Tuesday, 25 October 2011

A history of computer games, part two: 1980's - 1990's

1977 saw the first video game crash which caused a huge quantity of video game companies and their consoles to go bust. This was largely due to the excessive number of less-capable consoles and Pong duplicates being sold without profit; thus causing a glut to appear in the market. The release of Taito's space invaders in 1978 essentially ended the crash with its resounding success and thrusted the video games industry into its golden era.

Video game arcade cabinets could now be found outside the arcades, in shopping malls, eating establishments and other areas. Other popular games by rivalling companies started to appear like Namco's Galaga and Pac-man. Sales of arcade cabinets increased dramatically with revenue in North America reaching $2.8 billion by 1980. The video game industry even managed to surpass Hollywood and the music industry by 1981 and more game consoles were begining to appear in homes.

Second-generation consoles, such as the Colceco Telstar and the Mattel Intellivision were being released. While both were successful products they failed to out-sell their main competetor: the Atari 2600. I personally believe that Atari had a more desirable line-up of games and the controller was superior to the other two consoles' controllers. The Intellivison featured a strange numeric keypad that wasn't particularly easy to control and the Telstar didn't feature a controller at all but an interface built directly into the console making it even less practical. The Atari's controller revolutionised gaming with its brilliant joystick controller which has survived in variations to this day.

Then Atari went on to produce to produce their next console to compete with the ColecoVision: The Atari 5200 which featured improved hardware and new range of games. However the console suffered from one fatal flaw: The controller was unresponssive and completely impracticle. Its size and appearance was also highly unapealing and ironicly, the 2600 continued to outsell the 5200.

The video game industry was booming until the arrival of the personal computer which not only catered to video gaming but also marketed itself as a proffesional business machine unlike the numerous video game consoles designed for a specific function. This meant more households were purchasing computers rather than consoles. Another area in which video game companies failed is in correct copyrighting protocals, meaning 3rd party companies could produce games for the Atari 2600 without Atari receiving any of the profit. The assembly of 3rd party game programmers was brought about by the lack of recognition they received from video game companies. They had fixed salaries, regardless of how well their games sold and were denied proper acrediting. The first 3rd party company in the video game industry was Activision.

The above and the fact that numerous companies, even businesses that wouldn't be remotely associated with gaming like Quaker Oats, began producing games. This flooded the market with games and consoles. Furthermore, Atari began to lose it's standards and began producing lacking games such as the Atari's version of Pac-Man which featured glitchy gameplay and disapointing graphics. However, the last straw which irrevocably broke the gaming industry was Atari's E.T. Not only did they pay Steven Speilberg in excess of $25 million for the rights to produce the game but they only allowed for 6 weeks to produce and ship the game. The game did not sell, and they were left with 5 million unsold copies. Not only were Atari producing poor quality games, but they insisted on selling them at full price. This caused consumers to start purchasing cheaper games from 3rd party companies. Atari gained only 15% growth in 1982, but had promised as much as 50% to share holders. This led Atari's stocks to crash and led to the great crash of 1983.

It would seem that the video game industry was dead, but a Japanese company called Nintendo decided to try and market their console, the Famicon to the western audience. In 1986 they released the Nintendo Entertainment System and it became an instant success. Nintendo analysed the market and ensured they didn't repeat previous mistakes made by the industry. For one, they produced a special lock-in chip that would only allow games endorsed or aproved by Nintendo to run on their system. Not only did this mean that they could regulate what games appeared on the NES, ensuring quality but it also allowed them to receive a sum of the profits from games produced by 3rd party companies.

A select few other companies rose up and took Nintendo's cue such as Sega and their console, the Genesis. This started what was reffered to as "the cosole wars" with both companies producing, not only quality games, but a wide variety of gamestyles. No longer were video games confined to tennis simulations or the countless space-themed shooting games but a whole range of different genres began to appear. Action adventure games and role-playing games were only 2 of many new genres that oppened up. The concept of producing quality games on a select few consoles in the industry became a staple and continued over to modern gaming and consoles.

Another area in which Nintendo took the reigns was of the hand-held video game console. The Gameboy was released in 1989 and was a world-wide phonomenon; never before were gamers able to take their gaming experience on the go. Sega took its cue and released the Sega Game Gear, a similar handheld showcasing its own line of games.

In 1992 Nintendo released the Super Nintendo Entertainment System and Sega released the Sega Megadrive. Both consoles boasted 16-bit graphics capabilities and a higher standard for video games. Each companies mascots and their games: Mario and Sonic both became flagships for their respective consoles and were hailed as some of the greatest games in the history of video games.

At this point Atari was was being pushed into the background; the Atari 2600 had become obsolete and the Atari 5200 failed to impress. They released the Atari Lynx soon after the Gameboy and Gamegear was released and failed to sell as well as the competition. Being more expensive and offering a less exciting library of games saw its downfall. In 1993 Atari relased the Jaguar in attempt to overtake the competition. Atari relied on the fact that their console was 64-bit - essentially 4 time the graphical capabilities of the competition - and even went as far as to slander Nintendo in their adverts. The console was a huge failure due to the lack of quality flagship titles, 3rd party support and games that were poorly developed. At this point Atari ceased to produce consoles and later re-appeared as a 3rd party developer.

In 1994 Sega released the Saturn: A 32-bit console that used CD-based games as aposed to the more expensive cartridges it used in its previous consoles. At the time Sony also released their own console: the Playstation which also featured 32-bit processing power and a disc-based game medium. In 1996 Nintendo released the Nintendo 64 and Super Mario 64 along with it; which is recognised as the greatest evolution in 3d platforming that has shaped the way games have materialised to this day.

During the next few years notable games such as Resident Evil, Golden Eye and Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time were being released and boasting exciting new gameplay styles and raising the bar for video game quality. All three consoles were selling well along with their games, though Nintendo and Sony were overtaking Sega.

In 1999 Sega released what would become their final console: the Sega Dreamcast. The dreamcast sold well thanks to the support of launch titles like Soul Calibur, Sonic Adventure, Marvel vs Capcom and House of the Dead 2. This allowed the Dreamcast to enjoy success during its first year until the release of Sony's next console: the Playstation 2.  

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

A history of computer games, part one: 1950's - 1970's

The concept of the computer game began as early as 1947 when Thomas T. Goldsmith, Jr and Estle Ray Mann requested the production of a device they called the "cathode ray tube amusement device". It consisted of a video screen which displayed a blue light meant to represent a reticule, a knob used to maneuver the dot and a button used to fire; which resulted in a blurring of the dot if the target was hit. They produced a simplified target-firing simulation in which an overlay made to resemble a World War 2 radar was placed over the display unit. The object of the game was to destroy the planes, which was achieved by swiftly lining the reticule up with enemy planes and firing at them. This was the precursor to future video game development.

In 1952 A. S. Douglas produced an interactive noughts and crosses game on a similar device called a EDSAC computer which also utilized cathode ray tube. This, however was not intended as entertainment but rather to support a thesis on "human-computer interaction". The game involved challenging the computer to a game of noughts and crosses, which demonstrates an early use of artificial intelligence in gaming.

In 1958 William Higinbotham created "Tennis for Two": a game which utilized an oscillioscope, an analog computer and two primitave controllers; a closer set-up to modern gaming components. It displayed a side-view of a tennis court and a ball that needed to be hit over the net from both sides. Whats interesting is that the ball actual encorporated an accurate physics engine. Unlike the previous two entries this game was produced purely for entertainment purposes; a concept carried through to modern game producting.

By 1962 Steve Russel produced "Spacewar!", said to be the first video game intended for use on a computer. Russel didn't think to copyright his game at the time since the computer the game was played on was roughly the size of a refrigerator and cost $120'000 to run, however, Spacewar! became the blueprint for countless future video games. The game introudced more advanced gaming mechanics: two players controlled a ship each where the goal was to shoot eachothers ships whilst avoiding being shot themselves. The game also encorporated a representation of a 3D playing field which hadn't yet been attempted.

In 1966 Ralph Baer and Bill Harrisson invented the first game system that could be hooked up to a standard television set along with the first form of the light gun. Both huge strides in video game technology. They produced a game called "Chase" which involved a square chasing another square along with 6 other games including a target practice game.

In 1968 the DGC Nova minicomputer was created, which involved putting all of the computer parts into a single box - the same principle applied to video game consoles as well.

1972 saw the release of what is widely believed to be the first real video game and the first to reach wide mainstream appeal. Pong, produced by Atari, took the same concept as "Tennis for Two" and produced a 2-dimensional interface displaying two paddles and a line down the centre of the screen representing a net. Two players would take part in trying to hit the ball past the opposite side of the screen to score. It ran on the Magnavox Odyysey: the first home video game console. Iterations of Pong would later be ported to numerous future consoles and was the game that initiated the start of the video games industry.

After this point in time more video game consoles and computers were being produced and released: examples of these were the Altair 8800 (1975), the Apple 1 (1976) and the Commodore pet (1978). But probably most notable of the time period was the release of the Atari 2600, which many recognise as the first commercially successful video game console. It was also the first system to introduce the joystick, which would form the archetype for future controllers and later, analog sticks.

About Me

My name is James George Oakes and I have loved video games since as far back as I can remember. Growing up I was always drawn to the colourful visuals of the early 16-bit games (super mario all stars being my first game and the SNES being my first console). I was always curious as to how these magnificent moving pictures were created and fascinated by the depth of imagination that went into them.

I was born in England but moved to the middle east when I was 3 and continued to live there till I was 18. Experiencing life in such a different habitat was an interesting experience and allowed me to gain a much greater perspective of the world. Navigatting the interior of a pyramid in Giza, Egypt and exploring the vast city of Dubai are amongst my most insightful experiences. I am of English, French and Indian heritage, but I don't feel my origins have played a significant part in shaping the person I am today - I would probably credit that to people I've met, places I've been, books I've read, music I listen to and films I have watched. However it can be argued that video game producers today posess the ability to create a virtual emulation encorporating all of these concepts into one coherent experience.

Another huge factor in my life is the art I appreciate and the work I produce myself. I love traditionalist art techniques and recognise Leonardo DaVinci as possibly the greatest artist to ever grace history. His highly accurate workings on the human anatomy fuel my own love for the intricate shapes and personality of the body. I especially love to draw faces as I feel a single facial expression can tell an entire story about what the person is feeling. I also prefer art, especially encorporating people, not to be too "pretty", as I feel it simply offers a shallow representation of the subject matter. I find grotesque imagery to be far more real and thought-provoking.

My dream job would be to become a character design artist for a gaming company such as SquareEnix or Konami. I am unsure as to whether SquareEnix would want me as the characters of the Final Fantasy series (a personal favourite of mine) tend to be pristine and particularly lacking representations of what real people are like. I would love to produce intriguing characters that were faulted, visually and mentally but also entirely unique.

The skills required for such a job position are: having an excellent grasp of building anatomy partnered with exceptional drawing skills. A good feel for composition, perspective and colour theory and a good understanding of texture and surface quality. Extensive experience with digital painting programes as well as traditionalist materials and ofcourse, a vast imagination. Ofcourse self-management skills would also be an essential asset.

I believe I have good drawing skills but there is great room for improvement and the agency to learn more. I will also need to become acustomed with using digital painting programes and a graphics tablet, which I am looking forward to working with. I believe I also have alot of imagination but there is definetly more that can fuel it. I also believe I have good knowledge on what might appeal to the target audience and what might intrigue them. I am greatly anticipating the learning experience ahead of me and the oppertunity to improve myself.