Archive for the ‘old news’ Category

Know Your Onions

Sunday, October 12th, 2014

One of my English teachers in high school liked to say that at that level, we’re not actually learning history, we’re actually just learning History’s Greatest Hits. At the time I just laughed it off as a silly joke (he made lots of those), but, over time, I realized he was right. You go through school and get an overview of history (and just about every subject) by hitting the high points so you’re not completely ignorant of how the world and the US got where they are today. But the thing is, there’s so much history (and more of it all the time!) that it’s impossible to know it all. If you’re interested, though, you will go beyond the bare minimum required to pass your high school (and even college) classes. Most of us, though, probably don’t care about that kind of history enough to do more than watch the occasional documentary on PBS, or whatever Drunk History counts as. So, we know some history, but historians, people who love history, know lots more. That sounds obvious, but they do more than watch documentaries in order to feel smart. They do research: they read books (the horror!), they talk to other historians, they visit historic places, and so on. They know that there is more to history than everyone was required to learn in school, and they know that knowledge is out there, they just have to go get it. A lot of times they’ll specialize in one particular area and learn everything they can about it.

You probably think that being a hardcore historian is probably not for you, though. You may not care if Shakespeare actually wrote all his plays or not. You may think that Socrates is just some dead Greek dude who was the subject of a few jokes in the first Bill & Ted movie. Besides, you like video games (well, if you’re reading this site, there’s a pretty good chance that you like video games). Video games are way better than boring old history any day of the week.

But what about video game history?

Felipe Pepe wrote an intresting article on Gamasutra the other day lamenting that a lot of so-called ‘hardcore gamers’ don’t know much about the history of video games past five or ten years or so ago.

That is a disappointing realization.

Video games are becoming (or maybe have already become) a mainstream form of entertainment for everyone, but they’ve been around in one form another since at least the late 1940s. No, that’s not a typo.

Warning: From this point on, I’m going to probably sound like either a hipster or an old man yelling at a butt. You have been warned.

When I say “retro gaming” or “old video games” what do you think of? I’m going to guess that it’s Super Mario Bros or The Legend of Zelda. Maybe just the NES, Super NES, and maybe even the Genesis. Possibly Pong. You may even know that Pong was a big deal in the 80’s. It was, but it was an even bigger deal when it came out in 1972.

You may have heard about the Commodore 64, but do you know anything about it? Can you name five games for it without looking them up? Have you ever heard of the VIC-20? The PET? The Commodore 16? The Commodore 128? The Amiga? Do you know who Jack Tramiel was? Do you know why Bill Cosby is an important figure in Commodore’s history?

You might have heard about the Atari 2600, but what about the reissued Atari 2600 Jr.? The Atari 7800? The Atari 8-bit line? Do you know who Nolan Bushnell is?

Did you know that Texas Instruments had a line of computers that played games? Did you know that the TI-99/4A is actually a revised model of the TI-99/4? Did you know it supported a voice module to enable real actual speech? Do you know who its spokesperson was and why that’s important?

Do you know why games like Diablo are called ‘rogue-like’?

More importantly, have you ever actually played these games that are more than 5 years old? How about 10? 20? Further back? I don’t mean ‘load them up in an emulator and fart around with one for five minutes’, I mean actually play them for a decent amount of time. Try to finish one or set a high score (without abusing savestates, natch). Did you play something outside of the games you’ve heard of (the ‘video games greatest hits’)?

The Problem

While doing some independent research on Ironsword, the game infamous for having Fabio on the label, Wikipedia cites a GameSpy article that says:

You wouldn’t know it from the cover, but IronSword is actually a sequel to Wizards & Warriors. But thanks to the presence of Fabio on the cover, gamers got confused and thought they had accidentally picked up one of their mom’s romance novels.

It also posts a cropped picture of the label (with Fabio’s Fabulous Hair) with the caption that “Anything Fabio is involved in becomes automatically bad.”

I suppose the author was trying to be funny, I get that. But it’s pretty clear that the image was cropped to make that joke, since the full image clearly has, “Ironsword: Wizards & Warriors II” at the top of the label. And, I guess I could mistake a video game for a book if I had never seen a book or a video game before. And the game itself is actually pretty good.

The problem is threefold:

  1. Old consoles are hard to find, take up room to store, and emulating games is questionably legal.
  2. A lot of writers for big sites are in their 20s. That’s not necessarily a problem, but a lot of these games came out before they were born, and since old consoles are tough to find, they probably won’t bother. They just rely on Wikipedia, cruddy Youtube videos, and other sources of second-hand (or even third-hand and fourth-hand) information.
  3. Since old consoles are hard to find, and a lot of people won’t bother trying to find or buy them anyway, the echo-chamber effect starts to take over. For instance, Phalanx for SNES usually gets lambasted as having a dumb box featuring a hillbilly playing a banjo. The game must be terrible, whatever it is, right? Wrong. It’s a passable shoot-em-up. Or, ET for the Atari 2600 is the worst game ever made, right? Nope. ET isn’t even the worst game on the Atari 2600 (Sneak ‘n’ Peek, for example). Custer’s Revenge gets a bad rap as one of the worst games ever made (and it is bad, don’t get me wrong), but it was one of those porno games, like Bubble Bath Babes on the NES (don’t Search for these games at work). It was never sitting on the shelf at your local Hills next to Kaboom and Chopper Command.

What all this means is that we have a lot of people writing authoritatively on things that they know very little about. It’s like if you were writing for a music website, but the only thing you knew about music older than 10 years is the songs from your local radio station’s 80’s dance mix, and you just assume that everything pre-1970 is either The Twist or the Foxtrot.

So, what’s the solution?

Unfortunately, I can’t demand that everyone writing about video games broaden their horizons in any meaningful way (if only). But what I can do is demand excellence, both from myself, and from the publications that I read. At the risk of being labeled a pedant and a hipster and a fogey, I can point out why your top whatever list is dumb and wrong, like this list of the 100 best games of all time that only has one game made before 1990 on it (which is Mega Man II. That’s not even the best Mega Man game on the NES).

I don’t want the industry, the consumers, or the media to forget what got us here. I don’t want the past 50+ years of games distilled down to Pong, Pac-Man, some NES stuff, and then everything else. I want to be able to discuss Pix the Cat as being a cross between Pac-Man Championship Edition and Flicky without someone not knowing what I’m talking about. We need to have one eye on the past and another on the future. And a video camera on the present, I guess? I’m not good with metaphors. Video games have a vibrant history, and a lot of that history directly shapes what we have today. Several of those experiences have not been duplicated. They may have been refined or cast off as the medium evolves, but when we study them, it helps us to know why things are now the way they are.

Chasing Dreams

Saturday, September 6th, 2014

Regardless how the last few entries to this site have appeared, I don’t usually like to be maudlin. But I wanted to touch on a subject that I’ve talked about before: the aim of this site, and where it goes from here. But that requires a brief history lesson.

I registered the domain name on December 17, 2001 on a lark. I was in the midst of finals in college and we were learning all about web programming languages, scripting languages, databases, and lots of etc. I figured it would be fun to grab a domain name and do some of that for myself. At that time, services like Bust A Name didn’t really exist (or if they did, I didn’t know anything about them), so I drew inspiration from my surroundings, saw that I was wearing threadbare socks that day, found that was available and registered it, put together an old computer in my kitchen running Debian GNU/Linux, downloaded PHP-Nuke, and boom, I had (more or less) had a website.

I didn’t really have much of a goal at first. I just wanted to learn about putting together a website, and I think that I’ve succeeded in that (plus lots of other things). But my goals were ever changing, and I could never fully dedicate myself to a concrete vision for a long enough length of time. I would even spin up a sister site for a while once an idea struck, but intereste tended to fall off for any of them after too long, which left me discouraged. I also tried lots of things with this site, most of which didn’t really pan out. Like that failed attempt at turning this site from a regular ol’ blog way back in ought-three, to doing gamy-style blog-posts-masquerading-as-news, for a few weeks in ’07, right after I finished my short stint in the video game industry.

Image showing an uptick in the numbers of articles written from June through July of 2007

That was a productive two months

Yes, a lot of this material was covered a couple of years ago, so I won’t really be retreading that old ground again, but this site is important to me. It’s one of the first things that I created that I actually stuck with and added to and experimented with and learned from. So, it’s not going to go away any time soon, but I have to seriously look at it and decide what I want to do with it, where I want to go, and if maybe something is holding me back.

At one time I wanted to be come a professional web-guy that talked about video games, technology, and various other techy-related-things, and I have made some half-hearted attempts to crowbar this site into that mold, but that didn’t happen. In fact, very few of the things I’ve done here have even been seen by more than a handful of people (with a couple of exceptions).

So, why does this site struggle to find anything to ‘stick’? I have a few theories, and a lot of data, but I’ve narrowed down a few reasons that might not be the whole reason, but are enough to give me pause:

  1. This site has struggled with its identity for nearly 13 years. I never really had much of a focus for it, and whenever I did think I had a great idea, I shunted it off to another site where it never really gained much traction, and this one suffered from neglect in the meantime.
  2. I don’t market my site enough. When I first registered this site, I would go around to computers on campus and navigate as many computers as I could to, and leave the browsers there. I wouldn’t set it as their home page, but I would try to make it look like someone was browsing the site, lost track of time, and then just left the browser open to something I had written. It didn’t really work very well, but these days I might spend a half a day writing some article or another, and might give out a feeble, “Hey, I wrote something, check it out, I guess” on Twitter… and that’s it.
  3. It’s possible that the things I write here just aren’t that interesting to anyone but me. I don’t really have any hard statistics on how many people I have subscribed via RSS, but I’m pretty sure it’s not many. Any time I post something, I get a brief uptick in views, but little to no feedback. I might get a comment or two from a friend or family member (which is appreciated, mind), but content here doesn’t seem to get traction anywhere, which is concerning. That leads to frustration, which leads to a content drought, which leads to even fewer visits, etc.
  4. I admit it. Crummysocks is embarrassing to say. It was a cute flight of fancy when I was a struggling college student, but now, well, it’s kind of less cute. I don’t really think about it any more, until I am confirming some information over the phone with a real actual person. When they’re verifying my email address I can hear them trying to hold back the, “Crummy Socks? What on earth is that about?” in their voice, and then I’m embarrassed. I don’t even like telling people I know about the name of this site because it sounds kind of dumb any more.

I could go on and on, but I think there’s a lot of good takeaway here. I need to re-envision what it is I want for my website to be. It’s probably time to de-emphasize this site (hey, 13 years is a good run) and put my full effort behind something a little more… respectable, I guess?

Not that this site is going to go away any time soon. You don’t just work on something off and on for thirteen years and then just casually discard it like… something funny… that you casually discard. No, now is the time to focus. To take all of the things I’ve learned from my failures, creating a YouTube series, running a video game marathon, and all of the disparate things that I’ve learned to do, and put them all together to make… something.

Okay, I haven’t actually figured out what that thing is yet. But these weekly updates are to help me shake off some of the writer’s rust (that’s a thing, right), which is definitely a step in the direction that I want to go.

I don’t have any gaming guilty pleasures

Sunday, August 24th, 2014

Every once in a while, probably to foster discussion, I see a website or a twitter account ask what gaming guilty pleasures that I have, and my answer is always the same: I don’t have any.

So, what is a guilty pleasure, anyway? A guilty pleasure is something that you enjoy (game, music, movie, activity, whatever) that you feel guilty about liking, and maybe want other people to not know that you do.

That’s odd, right? It’s not just me, is it? You have a thing that you like, but you have to keep it a secret so that other people don’t find out about it, because if they do find out about you liking the thing, then they’re going to think you’re weird. Especially if they all dislike the thing. Then you’ll be the only one in the group that likes the thing that everyone else doesn’t.

Which is not that big of a deal.

Maybe it’s because I grew up at a time where video games weren’t as mainstream as they are today. It was a time where having an interest in computers and video games was something that weird outcasts did, so it didn’t really matter what I liked. The other outcasts and I would talk about whatever games we liked amongst ourselves, and that was pretty much that. We liked a lot of the same games, sure, but we also liked games that the others didn’t, or even that the others had never heard of. But that meant we had more games to try and like or not like as appropriate.

Or maybe it’s because I’m comfortable in forming my own opinions without worrying what other people are going to think. Especially on matters as trivial as the kind of entertainment I like. I realize that this might sound like I’m being preachy or like a chapter out of a self-help book, but I don’t have a problem telling people what kinds of games I like because my friends don’t mind if like something that they don’t. Sure, they might think it’s a little weird that I don’t like the newest Shootymans 3 game or whatever, but I think it’s just as weird that they do like it. Besides, with friends lists, always online consoles, and game collections and activity being on the public Internet, trying to hide a game you’re enjoying playing from your friends is borderline impossible:

Oh, look, I spent 12 hours playing Faerie Solitaire, or I played a video game based on professional wrestling on the Xbox 360, or I imported a cutesy puzzler from Japan to play on my PS3.

So, I’m going to continue on, liking what I want to, and disliking what I want to without feeling bad about it in the slightest or worrying about what other people might think of something as trivial as my preferred video games.

Operation: Get Stuff Done

Sunday, August 3rd, 2014

I’ve written on more than one occasion about how ponderously large my video game backlog has gotten. I would tell myself, “I’m saving up so I’ll have something to do when I retire.” Jokingly at first, and then semi-seriously. I kind of stopped saying that when I realized that the backlog had gotten so enormous that, at the rate I’m acquiring games today, even if I retired tomorrow, I might not be able to finish them all.

I mentioned before that a big reason that my backlog has almost taken on a life of its own has to do with the social component. Most of my friends and I have diverged in what kinds of video games we play, so there’s not as many things we can discuss about whatever game we’re playing, and there’s no friendly rivalry to see who can get all of the Gold Skulltulas first, or whatever.

But I think that’s only a part of the equation.

The second part is that there are just too many video games. There are so many video games coming out these days, and between the ludicrous number of bundles out there the wallet-destroying digital sales (Steam, Origin, GOG, etc.), it’s very easy, and sometimes very cheap, to quickly get so many games so quickly that the sheer number of the things hits you like a tidal wave. It looks daunting, but you can steel yourself. You know you can do this, you’ve been playing video games for years.

So you start trying to figure out what you want to play and analysis paralysis sets in. Do you want to play something relatively short, or do you want to play something that will take dozens of hours to complete? Which of these looks like it will be long enough, but not too long? Will I have time to play it around the times where I have to do Grown Up Stuff(tm)? Will I be able to put it down for a couple of days or even weeks and then be able to come back and remember where I was? What if it’s no good? The critics were all over the place with some of these games, what if I wasted my money on it? What if my instincts were right and I find that a game is actually good, in spite of the critical score. What if it was critically acclaimed, and I thought it was boring?

All of these whatifs were really slowing me down. I’ve been getting dragged down into analyzing the minutiae of my potential game experience and hemming and hawing about what game to play so much that instead of playing games, I’ve just been thinking about how nice it would be if I could play some of these games in my backlog, but I just don’t have time.

Or is that really true?

I wasn’t sure. I mean, I have more responsibilities now than I did when I was younger. I have a full time job, a house, I have to do my own laundry, buy and prepare my own food, maintain my own vehicle, and so on. But I’m not actively doing one of those things every moment of every day. For example, I do sleep on occasion. But what do I do with all of my time? Where does it go? I decided to find out by my typical method: overanalyzing the situation, to find out. And that means, making a chart.

Pretend there’s a chart here that shows what I’m likely to be doing at any given hour of the day.

The chart was interesting. It showed me that I have about 30 hours per week where I’m doing nothing in particular. It also showed me that even though I don’t have an 8-5 job any more, that I’ve still got my sleep schedule set up like I do. And that means that I’ve got a couple of hours that I’m spending idle every morning that I could be using for something besides sitting around waiting for time to go to work. I also have more time during the weekend than I originally thought, even though it’s pretty well scattershot through the day.

That’s encouraging.

That means that I do have time to get some game playing in, and I can slowly whittle down my backlog if I can manage to shoehorn it into the timeslots I have available. But, there’s another problem.


It’s weird to think that I would ever need to get myself mentally motivated to play video games, an activity that I have enjoyed for most of my life, but sometimes that motivation just isn’t there. I could play a game anyway, and see if that forces me to get motivated to play it more, but I don’t think I want to do that. Forcing myself to do something when I don’t really want to seems like a good way to sour me on the whole thing, which seems like a bad idea. But I can use that time to do other things related to games. I could update my blog (see the last few weeks’ worth of updates), I could read something, watch a video, create a video, and so on.

*A very important aside, I know that loss of interest in activities that you used to enjoy can be a possible sign of depression. I’m pretty sure that I don’t have that, but if you think you might, nothing I say in this article is going to help except this: I encourage you to find someone qualified to help with depression and they will help you. Depression is a serious issue, and not something that this article (or any other article on a crappy blog site) is qualified to help with.*

I also want to set some goals for myself so that I can revisit this post somewhere down the line and see if I’ve actually made any progress in whittling down the backlog. Feel free to follow along or add your own:

  • Play something for a few minutes every day.
    • Even if it’s something that I’ve played to death, playing something for a few minutes is going to keep my momentum going to tackle something bigger
  • Ignore the Backloggery
    • The Backloggery is great, but it’s a pain to remember to go update it when I buy something, when I finish something, when I 100% complete something, when I start playing something else, etc. etc. Plus, there are no penalties for failure, and no real reward for succeeding, either
  • Don’t go for 100% completion.
    • I wasn’t doing this much these days, anyway, but I need to avoid trudging through a game, trying to collect ant heads or whatever for some unlock or a trophy or something.
  • Don’t rush through the game, either
    • I’m weird, I know, but I hate rushing through a game the first time I play it. I like to soak in all the ambiance and immerse myself into it if I can.
  • Play one new game per month
    • This one is going to be tricky, and my not be sustainable. But the idea here is to at least try something in the backlog instead of letting it sit there and rot, especially if it’s one of the shorter games, to see if it’s even something that I’ll like. I’ve bought some duds before, and didn’t find out about it for over a year because it took me that long to get to them.
  • If a game is terrible, shelve it
    • This goes hand-in-hand with the above. If I try out the new game and it stinks, well, then I just won’t play it any more and I’ll move on to the next one. I don’t need to force myself to slog though it to the end, hoping it will get better. It might, but I don’t really want to waste my time not having fun now for promises of something that might be kind of fun later. I need to trust my instincts, if it’s not fun now it probably won’t be fun later, either.
  • Limit MMORPG time
    • MMORPGs are great, but they will sink and steal time like no other activity I know. And, since they never really end, there’s always something for you do to in them. I had to kill my World of Warcraft subscription a while back because that was all I was doing with my free time at the time. Now, since there are so many MMORPGs that are free to play, it’s incredibly easy to get lost running around a virtual world doing things for hours and hours without actually spending a dime. That’s almost worse than a paid subscription. A paid subscription makes you feel like you need to play something to get your money’s worth out of it, a free subscription is always there, waiting on you to have an hour or three to kill, and that can be dangerous.

Of course, these are only guidelines. Who knows if I can actually stick to them or not, but I won’t know if I don’t try. I’ll be refining them as I go on, seeing what works and what doesn’t. I don’t expect to ever have a backlog of zero unless I just sell all of my games and consoles (fat chance of that happening any time soon), but I can do more to get it pared down, it’s just going to take some work.

And, who’s afraid of a little work?

Let’s Play!

Thursday, June 14th, 2012

Back around 2006 or so, some of the folks over at the Something Awful forums apparently decided to start playing through some video games and providing commentary via screenshots and captions. Which is a great way to vicariously experience a game while you’re browsing the Internet at work.

Then, sometime in 2007, the Video Let’s Plays started to appear. This was essentially the same thing, but instead of pictures and captions, we get full video and running commentary. Kind of like one of those old hint videos in the 80s/90s, but going through the entire game. (Without the commentary, it’s what’s called a Longplay)

There are lots of kinds of Let’s Play videos, but I think I can break them down into four categories:

  1. People who play through games just to get angry and yell/cry.
  2. People who play through games without a specific goal, just to play until game over (they may or may not complete the game)
  3. People who have a vlog, but with a video game playing instead of showing their face
  4. People who play through the game to completion, showing off gotchas, tips, and tricks, while providing interesting commentary

The barriers to making a Let’s Play video these days are absurdly low. All you really need is a game to play, a video capture device, a microphone, maybe some video editing software, and an Internet connection. Since I had all of those things handy (and there are about 7 million Let’s Play videos on Youtube already), I figured I’d dip my toe into the world of Let’s Play as an excuse to play through some of the games just kind of sitting around here, but I didn’t want to do any of the first three, since they’re pretty boring to watch. So, I figured I’d give #4 a try, which you can see below.

So, if you ever wanted to know what I actually sound like, or if I actually have any video game chops, now’s your chance to find out!

Finishing business

Monday, February 20th, 2012

I’ve written a couple of times about a problem that impacts a select few (i.e. “most”) of us video game aficionados as we get older: too many games, and not enough time to play them all.

The problem, really, is twofold: I, someone who is technically an adult, finally has landed a ‘real job’, and, thus, have real actual money to spend on games pretty much whenever I want to. And those games, as a consequence of a medium that’s maturing, are getting longer and more complex. But, as a consequence of having that ‘real job’ and ‘responsibilities’, I just don’t have the time that I used to have to dedicate myself to them.

As a result, I’ve been playing games less and less, and writing about them even less than that (hello down there, blog entries from 2010!)

I guess that means that I’m burned out. That I’ve said everything that I need to say, played everything I need to play, and need to move on to the next stage of my life, right?

Uh, well, no.

No, it would be really easy for me to throw my hands up, give up, and slowly lose whatever gaming and blogging mojo I have left. To reminisce about the days when I would get excited about a new release, or find a hidden gem in the clearance bin, or the times when I used to blog about silly things only tangentially related to video games.

But I’m not going to do that.

Instead, I’m going to make time. I’m going to make time to do the things I like to do. Starting with that pile of games that I bought because they looked interesting and because I would get to them ‘some day’. To do that, I’ve started up a channel over at where I can share my progress with the world.

And that should give me plenty of fodder to keep this little slice of the Internet going for a while longer.

Geez, given the sheer amount of blogs whose last post is some variation of, “I’m not dead”, you’d think I’d have enough sense to not make one here.

Pressure’s on!

People spending more money on video games than on music

Wednesday, June 27th, 2007

Ars Technica is running a piece saying that in the US, sales of video games in dollars is overtaking sales of music.

“The information not only reflects the gaming industry’s strong trajectory but also serves as a painful reminder that the music industry continues to suffer. EMI recently reported, however, that sales of its DRM-free songs and albums have been good since the launch of iTunes Plus, with CD sales of those same albums dropping during that time. If the gains made by selling DRM-free music online outpace the losses from CD sales, EMI’s decision to go DRM-free will prove to be a good one, and the rest of the industry may follow suit.”

This revelation didn’t produce many gasps in my household, mostly because our spending of video games occasionally outpaces spending on food. Though I’m willing to accept that we may be a statistical anomaly.

Link!(via the Slashdot).