Following on from my last blog post, the next must see film, opening next week is Tron Legacy. The original Tron film was something of a game changer (quite literally) in both cinematic and computer game visuals and technology. For those who are thirty years and under Tron was an computer generated and animated film with live action scenes, one of the first modern generation. The thin plot was about an argument between software engineers who end up battling it out inside a computer game. The film then spawned an arcade computer game (rather than the other way around today) and the rest is history.
I’ll not say tron had a big influence on my decision later in life to persue a career in electronics then software engineering but Im sure it didnt do any harm.
Id always been interested in video games starting with my very own binatone pong console. The pong game was said to inspire the Tron director but it inspired a lot of people, myself included.
After that it was the american type consoles, such as the Atari with games by Atari and Activision (disaffected atari employees spinoff) that were popular at first and I had one of the Atari 2600 ‘woodies’.
The American market was primarily a console with hardware cartridge market which ultimately ended with the crash of 1983-4 whereas in Europe we were using our home computers our parents had bought us for ‘home study’ for games instead.
The likes of the spectrum, bbc, commodore etc thrived whilst the console market crashed, one of the reasons being that console games were expensive whereas games for the spectrum were on normal cassette tape and whilst still expensive at between 5 and 10 quid (yes really) were readily available. Of course the piracy options were limitless as double deck tape decks would just allow straight copying.
In both cases overspend on licensing (such as ET for the atari), overestimating the worldwide popularity of consoles, massive advertising spend and opening up the market competition led to the computer games crash which would leave the industy in a low point for a number of years. Obviously no parallels with today then
The next big thing was more my brothers generation, the nintendo nes, again a cartridge system which nintendo would continue with through the N64 until they finally wised up with the superb Wii console and the low cost and family targetted nature of Nintendo would make sure it was a success.
In the meantime the only real gaming I had was on PCs and it wasnt until the advent of games like Wolfenstein 3D and pga golf that I started to get interested again. When I was doing my MSc Id spend many late nights in the PC lab compiling fortran programs which would take an absolute age to compile, when they worked. So I’d while away the hours with the next pc running Wolfenstein or pga golf. It was then I got introduced to the single person shooter motion sickness that means I still cant play those games until today. In the middle of a Wolfenstein Nazi killing session I had to run into the toilets in the lab, throw up, then back to the game. Would I be that sad these days? Of course I would.
The consoles were still interesting and many a night I would borrow my brothers console then head over to a house with some of my uni mates for a alcohol and football game tournament session. Back in the days when it was just up down left right and shoot as opposed to the X O YX double click backflip shoot options today. Oh and you were allowed to kick the goalie and referees back then too.
It wasnt until the first playstation came out that I started to play games again and this was another step up from the previous games. The games were reasonably affordable with the option of having your playstation chipped so you could play games from around the world. The internet was starting to grow and I was purchasing more DVDs from the States/Canada than I was at home so it made sense to be able to access all the games across the world.
Dipping slightly back into the console wars and the comments above about franchises and cartridges and spend etc, the N64 (Nintendo 64) cartridge system had the star wars franchise games so in a moment of weakness I bought one of them as well as the three Star Wars games available. This was about 4 days before I got an email to say I’d won a Sega Dreamcast, an ill fated console which I thought had the best graphics and best games of the three.
Eventually the Playstation would become almost dominant of the three with the Sega falling by the wayside with Sega left to just deal with games software rather than consoles. I always meant to get a Playstation 2 on the day Metal Gear Solid 2 was released but work commitments and that old ‘growing up’ thing finally hit me.
Then I did something I thought I would never do, willingly buy a microsoft product, the xbox360. Im now on my fifth xbox360 in 6 years, each one has been a warranty replacement, even though I still have every other console Ive ever owned and at times of taking these photos, every one of them still worked.
Of course in another impulse purchase I saw that Punch Out – the old arcade boxing classic – was released on the Wii with balance board so you could actually stand on the board, duck and dive and punch with your arms and it would work on screen. Punch Out was an arcade favourite when I was 15-16 but I didnt realise that it would result in so many pulled muscles as an older middle aged gentleman.
Now we have a multi billion games industry with mega endorsements and games outselling all other forms of home entertainment and one of the true growth industries. Back when I was a kid you played video games you were a loner and a bit of a saddo, now with network connections and online game playing you can play with your schoolmates, form teams, and play with people from the other side of the world, shouting at you in a language you dont even recognise never mind understand. The point came home to me when the 8 year old son of a friend of mine said he liked to get up at 5am to play his xbox as he could go around shooting drunk americans. Whatever floats your boat I suppose.
On a parallel to the consoles, the simple games still continue, last night I had the xbox360, wii, dreamcast, playstation, n64 all sitting in front of me but I spent a half hour playing angry birds on my android tablet pc, followed by a half hour of a flight control game. Sometimes the simplest ideas are the best.
The games industry now reminds me of the highs of the early 80s, when the secretive Ultimate sponsored a racing team IIRC. Time will tell if it goes the same way but even with the recession and seemingly a slow down on the next gen consoles, things like the xbox kinect and playstation move point in the next direction, more energetic, user activity.
Only problem is those wee cameras remind me of the camera in tron that…