gaming gossip,
dialed their office and started my pitch. “You scoundrel! We’re through! with even more inside contacts than
I reached their main editor, a gentleman Through, you hear me? I’m never Brock, but his arrogance was detestable.
named Rodge. He was a hardworking having you write for me again!” He Brock’s home was a headquarters
chap and quite likeable, even if he gave hung up in tears. from which to launch successful writing
off an air of ignoring everyone and was Mere minutes later my phone went off campaigns against the hordes of
difficult to get answers from. during a critical parry. It was the man who available publications.
“Hi, Rodge. This is Rodge, right?” loved to hate me, Fontleroy Bumblebry. We gave the impression of a united
“…” “Look mate, I think you’ve learned your front, an almost union-like ironclad
“I want to freelance for your games lesson. But no more mischievously giving that scoured publishing’s high seas as
mag, I’ve made some good contacts and your best work to other people, ok? You writers-for-hire, but behind the façade,
can hook you up with some exclusive give me your best work, and I’ll make things were markedly different. At first,
content. Can I write for you?” sure the commissions come regularly. I’m we shared ideas and opportunities with
“…” not about to be bested by Steinerman’s each other, to avoid clashes and help our
“You want an early copy of Bethesda’s cohorts, you hear, mate? Now run along, fellow man. However, an ominous under-
Oblivion? I can hook the mag up with you cheeky chappy.” current began to form around who would
that.” “So the Japanese-booth-babe article is and would not be commissioned for work.
“ … You can write for us … ” set for next week?” Communication between the writers
“How much do you pay?” “Yeah, lovely jubbly.” broke down; distrust formed; accusa-
“ … 25 notes per page … 1000 words a “Brill, cheerio.” tions were cast. One rogue had been
page … No contract … ” “No worries, mate.” secretly working for a publisher without
It was a fairly common deal for UK I had joined the dark side, lost my telling the group. I accused him of
magazines, low wages for high profits. position and then made it back into good plagiarism—and worse, being a traitor
But the lack of contract sweetened graces. Fontleroy was a good man, and to the party. Things got heated; Brock
things. It meant I would retain all the I understood his concerns about me pulled out his father’s World War II pistol.
rights to my work, useful for my soon-to- writing elsewhere. He too was struggling With an antique sidearm pressed against
be-compiled autobiography, Gilding the in this cutthroat industry, trying to juggle his sweaty temple, our traitor revealed
Lilly. My answer was swift, “Sure thing. life and work; trying to keep it together. that, in actual fact, he’d been quietly

110 The Gamer’s Quarter Issue #6 Stay Awhile, Stay Forever! 111
informing select others in the group of his Chapter 5: The Joker he demanded with such authority
shady gigs. His “borrowing” techniques with Two Faces that I did so immediately. Without
were suddenly unimportant—he wasn’t I had been on assignment in the East hesitation, Jimmy undid his trousers
a traitor to the union; our socialist when the email came through. The only and began peeing out the window of
solidarity had balkanized. way back for an interview given at short the speeding car. I finally had proof of
Tom Hotdog revealed that he was notice was three days on the Siberian the old stereotype that everyone
leaving to start a private project. It was to express, and then a cargo plane back in senior management was a heavy
be a writing society, and he needed our to England. drinker—I’ll be perfect for senior
help—but not all of our help. “Ya, mon, The white cliffs below us had a management, I thought!
I will be needing me some writers. But I haunting beauty to them from above. When we arrived, our first docking
need only those with good mojo. Ya dig?” I yearned to be free of this chase; why station was not Lofty Towers but a pub,
Brock was first to respond, “I’m there, did I continue to dig myself deeper by our heavy fuel being Singapore slings
mate, you know, I’d love to work for you.” continuing to write? with mescal on the side. With a worm
“And I be thinking the boy Moon might “I must be insane,” I said to myself wriggling in his mouth, Jimmy explained
be useful too. You in, Moon?” Of course at the time. the situation: Bumblebry would soon be
old Moon was only too keen to be in. The interview took place in a town leaving his job for a place that was less
But when I and other writers inquired, called Bottomsdown (where Philanthropy amoral. Perhaps he meant an assassins’
Tom’s attitude changed. “No mon, I don’t was situated), which is only 40-minutes’ guild? Regardless, they had a vacancy,
be needing you. I can’t be dealing with drive from Wrothendelshire. After a few and they wanted to see me.
those of you who have different views to libations to perk up the soul, I made my Once inside the Towers, it was half a
me! This won’t be a freelance free-for-all; way to the interview. It was conducted dozen security checkpoints (complete
only I will choose who gets to write for by Beets, Bumblebry’s old boss from the with armed guards) before we reached
my society! We will be doing it my way Syndicate; he had jumped ship over to the Syndicate’s inner sanctum. Jimmy
for a change. No more will I freelance this new venture. He knew my work, and I said he desperately wanted me to stay in
for Rodge or Bumblebry, I be following felt confident of success. the Wrothendelshire region so that when
my own orders now!” He said this with The interview was standard fare, too Bumblebry scarpered, I could jump right
a maniacal laugh that made his bloated many personal questions about nothing in, take over his old job, and ensure the
jowls wobble so furiously, I thought that much. Something must have worked, gears stayed greased. Jimmy was very
E. Honda had somehow crawled beneath since he said he was so pleased with this insistent, which made me nervous. I had
his skin. first interview that I would have a second horrified visions of being chained to a
He then regaled us with the kinds of one in only four hours! Just enough time desk if I remained in his presence too
stories his writing society would cover. It for some bubble and squeak, I thought. long. Still, it felt great to be wanted,
turned out to be incredibly old electrical But lunch would have to wait; even if that feeling was based on a
junk. “First, mon, I will be covering Bumblebry’s new boss, Jimmy (the devil’s deception.
electric toasters. Electric toasters that same man who had me thrown out of his Jimmy introduced me to Yeager, a
run Linux. And then, I will cover greater office), showed up and bundled me into large man of some importance whose
electronic items than mere children’s his car. “Mate! Fontleroy said you’d be scar riddled body resembled that of the
games. I will cover Hoovers, Sedgewicks at a recently opened publisher named here today! I need to see you, my boss bear-wrestling Zangief, and Yeager intro-
from 1968, and coal powered stirrups Philanthropy. I was finally about to make Yeager too, really fast like!” duced me to the bar in the basement of
from before the war! That also be running the jump to full-time career writer. No Obviously the impromptu meeting was Lofty Towers. It’s a fact of life that most
Linux—running it very well!” more delayed paychecks, I thought, soon about work, so we began our high-speed deals are lubricated with as much drink
While the tribe of freelance monkeys I would be getting a monthly wage: the journey to Wrothendelshire. Normally a as humanly possible, and sometimes
bickered over their plight, I had a job princely amount of £8000 per year (less 40-minute trip, we made it between the more—PR-sponsored cocaine parties are
interview. The vacancy was for an editor than half the national average). two cities in 15, though not without all the rage among upper management.
some mishaps. “Grab the wheel, geezer!” Or so I’ve heard. That day, our libations

112 The Gamer’s Quarter Issue #6 Stay Awhile, Stay Forever! 113
Zero novels, 360 faceplates, even skin mation of a position. Forty-eight hours “What? No, mate.”
from Miyamoto’s inner thigh (stealthily later, there was still no reply, though “So you haven’t heard from Yeager?”
acquired by ninjas) were all to be given Philanthropy had already informed me “No.”
away free as cover mounts. that I was unsuccessful in my application. “So, who did phone you?”
The claims grew wilder as the grog With my options running out, I desper- “No one. It’s blooming 2 a.m.!”
grew scarcer. Yeager grabbed me by the ately pestered Bumblebry about Yeager’s “Oh, it’s just … I’m standing outside
shirt and moistly shouted in my face, decision. For three days straight, he said Lofty Towers, and his office light is
“We’ve had a big staff hiring session! the same thing, that Yeager was still still on.”
We’ve two spots left! You wanna write deciding. Why was there no contact? “What the bloody heck are you doing
for one of our mags, maaate? We got Had it all merely been a ruse? Why did back in Wrothendelshire?”
Revolution Regularly or NEC Bimonthly to everyone feel the need to raise my hopes “I … don’t know … ” was my answer,
choose from! I love you, maaate!” before dashing them against the rocks? after which he hung up.
Once I had pulled myself away and I waited until two in the morning before So there I was, left without work,
wiped the spittle from my face, we phoning again. “Bumblebry? It’s me. Did without pay, and without hope. I realised
returned to the office and he handed me Yeager just phone you?” it was a lost cause; there had likely been
two free mags. I was to read them, come no writing vacancies to begin with. There
to a conclusion, and get back to him I was, sitting in ashes and scraping my
ASAP. The clock read nearly four o’clock, boils with a broken clay pot. There was
time to head back to Philanthropy. On the only one word on my mind in that time of
way, I pondered for but a brief second: anguish: Job.
had there been an ulterior motive to
the free drinks? Did Jimmy and Yeager Chapter 6: Rome Burns
perhaps want me drunk at my second Back in Brock’s river boat (we’d
interview? downgraded from an apartment due to
At Philanthropy, things went terribly. costs), the situation had become dire. A
Beets had decided to bring the company while back, payment from the Steinerman
would be a heady concoction they CEO in to also ask questions during the corporation had started coming in late,
described only as “grog,” which Yeager second interview. He kept silent most of and just before my Bottomsdown/
promised would be as strong as the the time, while glaring ominously and Wrothendelshire adventure, it started not
corrosive cocktail offered to Guybrush drinking some variety of frothing cocktail. turning up at all. After being reassured
Threepwood. Beets asked if I could adjust to full-time via e-mail on a daily basis that it would
Yeager explained that Philanthropy office life. I was nervous and so couldn’t soon arrive, I decided to phone the
were offering me a bad deal on pay and help but make some jokes. Healthy Consoles head office. We
benefits, their business practices were “Things should be fine,” I said, managed to get through to Rodge,
poor, their future plans were diabolical, slurring only slightly, “but I’ll miss whose previous laconic nature
and then he said something about wearing my Mario and Luigi pyjamas all changed dramatically.
someone’s mother. Typical trash-talking day while writing!” “Look, look, look, I know I said
about the competition was my guess, Nobody in the room laughed. I knew yesterday that things would be fine, and
but it left me unsettled. He also said things were over. The interview ended, the day before yesterday that things
that he wanted me at Lofty Writers, and I was escorted out from their offices. would be fine, and, well, all of last week
employed full-time, on any publication, I schlepped back home, made my too that things would be fine, and I’m
in order to take over from Bumblebry. As decision about writing for NEC Bimonthly sure it must seem like I’m lying, but it’s
my head began swimming, the situation for Lofty Writers, and phoned Yeager Management; Management’s just not
grew surreal. Yeager began explaining to confirm. He said he’d get back to me keeping me informed. But this time, this
all of his business plans: Perfect Dark within forty-eight hours with confir- time I mean it: next week payment will

114 The Gamer’s Quarter Issue #6 Stay Awhile, Stay Forever! 115
be authorized for all of you. Just please, known as “The Blitzkrieg.” It was clear the only wronged parties, they were lying Can you guess what we did next,
please, don’t stop the flow of work.” He that Healthy Consoles had become very to subscribers, as well. Old Rodge had readers? Yes, that’s right! We believed his
sounded like a man kept in the dark, lied unhealthy. We were never going to get written a pleading editorial for further lies and stopped our attack!
to by his superiors. But we were men our money; we’d pulled our copyright yearly subscriptions to be taken out, even Two days later Steinerman grabbed
unable to buy shoes (let alone DSes) for permissions a week earlier with no though Brock had gained inside info that everything he could from the company,
our children. results—we needed to strike them hard. the magazine would cease production in filed for bankruptcy, and then moved
We knew that Steinerman’s kingdom Hurt them enough, we theorized, and only three months. We were desperate to Rio de Janeiro. There was no more
was about to, to use a British phrase, “go they’d be forced to pay us the many to warn people that the writers were not damage to be done, and it was too late
tits up in a ditch.” But we were a little thousands of pounds they owed. None being paid and that their subscriptions to stop people subscribing. We cursed
late. Work is pitched and accepted, a of us had anything more to lose, we would never be honored. ourselves for giving them time to make
month later it’s handed in, a month later grimly thought. The Blitzkrieg involved revealing their escape.
it’s published, and then only a month Mr. Moon, in particular, had become the full scandal being perpetrated by Our bad luck did not end there
after that could we, in theory, get paid. consumed by a terrifying, malevolent Steinerman and his underlings, making sadly. Once Steinerman had filed for
We were owed four months of wages insanity and thirst for revenge. His damned sure that everyone heard about bankruptcy, he sold all his company
before coming to the startling conclusion seemingly incessant diatribes reminded it. First we would reveal the truth via assets back to himself for mere pennies
as many internet forums as possible. at a time; when you are both buyer and
Then we would personally visit and seller in the same transaction, why
inform each and every group that bother haggling over high prices? He
advertised with Steinerman, while also owned several companies, all of which
contacting the printing factory he hired were of the “Ltd.” variety, 4 which meant
and informing them of the lack of funds. it was perfectly legal for one company to
Finally, we would contact no less than incur a filthy great bloody mountain of
one hundred and fifty different news debt, finally go bankrupt, and then sell
publications (we’d compiled a list) and (for a Singstar song) all of its assets to
reveal the full scandal of events. The another company owned by the exact
situation was about to go global; we same person! We couldn’t even request
believed we could fell this giant. compensation from the debt collectors,
Precisely one minute and forty-eight since we were unsecured creditors and
seconds after going public on the forums, there wasn’t even enough money to
our topics were deleted and we had a pay those who had been secured! We
frantic phone call from Rodge. Everyone were left with nothing. If one person
gathered around the phone: exemplifies the repugnant ability for man
“Jesus H. Christ, chaps! We had to to stoop to ever new lows of inhumanity,
remove what you were saying, you could then Steinerman is that vile person.
have ended everything! The building has The total amount of debt incurred by
literally ground to a halt, everyone has his enterprises, which was then simply
stopped work and is standing by their written off, topped the one-hundred-
desks listening to me make this call. million-pound mark, and included
that our dreams had bit-rotted into me of videogame villains over the Steinerman is pissing himself with rage, everyone from a Nigerian postman right
nothingness. years: Thanatos, Kefka, Sephiroth, and and everyone is pleading with you guys through to the British government. The
While I was drunkenly shuttling countless other broken souls. He had, to stop. Please, I’m begging you. We need old MPs didn’t bother me, but I felt really
between doomed interviews, Brock and after all, lost more than most. While I more time … ” sorry for that poor postman—how would
the others had been digging up infor- was owed seven grand, Moon was owed
mation on our maleficent benefactors. twice that. He had reason to be angry.
They came up with a top-secret plan Then again, so did we all! And we weren’t 4 That’s “LLC” for you Yanks.

116 The Gamer’s Quarter Issue #6 Stay Awhile, Stay Forever! 117
he ever afford a PS3 for his kids now? Chapter 7: Every Lining contracts, make no mistake. Millions exploding in a shower of hellish flame.
When we tried to publicly reveal Has Its Holes of words about thousands of games, This second company collapsing meant
these new events, we were threatened With our HP reduced to critical levels, products designed to bring happiness to that again, several months’ worth of
by an army of lawyers with gagging we needed a new a project to keep people, and we were engulfed by our own writing wages had been lost. In trying to
orders. When we tried to contest gags, occupied with. In a hasty meeting sorrow. Steinerman profited from it, and divide our work over as many publica-
we were informed that it was perfectly at Brock’s place, our group of now- now others would too. tions as possible, in theory protecting our
and wonderfully legal for a company unemployed freelancers decided to Philanthropy contracts were drafted, investment, we were again hit hard when
to do such things in this magnificently create a videogame. We did write about but we were all reluctant to sign. It’s not another publisher died.
capitalist world of ours. Thank God them, after all, and we had years of easy being told you have to give away One of Brock’s contacts would later
Communist Russia never took over gaming experience. Surely we could nearly a year’s worth of work which you’d explain how the Syndicate came to
during the Cold War, since, Heaven come up with something fresh? The never been paid for, just to earn some crash. It had been sold to another, larger
forbid, old Steinerman might not have game would chronicle the events of our cheap change on the side. But they were corporation, who intended to use the
been able to run away to Brazil. Brock lives as freelancers over the last eight or clear: you don’t sign, you don’t work. magazines to stay afloat. The cash from
even managed to get hold of his home so months. Almost like a UK version of And we all knew that if we didn’t work, that sale was used to found Philanthropy,
phone number, and started publicly Segagaga, except about games writing we wouldn’t eat. How many hours of our and when the Syndicate finally sank,
releasing it to all the cheated subscribers. instead of Sega’s business practices. lives had we lost on this quest? Levelling Philanthropy swooped in for the choicest
A few of them went as far as phoning We would write, draw, compose, and up, buying equipment, and forming remains. But just like Steinerman’s
and demanding retribution. The lawyers program our way through it, hoping to parties, only to complete a dungeon and collapse, they didn’t transfer over any of
returned, and Brock, like a coward, make enough money to offset the many find it devoid of treasure? There was no the freelancer debts.
backed down and stopped giving it out. debts we had all incurred, totalling reward in this world of flesh and bone. I had to laugh to myself; the bullshit
We never heard directly from Steinerman somewhere close to one hundred It was a tough decision. But while I may piled up so fast, you needed wings to
again after that, though apparently thousand pounds. have been mistrustful of management, I stay above it. The freelancers lost out
his other companies which bought his Over the coming months, as we trusted Bumblebry. And so I eventually a second time. Above these problems
original assets are doing well, his sex philosophised and ate instant ramen out signed the contracts. Sometimes a man though, the one who remained a rock and
change was a success, and his mansion in of our shoes in Brock’s sweat-drenched needs his whiskey more than he needs ever helpful was Bumblebry; despite his
Rio de Janeiro (filled with muscled Chou abode, struggling to complete our game, his rights. faults, I grew to like more than anyone
Aniki doubles) is said to be wonderfully Steinerman secretly set about selling Philanthropy assured us that as else. Like myself, he was a good man put
comfortable and incredibly ostentatious. Healthy Consoles to Philanthropy for a things progressed, as the corporation into difficult situations.
Or should I be saying her mansion? cool million pounds (not even five bob of expanded, there would be full-time jobs “It’s just business,” everyone likes to
Afterwards, our situation was made this went to the unpaid freelancers!). The for some of us; we became paranoid that tell me. This doesn’t comfort me though. I
even worse when all the other magazines magazine was to make a return (helmed another had secretly gained employment. like to take comfort in the fact that, being
our group freelanced for informed us by Bumblebry himself), but Philanthropy Philanthropy promised change, a new only mortal, someday I will finally be
that we had been blacklisted because would not be responsible for any debts. way of doing things, yet things were freed from such things.
of the public revelations on the forums. At first we rejoiced, believing that at precisely the same as they had been. Which brings us to the end of my epic
No one wants to hire loose cannons or last there was hope. We never wanted Those at the top dictated what would chronicle. Sorry if you were expecting
trouble makers, and so none of us would to admit it, but the game project was be written and how and by whom. The more, readers. Many things, so many,
likely get work in the near future. We doomed to failure; we’d barely scrapped contracts at Philanthropy were terrible, many things have happened over the
had stood against the system, and now together enough money to cover worse than at any other place which past 18 months, but there is only so much
we were paying the price for defying our costs. But alas, in order to work for utilized the printed word. I felt trapped, I can cover (without getting sued). Until
overlord masters. They were quite clear, Philanthropy, we would have to freely unable to wake from the Orwellian next time, long live the corruption-free
we would learn to love their whips or we sign over the thousands, and thousands, nightmare. reins of The Gamer’s Quarter!
would learn to seek other avenues of and thousands of pounds’ worth of work Soon after we had shed our first drops
employment. that we had never been paid for. They of blood on the reborn Healthy Consoles,
would also indefinitely own the rights the Lofty Writers Syndicate began to
to all future work; these were tough disintegrate, falling into disarray and

118 The Gamer’s Quarter Issue #6 Stay Awhile, Stay Forever! 119
long and complex evolutionary process, mechanics of the beginnings, as players
through which arcade games became a demanded more and programmers gave
lifestyle: every one of us likes problem- more.
solving, especially if it is hidden under Why gaming, then? Better: why arcade

Article or
shiny bitmap graphics and is perfectly gaming, then?
futile, as having the best score in the Gaming is a good way to get good
arcade can be. scores, and good scores are obtained,

Section
Why Game?Title Finally, gaming is about development,
of the player and of the game medium
as well; countless hours and countless
like in other good activities of life, by
practice and critical thinking. It gives us
a tool to compare ourselves with others,
players have dissected engines down seeing who’s better at solving a problem
Reason #5 Scoring Culture ating, but I will carefully build up my to the very bytes of code, trying to find via getting a better score. It gives us a
By Franco Rando point in order to let you understand the out what lies behind the fireballs and tool to compare ourselves with ourselves,
point of view I’m trying to make yours. rank increase and all the things we seeing if we can improve day by day, a
It’s a little over a year since I started with The arcade world, while still going see on screen. A brief description of very satisfying activity when in the right
The Gamer’s Quarter and, in one way strong and seeing a lot of changes, what is going on doesn’t suffice; we frame of mind. It also gives us a tool to
or another, I’m pretty sure that most of found its new form at the beginning of want the inner secrets of the game, its compare ourselves with the history of
you have become acquainted with my the second half of the eighties. Some Promethean flame, to be stolen from the gaming, and how ideas and proposals
personal gaming microcosm. guys at Taito had this brilliant idea of god programmers, and indeed we steal it, for games evolved, and how our compre-
If you don’t, let’s briefly recap: I grew making a rather complex game with because nothing is sacred, if the price is hension of them evolved with them.
up, video-ludically speaking, in my cute characters, and gameplay that was getting first place on the ranking chart. Why game? Because thinking, learning
uncle’s arcade. This, in turn, means that even more centered around the idea of Decades and more have passed, with and improving is fun, as we always knew
most of the games that I played – and scoring a lot of points – even more than ultimate players performing ultimate by playing arcade games in the arcades.
still play, as I never shifted the axis in their preceding titles. You know this runs, dissecting engines whose richness Not only that, but you can do it at your
my gaming tastes – are typically arcade. game; it’s Bubble Bobble, and it marked is at the same time the phylogenetic own pace, if everything else fails. You
“Arcade” encompasses a rather broad an explosion in the field of score-centric result of decades of other games. Other simply sit down and decide to learn or
formula – OutRun, Puyo Puyo and arcade games. experiences, other challenges have discover or experiment something, the
R-Type are all arcade games, but also Arcade gaming, since its very begin- been discovered, often redefining the price is just a coin, and the reward is
very different from each other. However, nings, was about challenges. Things game and its limits, imposed by the what we have mentioned so far. Most
they have one basic fundamental changed a bit with the coming of his programmers and rewritten by the of the time, instead, life is about paying
element in common, which can be majesty Street Fighter II and his twin players, and evolving, literally, by the huge tributes for small mistakes, running
labeled “gameplay.” in puzzle stardom, Puyo Puyo. If the virtue of being more than the sum of around to meet stressing deadlines or
The sense of “gameplay,” in this case, challenges were about who was the its parts. In a nutshell, arcade gaming waiting for ages in order to get rather
is defined by a number of common traits: best virtuosic player, now things have has evolved beyond the simple few modest retributions. Gaming, then,
relatively short length, one credit per changed: let’s compete one against the makes wrong things right, something that
play, and simple mechanics which are other, and see who the best player in a can’t be said, alas, of most of the other
usually simple to understand (the time direct confrontation is. possible experiences of life, in one way
of watching a demo, or an attract mode), In the meanwhile, normal one-player or another.
and usually hard to master. games like shmups were undergoing a See you on the high-score charts,
Why? radical process of innovation. It became a then.
Most of the time, when you play an question of taking an engine and discov-
arcade game (especially in these modern ering all of its nuances, the ultimate
times of great complexity) there is one challenge in problem-solving. Anyone
aspect that can be eviscerated to its most who appreciated intellectual challenges
incredible depths. Maybe I’m exagger- and bright colours saw the beginning of a

120 The Gamer’s Quarter Issue #6 Why Game? 121


The Future of Gaming Is in the
Palm of your Hand. Let Us Read It.
Handhelds and cell phones, joysticks and gamepads, all of them
leave their footprints on the lines of destiny written on your palm.
The Gamer’s Quarter, now resting in your hands, can read these signs.
Your Head Line is long but fragmented – you see the appeal of epic
games with sweeping, but adaptive narratives. But your Heart Line is
short and deep – you still lust for ephemeral games that are simple
but passionate. Your Life Line is gently curved – your history has been
shaped by joys and innovations. But your Fate Line is forked – what
will be in generations to come is uncertain. Read on, and let The
Gamer’s Quarter reveal your past, your present, and your future.

124 The Gamer’s Quarter Issue #6