It is 1981. Somewhere between testing and mass release, interest in Nintendo’s Space Invaders clone Radar Scope had cooled. It’s not that the game was poor. It’s just that six months earlier Pac-Man had changed the arcade landscape, and in the narrowing landscape for Invaders clones there was only room for excellence. Do we order Radar Scope, or do we order Galaga? Easy choice.
Enter the slacker art school kid who was only ever hired as a favor to his family. Shigeru Miyamoto was told to recoup losses by designing another game for the returned Radar Scope hardware, preferably aimed at US audiences. Inspired by Pac-Man, Miyamoto took pretty much all of Iwatani’s new ideas of scenario, character, empathy, and play narrative, and pretty much built a whole game on them without the traditional clutter.
You may have read the first part of this column in the December 2009 Play Magazine. It was intended as a single article, and the start of a whole series of such lists. In the event, I was asked (due to my incorrigible verbosity) to break the article into three pieces; only the first found its way to print. Here is the column in full.
Used to be, when a game was successful enough to demand a sequel, the design team would do its best to avoid repeating itself. Though I’m sure they mostly wanted to keep their job interesting, the practical effect was that if the games were different, they would both remain relevant. In an arcade, Donkey Kong Jr. could stand handsomely by its father, each shilling for its own share of the coin. You might call them companion pieces, rather than updates or replacements.
When home consoles hit, design teams were even more modest, and were generally left to do their own thing. So starting on the NES, you will see a certain trend: successful game spawns weird, only tenuously related sequel; fans of the original scratch their heads; a greatly expanded dev team releases a third game, which is basically just the first again, on steroids; fans think it’s the best thing ever, because it’s exactly the same, except better! And to hell with that weird second chapter.
Thing is… usually the second game is the most interesting you’ll ever see. Continue reading “The Playlist / Those Tenuous Twos”
Originally published by Next Generation, under the title “FEATURE: A Short History of Touch”.
A few years ago, Nintendo launched the DS with a vaguely unsettling catch phrase: “Touching is Good”. Their PR team sent disembodied plastic hands to everyone on their mailing list, in the process creeping out Penny Arcade. As creepy and forward as the campaign was, it had a point. Touching historically has been good, for the game industry.
On a whole, videogames are an awfully lonely set of affairs. They paint an alluring well, then give the player rocks to throw, to see what ripples. From Spacewar! to Pong, you’re always shooting or batting or throwing some kind of projectile, to prod the environment. Even in some of the most exploration-heavy games, like Metroid, the only way to progress is to shoot every surface in sight, with multiple weapons. Little wonder art games like Rez are based on the shooter template: it’s about as basic a videogame as you can get. See things, shoot things, you win. If things touch you, you lose. Except for food or possessions, generally you can only touch by proxy; toss coins into the well; ping things, to see how they respond. To see if they break. Continue reading “Touch Generations”
It’s been said that each of us only has one tune to play; all we ever do is change the way we play it. It’s also been said that Donkey Kong and Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto’s tune originates in his personal hobbies, filtered through a love of Japanese and Western fairy tales. The Legend of Zelda has its roots in the fields and caves behind Miyamoto’s childhood home. Pikmin comes from Miyamoto’s garden. And Donkey Kong 3 is based on the premise that it is fun to spray DDT up a gorilla’s asshole. While being attacked by bees.
This article was originally intended as a conclusion to NextGen’s 2006 TGS coverage. Then it got held back for two months as an event piece. By the time it saw publication its window had sort of expired, so a significantly edited version went up under the title “What The New Consoles Really Mean”.
So we’re practically there. TGS is well over, the pre-orders have begun; Microsoft’s system has already been out for a year (and is now graced with a few excellent or important games). The generation is right on the verge of turning, and all those expensive electronics you’ve been monitoring for the last few years, half dreading out of thriftiness and secret knowledge that there won’t be anything good on them for a year anyway, will become the new status quo. Immediately the needle will jump and point at a new horizon, set around 2011, and everyone will start twiddling his thumbs again. By the time the drama and dreams resume, I’ll be in my early thirties, another American president will have served nearly a full term – and for the first time in my life I really can’t predict what videogames will be like. Continue reading “Defining the Next Generation”