Challenging Stage

Here’s an interesting little blurb about a talk by Nolan Bushnell, who founded Atari and basically intented video games back in the 1970’s. This bit in particular caught my eye:

In 1982, he tells us, there were 44 million gamers. Today, there are 18 million. Where’d they all go? “Complexity lost the casual gamer,” he says.

I think he’s right. When I was a kid, during the early “golden age” of videogames, you’d have needed a cattle prod to get me out of the arcade, or away from a friend’s Atari or my own ColecoVision at home. Today though, I don’t own a Playstation or XBox, and have no particular intention of buying one. I don’t as a rule enjoy current computer games, either. Doom3, as marvelous as it looks, only held my attention for a couple of days. I get much more enjoyment out of a quick game of Galaga courtesy of MAME, or Asteroids Deluxe on a full-sized cabinet I weaseled off of a dealer a few years back.

Sure, today’s games look great, and they’re far more complex than anything we ever dreamed of 25 years ago, but what the heck–I don’t have the time for all that. I want to get in, blow up some stuff for five or ten minutes, then get back to my life. I don’t have 40 hours to blow trying to work my way to the “end” of a game. And besides which, 99 times out of 100 (well, okay, more like 19 times out of 20, since that’s about as many modern games as I’ve ever tried), the gameplay isn’t enough to compel me into spending more time in the first place.

That was the real genius of the 70’s and 80’s games, I think. When you only had 4K or 16K of memory to get the whole thing written in, you had to concentrate on great gameplay first, and then cram in as many bells and whistles as you had room left for (which wasn’t much). Two and a half decades later, the best of the 80’s games are still more fun–and that’s from the first 30 seconds–than anything that takes millions of dollars to produce, and arrives by the gigabyte on a DVD-ROM.

76 Responses to “Challenging Stage”

  1. JonBuck Says:

    I miss shooters. A simple game where you can blast away at endless waves of fighters/spaceships/what-have-you. Even standard side-scrolling “platformer” games are very rare.

  2. Pursuit Says:

    Agreed, I used to like shootin’ at stuff and blowin’ it up. It blowed up real good!

    Galaga was my favorite. If I could find one of those old arcade versions for my home, I might never leave the house again.

  3. Steven Den Beste Says:

    It’s been a hell of a long time since I’ve seen any game which looked as if it would be a fun to play as “Master of Orion”.

  4. John Noonan Says:

    I have an xbox, but for the exact reasons you mention, I play 8-bit nintendo on my computer (via emulator) more often than I’ll play Madden 2006 or Halo.

    What a cool post Steve.

  5. Mark Jones Says:

    I never got into Master of Orion. My all-time favorite is X-Com: UFO Defense. If I could find a version that would run on my computer today, I’d still be playing it. I want the “spend twenty minutes (or three hours) running around shooting bad guys” games–and those are what I play. Battlefield 1942 and Enemy Territory are both online multi-player games. But unlike most other MMORPGs, they’re simple shooters. No XP, no complicated quests. Jump onto a server, run around, have a blast, then sign off when you’re done. I’ve spent endless hours with these two games.

    On the other hand, I have a whole stack of more complex games I bought, toyed with, and never played again.

  6. Eric J Says:

    I don’t think there’s been a truly original game idea since Tetris.

    An argument could probably be made for Katamari Damacy, but I’ve never played it.

  7. pdb Says:

    His numbers are completely wrong. Even if he’s talking about the US only, Sony alone has sold more than 50M Playstation 2 consoles in the USA.

    It’s telling that the company that he’s praising is in the tail end of a 10 year decline, and the company he’s slamming is the most successful video game company ever.

    Having gone through an Atari 2600 -> NES -> Genesis/SNES childhood, it is my opinion that the old games SUCK. Linear, repetitive, opaque with no immersiveness. I picked up the Activision Anthology a while back to play some River Raid. Blech! Compared to something like Heroes over the Pacific? No contest.

    The good ol’ days are NOW.

  8. Mike in Colorado Says:

    Pinball, anyone?

  9. Grisha Says:

    I have to disagree. I too grew up with the 2600, Intellivision, and an Apple 2c computer. The old games are great and I’ll still spend some time reminscing with them, e.g. Zork, Pitfall, et al.

    But what brought me into the world of modern gaming was Deus Ex. It was game of the year for 2000 and I still play it pretty often. Games like that concentrate more on storytelling and plotlines than anything else and that’s what hooked me. Your average session with DX is pretty much like your average episode of “24”.

    This, I think, is where the future of video games is headed; not to “blow up everything that moves” (though there is a lot to be said for that) but more toward the “interactive movie”. I’ll shell out $50 for a game and get more plot, more entertainment, and certainly a lot more time of that than I would anything that Hollywood is churning out these days.

  10. triticale Says:

    I’d as soon watch my foster-nephews play Madden 2006 as watch an actual football game. The graphics are better.

    For myself, I play the solitaire which came with Windows.

  11. -Ed. Says:


    “Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death!”

    Scene: America in the late 1920s. Patrick, the 12-year-old nephew of our Auntie Mame, is tending bar in Auntie’s sitting room for a visitor, a Mr Babcock, the stuffed-shirt president of The Knickerbocker Bank:

    P: “Would you like a martini?”

    MrB: “Huh?”

    P: “Dry, or extra dry?”

    MrB: “Well, I…”

    (Patrick proceeds to create an exquisite martini, just as his Auntie had taught him)

    P: “Would you care for an olive? Auntie Mame says olives take up too much room in such a little glass.”

  12. Madfiddler Says:

    I worked at Atari Games from 1993-96, on the core teams for Primal Rage, Vicious Circle, and California Speed, and made some very minor contributions as a utility player to several other games. I was there more than a decade after Nolan Bushnell had departed, and Atari was nearing the end of its long decline. Not claiming any special expertise, just splaining my point of view… For all my involvement then and later with different games from coin-op, to CD, to web-downloadable flash games, I still like shooting down Zeros and Franks in the old 8-bit color Hellcats over Leyte Gulf.

    Going back to summer 1973 I was playing my fiddle in a band when Atari

  13. surf-actant Says:

    Being a Pong, 2600, Intellivision, Colecovision, Commodore 64, PS I, PS II, XBox, XBox 360, PC man myself, I’d have to say that modern gaming and all that dinosaur stuff we played on in the past both have merits, though vastly different ones. What I wouldn’t give to find a full size cabinet Dig-Dug game somewhere. I tried it on the computer, but it’s just not the same. Did you know that you could turn a triple play on Intellivision baseball? Let your opponent get men on 1st and 2nd, then pitch him inside. 9 times out of 10 he’ll hit to the shortstop. Just activate and immediately run forward toward home. He’d catch it just as the runner was passing by, tag him, quick gun to 2nd then 1st…VIOLA, triple play. But I gotta ask you, have any of you set up your computer on a 16:9 50 inch big screen and actually purchased the steering wheel and pedal set for some of the lastest driving games? It’s ridiculously immersive. I lose hours at a time (much to my wife’s chagrin). While I miss some of those old games, I gotta agree with Gisha. The games today “are just like being there for real…” The visuals are much more visceral, and the plot so much more encompassing, which for me is what it’s all about. Oh, and War Damn Eagle!


  14. Kid Charlemagne Says:

    It’s not the complexity, it’s the novelty… or the absence thereof. Half of those 44 million gamers back in 1982 were trend-chasing yuppies on their lunch hours, pumping a few quarters into Space Invaders so they could brag about trying out the next big thing. The ones that enjoyed it are now playing Madden ’06 with their pals on the weekends.

    The other difference is the near-extinction of the arcade. Back in 1982, the superior games were in the arcades; their home versions paled in comparison. Pac-Man for the Atari 2600 was an industry punchline that led to the great “crash of ’84.” Now it’s the opposite; around 1995, when the PlayStation came out, the home technology caught up to the cabinets. Now your best games go straight to the consoles, and it’s the arcade that suffers as a result.

    There may be fewer gamers, but I guarantee that the 18 million today are keeping the industry in the black every bit as well as the 44 million did 23 years ago. And without those over-inflated numbers around to fool ignorant corporate types who can use them to justify a glut of awful games to satisfy the phantom cravings of that market, you avoid the things that nearly killed the industry in ’84 — that is, games like Pac-Man and the home version of E.T..

    Shameless blog plug: Grain-Fed Philistines. Brand new. Please patronize.

  15. me Says:

    Missile Command, Asteroids and occasionally Space Invaders and I’m set for hours.

  16. me Says:

    Oh…and LoadRunner. days of fun.

  17. Nathan Says:

    Beg, borrow or steal a PS2 and get Katamari Damacy. It’s the only modern game that has the simplicity to fun ratio from the old 8bit consoles.

  18. jmaster Says:

    Will, I agree.

    I mean, I appreciate the phenomenal graphics, the “story”, and the speed of the modern games.

    But the old games had a reflexive, primal appeal that is lacking, or possibly overshadowed today.

    The again, maybe we

  19. FL Mom Says:

    Yeah, we’re just old. 🙂
    Has anyone tried those “Classic video game controllers” that are basically just handheld, arcade-style joysticks with 5 or 6 preloaded games that plug right into the tv? I was wondering whether they were any good because one unit has a few games that I liked playing, and the price is nice for some nostalgic entertainment.

  20. William Young Says:

    Well, somebody already nailed the PS2 numbers, so I won’t go there, but I’ll bet donuts to dollars there are way more gamers now than ever before precisely because the games are more involving, more complex, more detailed and more FUN.

    You want an FPS, you can take your pick of scores of them, so there’s no reason to complain about shooting something for a couple of minutes and quitting.

    I’m just guessing that Steve’s gaming philosphy is different now than it was when he was a kid. Now, he values gaming less than then, so it seems like gaming was better.

    It wasn’t. And it’s only going to get better.

    I grew up on the Atari systems, switched to Nintendo, then to PlayStation. Why? Because each revolution improves gaming in ways you couldn’t imagine.

    Anyone truly longing for Missile Command (and its generation of games) probably quit serious gaming a long, long time ago.

  21. me Says:

    I’ll give you that, William Y.

  22. Chuck Moss Says:

    Berzerk & Joust!

  23. Matt Says:

    All Your Base Are Belong To Us.

    To Countinue Insert Coin.

    How High Can You Get?

  24. merc Says:

    I suggest Ikaruga for the Nintendo Gamecube.

    Simple. Fast. You shoot things. They explode. You shoot some more.

    Reminds me a bit of the old 1942 and 1943 games for the NES.

    Except mindblowingly better graphics in this one, natch.

  25. LakeLevel Says:

    Of course today’s games are much more immersive and interactive and better in too many ways to mention. But, the origional asteroids/defender/robotron type games required a level of intense hand-eye coordination to get really good at that I just have never seen since then.

    Watching someone really good at these games, you almost couldn’t tell what was going on, the action was so fast and intense.

  26. tom swift Says:

    Yeah, you’re old. But not old enough. This nostalgia has nothing to do with any qualities of the games. It has to do with what games where available when you were at the age that you could waste the whole day on crap, and do it with enthusiasm. When I was that age it was pinball. Very primitive and very mechanical. I never got interested in any of these crude electronic things – never played any, in fact. When I was in school a commercial version of Spacewar had just appeared. And promptly died, perhaps because it only made sense if you knew about orbits and stuff. We liked it at MIT because we knew about, umm, orbits and stuff. It took a mini computer to do the calculations, though. There were no PCs yet. A bit later I worked with a guy who made up a Doom level which was laid out exactly like the building we worked in. That was pretty neat-o.

  27. MEC2 Says:

    Count me down as old school. Will nailed it – the serious limitations of the technology meant that the make or break was gameplay. Additionally, they were twitch reflex games – someone playing Missile Command or Berzerk or Robotron 2049 was tuned in at a subconscious level, tied into the hypothalamus. Everything from Moon Cresta to Galaga was primal instinct baby.

    Other games were just fanciful creation – Dig Dug. When was the last time someone created something as interesting and odd as Dig Dug? Some guy tunnels through the ground and shoots fire breathing dragons with a bicycle pump? Look at today’s games – no inspiration. Fighting games, driving games, dancing games. WTF is up with that? How many different ways can you beat someone else up? If I want the thrill of driving fast, I’ll drive my Corvette.

    The only real advance has been in sports simulation games – those have evolved to their state of the art.

    Other games? No way. Where is anything like Moon Patrol? The games are all derivative first person shooters, one on one fighters, or RTS games where you build your base, hoard the resource, build your army, and dogpile the enemy base. Hooboy…

  28. rastajenk Says:

    I too am a product of the Pong era. My fave became some tank-blasting game where you shot around pyramids and other line-drawn obstacles. Leap forward about 20 years, and I spent some time shooting Snood; never progressed in sync with game evolution. I used to try to make the case that the good ol’ days were better, but I stopped when I realized I was wrong. I watch my teenage son do battle for hours, and realize that there is no comparison.

  29. Brian Says:

    I would rather play Asteroids and Dig Dug any time over Grand Theft Auto. Anytime…

  30. Ted Says:

    > probably quit serious gaming

    I cringe a little at that phrase “serious gaming”. I was _never_ a “serious” gamer, but darn it, I could drop a couple of dollars at the arcade and have a lot of fun without having to devote my life to it. And I can _still_ drop into a beach arcade, find a Galaga and get up to about stage 20 without devoting my whole day to it.

    By-the-way I’ll see your Dig-Dug and raise you a Pengo for odd and fun game concepts!

  31. Matt Says:

    Ok how about this one?

    How Far Can You Invade Our _____ System?

  32. Keith Says:

    Actually sales of PlayStation2’s just crossed 100 million (
    complete with 1.869 BILLION games from 6200 titles. XBox is roughly 1/5th of the market share of the PS2, so it is up around 20 million. Props to Nolan Bushnell, whom we all owe a huge debt of wasted time, but his numbers and his nostalgia are way off. I’m in the same age category as most commenters here and I like(d) the Atari 2600 and all the old Galaga games too, but to think that the current gaming market is shrinking from what it was then is simply not correct.

  33. Mr. Bingley Says:

    Ah heck, i started at the begining like many of you. colecovision, etc. i have 2 ps2s, an xbox and a game cube. i can play socom3 for hours, but i will also fire up my mac se (9 inch black and white screen! 8 mhz clock speed !) to play a good long game of ’empire deluxe’ once a month. and i love master of orion2.

    i think what’s different about a lot of today’s games is that they have story lines, which the old ones didn’t. and that cuts down on the replayability factor quite a bit.

    i would love to see a master of orion or civilization or empire deluxe for the playstation; that would be awesome.

  34. Joe Says:

    It cracks me up to hear people was philosophical about the “good old days” forgetting that most the games were complete crap, even by the standards of the day. The rest were even more derivative than the plethora of games you get today; you had asteroid, side shooters, bottom shooters and pac-man. I enoyed playing some for a few minutes every few months, but hated most of them.

    Then came Castle Wolfenstein. And Half Life, No One Lives Forever, Roller Coaster Tycoon, the entire Need For Speed series, Warcraft III and now, World of Warcraft.

    Oh, and if you still want to play that good old crap, there are several companies that make crappy game consoles just for you. (Actually the new game consoles are probably higher quality; the number of broken controllers my friends had was simply silly.)

  35. wheels Says:

    My favorite games were Alien Ambush (advertising slogan: “You haven’t lived until you’ve died in space.”) and Ricochet, both on the Apple II. The first was a shooter, but the aliens “swooped” in in a way I just found wonderful. Never really got the hang of any of the twitch games, though. Probably too old even then.

    Ricochet was a strategy game with eye candy – you had diagonal launchers in the corners and flippers and bumpers in the playing field. When a ball hit a flipper, it changed direction 90 degrees, the flipper changed orientation 90 degrees, and you scored a point. You could play against another person, or five different computer opponents. Lots of fun.

    Nowadays, I have a Sega Saturn I hardly ever hook up, and my favorite PC game is Freecell (I’ve got a 76% winning percentage on 2250 games, currently, with a max win streak of 25).

  36. Robin Goodfellow Says:

    There’s a ton of free “shoot’em up” games (“shmups”) out there. Amateurs develop them and release them on the internet. Since these games don’t require teams of 3D modellers and graphic artists, this is actually possible. ABA Games has a collection of respectable shmups that are entertaining, free, and pretty easy to install.

    P.S. This is why I’ll buy the Nintendo Revolution even if it turns out to be a big steaming pile of crap. They’re trying to shake up the industry, innovate, and reinvigorate casual gaming. Indeed, to bring some real FUN back into it (rather than perfecting game mechanics to suit the anal retentive set). That’s definitely something I want to put financial support behind.

    P.P.S. His numbers are so, so wrong, but the gist of his argument is correct. (Geez, I hate to say it, but it might be fake but accurate.)

    P.P.P.S. Katamari Damacy is seriously krazy and fun.

    P.P.P.P.S. Quick shout out to “The Den Beste Presence”(TM), a man who isn’t afraid to admit that fun is seriously important. Amen.

  37. Chewbacca Says:

    I stepped through a series of old machines like most around here: TRS-80, Atari 2600, C64, PC and spent countless hours playing a few arcade games.

    Yes, the old times were great. No doubt about it, games had to have quality because you couldn’t really do much in terms of graphics initially.

    I should probably spend whatever it takes to purchase a Moon Cresta cabinet, lol … I’d still like to know what programmer thought it would be a good idea to make the aliens inivisible for the higher levels?!?

    MAME is thankfully available and on a 50+ inch TV with a good sound system who really needs a cabinet (look for the XARCADE joystick, muaaahahahhaa).

    Surround had to be one of Atari’s greatest head to head games.

    River Raid, Enduro Racer, … can’t even remember them all

    The C64 was definitely the glory days for me. Anybody remember games like Impossible Mission (now those graphics are amazing still today), Summer Games and Winter Games, Castles and Dungeons of Dr Creep, Wolfenstein, Bard’s Tale, Ultima 2 and 3 (maybe even 4), Wasteland, and so many I am missing … thank god for emulators!

    OK, so I long for the good old days, but I will admit I always look at the eye candy of the modern games … even if I can’t play them. Just too complicated for me.

    And for that matter, poker is taking over the gaming world anyway. I get paid to waste countless hours now.

  38. Gaijin Biker Says:

    You are exactly right. Nowadays, I don’t play many games, because I don’t want to invest the time it would take just to figure out all the little intricacies of the gameplay.

    Nintendo may be poised to benefit from the backlash, since it is targeting casual gamers with the DS and the upcoming Revolution.

  39. Cicero Says:

    Nintendo has done some excellent work in the area of casual gaming with its Super Smash Brothers games. Mario Kart is pretty sweet too.

    Another excellent casual title I’ve come across is Burnout III. It’s like “The Incredible Machine” but only with cars and wanton destruction of inoffensive traffic.

    And I wholly agree with previous commentators about Masters of Orion. That game is simply wonderful.

  40. zeppenwolf Says:

    madfiddler: I still like shooting down Zeros and Franks in the old 8-bit color Hellcats over Leyte Gulf.


    What a perfectly exquisite game. It goes far beyond nostalgia: somehow, in a way which surely must have been largely accidental, that game just happened to have a perfect confluence of balances…


    The person who mentioned the ‘tank game with line drawings…’, that was called “Battlezone”.

  41. . Says:

    Isn’t it a bit unusual to see the outpouring of group nostalgia about a past golden age, when the statistics used to demonstrate that past golden age are pretty much bogus? Isn’t it kind of like longing for the golden age of cinemas when now everyone with HBO/DVR/etc. can enjoy movies in their own home?

    Anyway, if you’re claiming the games you like aren’t made anymore, you’re probably just not motivated enough to look. Freeware games are everywhere, and major game companies release classic game packs as well.

    “I don’t think there’s been a truly original game idea since Tetris.

    An argument could probably be made for Katamari Damacy, but I’ve never played it.”
    -Eric J

    The “Arbitrary Task Resolution” genre is pretty big in Japan, Katamari Damacy is not unique. If you think it’s the most innovative thing in the game industry you’re just not paying attention.

  42. Widgett Walls Says:

    I haven’t really gotten into a game since Myst, sadly enough. Or Populous. I just don’t have the time necessary to get good at games anymore. And somebody mentioned complexity…playing Halo on Xbox for me is like playing Defender used to be…remember? 14 freaking buttons and you’re constantly having to look down to find the reverse one? I’m playing Halo, the guy who owns the game is yelling, “Hit the white button! The white one!” And I’m yelling back, “I don’t have eyes in my freaking thumbs! Why don’t these buttons have textures on them! GAH!”

    Yup, I’m old. Get offa my lawn, ya durn kids.

    Favorite Really Old Cabinet Game: Ms. Pac-Man (fast version); Favorite Old Cabinet Game: Assault; Favorite Pinball: Twilight Zone; Game I Would Kill to Own: Spy Hunter (the sit-down kind, are you kidding?)

  43. Tom Grey - Liberty Dad Says:

    One thing the Atari 400 had was room for 4 joysticks — so 4 friends could get wasted and play Dandy in a group shooter wiping out ever increasing masses of badguys. MULE was an initial build base, hoard resources kind of game.

    C64 had fine shooters, too (what was that chess thing where each capture was a mini-fight?)

    For two players, or especially more, the PC based games aren’t so good.

    But are you missing the “game” or your own youth? Prolly you like the music of the 70s or 80s more, too? (I know I do — 60s much more than 90s!) Perhaps playing football/ basketball/ frisbee was more fun then, too? It’s called gettin’ old.

    Phones have simple shooter games; and little hand held game-boys/ dance-boys. I don’t quickly change the (rechargable) batteries for my two 8-9 year old sons on those silly, simple games. But they would spend hours on them if I let them.

    When Pong, then Space Invaders came out — EVERYBODY who played, played them. Now, with so many choices, like with cars not everybody having a model T, more players are playing something ELSE.

    End of shared cultural experience. Same way cable/ DVDs/ are reducing the power of Big 3 networks, but also fragmenting culture.

    Now we gotta go for the first weekend of Harry Potter 4 in the theaters — it took a couple of weeks for the Slovak dubbing to be ready (but we’ll see it in English.) The HP – 1 EA game is pretty good.

  44. West Says:


    Best space game since Starflight.

    I do agree in general, though, complexity has been the bane of gaming, there is only a small subset of the gamer community that wants to spend hours just learning how to play the d-mned thing.

  45. Paul Says:

    Katamari Damacy is fun not because it’s an ATR game, but because it’s just so hallucinogenic, and (as noted) simple to start playing. The sequel (We Love Katamari) was good, but not quite *as* good, probably because they made it too easy. Or maybe I just got too good on the first game?

    Gamers 20 years from now will look back on current games the same way we’re looking back on the games of 20 years ago, I bet.

  46. Donald Sensing Says:

    Exactly right. I loved Chuck Yeager’s Air Combat, vintage 1991 or so. Very simple graphics, of course, but outstanding flight dynamics and very easy and fast to learn. Now I have MicroSoft Air Combat and it’s not even loaded on my computer. I don’t have time to learn to fly a Focke-Wulf or P-51 as if it was the real thing. In Yeager, you took off, you gave it gas, you maneuvered and you fired. That’s it. In MS, you have to worry about fuel mixture, prop pitch, flap settings, blah blah blah. Sorry, not interested.

  47. l kline Says:

    There is a game called Panzer Front for PS1, It is a historical simulation of WWII
    Tank warfare. Old graphics but many senario’s. It didn’t take off I guess.
    I would lke to see more History,tactic-strategy games.I grew up with board games like Afrika korps in the 70’s. We could play in school, and it was a good why to learn about history. I can see the male adolescent fascination with games like Grand theft auto. But It’s not the thing we should encourage as a game. Just a thought.

  48. 7 Deadly Sins Says:

    Greed: Old Time Games

    I think Will speaks for many of us. The games coming out today are all sizzle with no steak. The addicting gameplay that made the quarters fly out of our pockets seems to have been replaced with extremely great graphics and equally complex gameplay.

  49. Russ Goble Says:

    Yeah, echoing PDB, his numbers can’t be even close to right. I dug up the U.S. population numbers by age group and multiplied them by what I think are highly conservative percentages of who play video games at least CASUALLY in that age group. I still come up with 22 mil in the U.S. and I’d bet it’s closer to 30 mil. It also doesn

  50. Steve White Says:

    Ah, the old games.

    When I was doing my medical residency a colleague and I would go to an arcade to blow off steam. We’d play Defender (great, great game) for a while and talk. After some months I could get a score of, oh, maybe 100K or so. I thought that was pretty good. My friend was about the same.

    One afternoon we come in, and there awaited the classic scenario: a young teen on our Defender machine.

    With a score of about 11 million. And 100 extra lives.

    The arcade owner said to me, “oh, he’s always like that.”

    I quit going to arcades that day. What was the point?

    I will say that I do remember fondly some of the old games, both arcade and for my trusty Apple II (Joust, Loadrunner, Defender, Missile Command). These days I play Battlefield 2 and Call to Duty. I enjoy them, but I encounter people like that teen kid — I’m just meandering along some burned out village, minding my own business with my rifle, and [pling], I’m dead. About 50 times in a row.

    Aaarrrrrrrgggghhhhhh ……….

  51. Beekabok Says:

    Ratchet and Clank RULE!

    If you want to shoot things to pieces, this is the game for you (all 4 titles)

    Quark out…………

  52. Anonymous Says:


    Will Collier has this entry up regarding video games where he quotes the founder of the Atari system:

    In 1982, he tells us, there were 44 million gamers. Today, there are 18 million. Where’d they all go? “Complexity lost the casual gamer,” he …

  53. Musings from Brian J. Noggle Says:

    Collier Speaks Truth To Power

    VodkaPundit2 uses a quote from Nolan Bushnell to explain why 18 million video game players represents a net loss over 20 million gamers over the last 20 years.

  54. monkeyboy Says:

    Well I always liked Tempest myself.

    When you think electronic gaming is consoles, then you really are missing out. You can now do on the coputer the same stuff we used to with paper and pencil. Your PC may not emulate Zaxxon, but it does a great job of being the dice from “Dungeons and Dragons”, the counters from “Squad Leader” and the goofiness from “Rivets” or “The Creature tha Ate Sheboygen.”

    Try Knights of the Old Republic, Sid Meir’s games, or an MMORG.
    As for numbers, hell half of South Korea is online gaming at any point.

  55. Russ Goble Says:

    Wow, my numbers were way off. I accidentally used the 1950 numbers (I hadn’t had my coffee yet, cut me some slack). I pulled them from BTW. Here are the actual current 2000 numbers.

    10-14 10,670,348.00 75% 8,002,761.00
    15-19 10,871,031.00 75% 8,153,273.25
    20-24 10,719,062.00 75% 8,039,296.50
    25-29 10,059,989.00 60% 6,035,993.40
    30-34 10,020,964.00 50% 5,010,482.00
    35-39 10,479,205.00 50% 5,239,602.50
    40-44 11,294,246.00 10% 1,129,424.60
    74,114,845.00 Number of Males who game = 41,610,833.25

    Even using my conservative percentages, I get 41 million U.S. males who I bet at least are casual gamers. As I said, Collier is wrong to give Bushnell’s numbers credence. No way they are correct.

  56. Maggie's Farm Says:

    Good Links

    A defense of Hillary: RWNHQuestioning the Gulf Stream science: Classical Values. Appreciate his looking deeper into the story.Dems in confusion. ACESubway searches: legal or not? Calif. Yankee. If they’re constitutional for airplanes, why not subways?Bird

  57. Nomad Gamer Says:

    Pining for the Old Days

    From the post at Instapundit mentioned previously, there was a link to another site I visit alot, the aptly named Vodkapundit. Vodkapundit’s guest writer, Will Collier uses a quote from the father of video games, Nolan Bushnell, the creator of…

  58. Eric R. Ashley Says:

    I think that chess game with mini-fights was “Sargon”.

    Perhaps Neverwinter Nights is about as good as many D&D games because many of them were pretty bad. But a good tabletop game engrosses you on a level that the computer cannot even begin to match, and it allows far more options.

    I still remember playing “Nine Princes of Amber” a text game, and trying nine ways from Sunday to keep hold of an iron bar which I thought would make a useful weapon. Its gotten a lot better its true, but still the fundamental problem remains.

    Speed of action, socializing, immersion, and options, a good tabletop gamemaster outshines a computer game like having your own personal French Chef outshines the best mall food.

    However, I will admit, some people have a problem with visualization. For them, a computer game heavy on graphics might be better.

    Now I’m a game designer part-time, so I’m an enthusiast, and a game master, but still…

    Iron Dragon on the crayon-using board is just cooler than the computer. Or Risk likewise. Or Chess. So too I expect Heroscape with its heavy pieces and beautiful board on the table is going to be better than the game on the computer.

    What computer games offer is convenience, and a certain minimum reliably met. In other words, they are the McDonald’s of the game world. But for the true connoisseur…tabletop.

    /He said with his nose tilted in the air.

  59. Mike Richmann Says:

    “I think that chess game with mini-fights was “Sargon”.”

    Close but not quite. It was Electronic Arts’ “Archon”. One of my absolute personal favorites from back in the day and probably the game that got the most use on my Atari 1200XL.

    Here’re a few screenshots I googled up:

    That said, I have to agree with the crowd that’s arguing that it’s the fog of nostalgia that’s making the old stuff look good. I’ve had a chance to replay some of the old titles and they look like absolute crap next to today’s graphics and gameplay capabilities and they didn’t really play any better either. That, and there was no small amount of turds in the proverbial punchbowl in the olden days either. One of my college roommates was something of a game pirate and had pretty much every Atari title out there in the early-mid ’80s. The percentage of good titles relative to the total number of games available, if anything, was smaller than it is today.

    Right now, if I just want to indulge in some mindless shoot ’em up action, I fire up Quake III. 390,000 served and still counting…

  60. rpl Says:

    I picked up a couple of the old nostalgia packs of old games recently so I could play some of my old favorites, games that I remember enjoying immensely in my younger days. Guess what? They suck. Hard. Even the more imaginative games (like “Toobin'”) get very repetetive and downright tedious after half an hour or so. I can remember spending untold hours in front of Night Stalker on my Intellivision as a kid, and playing it again today I can’t for the life of me imagine why. It seems to me that our enjoyment of those games back in the day had more to do with the novelty of the medium and the exuberance of youth than it did with the quality of the games.

    As to why modern games are more complex, that’s a no-brainer. The reason the old games get tedious so quickly is the lack of depth. It doesn’t take long to figure out the trick to winning, and then all that’s left is to perfect the execution. You can increase the depth by increasing the complexity, so that it takes longer to figure out the trick. Intricate storylines help here too, since once the gameplay gets dull, the unfolding story can still help maintain interest. Ultimately, however, there is only so much variety a computer program can offer, and so the game gets dull once it runs out of surprises. Therefore, unless we someday develop real artificial intelligence, the best gameplay and the best replayability will come from matching wits with other gamers. That’s why modern video games increasingly live or die by their multiplayer capabilities. It’s also why games like Chess and Go have entertained people for thousands of years, while the typical video game is doing pretty well to struggle on for a decade.


  61. Bryan Says:

    ARCHON was the fight’n chess game. Brilliant game.

  62. Bryan Says:

    Also, the old games aren’t all that fun anymore. It’s the memories. You can’t reproduce the fun of Air-Sea Battle or Adventure on the 2600 after you’ve played Deus Ex or Counter-Strike. Sad, really. Playing today’s games kills the innocence required to properly enjoy the old games. The only candidates for proper old school game enjoyment are the bushmen of the Kalahari, and maybe some of the folks in the middle east that don’t have easy access to video games.

  63. Taron Says:

    Two words: Geometry Wars.

    Actually, there are a whole bunch of interesting “old school” style games, with excellent new-generation looks, on the Xbox 360’s “Arcade” bit. Geometry Wars, Hexic… the old stuff isn’t dead, and hey, they’re only like $5 or so.

  64. TallDave Says:

    I doubt complexity is the problem; games like Starcraft are far more interesting than any of the old games. I think it’s just that when video games first came out, they were something new, something no one had ever seen before.

  65. Bane Says:

    I agree, VP. The emphasis on multi-player is what really bugs me. If I wanted to interact with people, I would go find some, and not be sitting alone playing a damn video game.

    The (few) games I play now have a story mode, sure, but it is the skirmish mode that I go for. 15 minutes to an hour of mindless, cathartic violence, and the more cheat codes, the better.

    If I want to challenge my brain, I’ll go talk to my wife.

    The game I play most, is Castlevania, Symphony… A side scroller that rocks, but not so hard that it wears me down. PS-One game on a PS2.

  66. CCMCornell Says:

    Old games and great gameplay – ahhh. At least thanks to projects like MAME and other emulators and the great community of ROM set maintainers, we’ll always have those games. It’s worth noting that every system, popular and obscure, has been successfully emulated up to the generation of the PSX, N64 and GBA.

    I’m into modding Xboxes and on my Xbox, most of the time is spent in XBMC (an open source media player that spanks Windows XP MCE and even the Xbox 360 media extender) and emulated systems, especially NES, SNES, N64 and MAME. Sometimes we pop in an Intellivision game for a more retro fun experience.

    While old, simple games really had nothing but great gameplay to rely on, great gameplay isn’t exclusive to them; it’s just that it seems that game companies assume that we want stupid novelties like FMV and overly-complex and corny story lines (After beating Metal Gear Solid 2 and watching the Matrix-X-Files-Conspiracy-WMD-drama ending, I almost went to a gun store with the intent of buying a gun, going through the several days of the mandatory waiting-period and then shooting myself.) What’s worse is the complicit reviewing community in the video game magazine industry. They actually laud this kind of crap.

    Part of the problem is the game industry’s push to make games a mainstream entertainment medium, largely by making the games more like movies. Either they copy movie themes that are way too cliche (why is every damn WWII game feels like a ripoff of something you saw in Saving Private Ryan or Band of Brothers?) or they do a hack job of duplicating movie techniques. I really don’t want to spend less time playing than watching painful, film-like exposition by a Hollywood-wannabe. It’s like watching the SW prequels with a controller in my hands, but even worse.

    Like someone noted earlier, there have been some recent games with great gameplay like Nintendo’s Super Smash Bros – a very simple, but fun fighting game – and Mario Kart – a very simple, but fun racing game. I’d also like to add the Mario Party series of board-game-like games. They’re great with groups of friends.

    Playing with friends seems like something that has declined in favor of multiplayer online. Back in the mid-to-late 90’s, in addition to playing together on consoles my friends and I used to enjoy the healthy atmosphere at arcades. Either playing with friends we went with or with friends we made at the arcade, we’d line up our quarters under the screen on tons of games, especially fighting games, but also pinball, racing and puzzle games (Bust-a-move was a big one.) We’d laugh and curse each other, trade strategies and tips, and then go for pizza and a movie. Sadly, that friendly, social atmosphere in the arcades is dead.

    Online playing and socializing has grown recently, but it’s not the same as those old days when people who played together were actually more than just avatars, screen names, and choppy, low-quality VoIP. The social connections just aren’t as strong and, for this, the social aspect of the fun of games just can’t be there. Besides, you’re more likely to run into arrogant meanies and trolls than friendly players.

  67. Taron Says:

    You know, you can play multiplayer online, at least you can on the Xbox and the new 360. Bring your friends over, order a pizza, and take on the world. On FPS it’s actually better than normal multiplayer, since peeking at the other people’s screens helps the team, and isn’t a cheesy way of getting an advantage. On other games, it’s less of an issue.

    The good games will always be good games; the bad games nowadays at least are semi-diverting eye candy. That’s an improvement.

  68. Sandy P Says:

    Ahhh, Colecovision, rotten joysticks, but a fun ghost maze game.

    Difficult, too!

    And 1941.

    They’re bringing everything else out, why not those?

    I get motion-sickness. I can’t handle this 360 3-d stuff.

  69. Inside Larry's head Says:

    I went over to Drink in some Vodka Pundit

    And I came across this gem of a post. And I have a roomate who is far more the video gamer then I am.

    I’ve stuck my foot in trying to play the X-box and I have to admit the complexity of the controler gets to me. This could just be like me and fis…

  70. SeanH Says:

    PDB and Russ are right. His numbers are way off. Something like 75% of US households own a computer and almost half have a console system. Russ’s numbers are probably very conservative for males and they leave out millions of girls and women playing things like the Sims. When you throw in Windows default games, games on cell phones and PDAs, and online things like Yahoo’s games I’d be willing to bet that around half the country plays a video game of some kind every once on a while.

    I’m also curious to know who he thinks is intimidated by a playstation controller for crying out loud. I honestly can’t imagine anyone under the age of 40 looking at a PS2 controller and feeling that it’s too complicated.

  71. Maureen Says:

    If it’s not a joystick, it’s too complicated. If it doesn’t run on my current computer, it’s also too complicated. This simplifies my gaming choices immensely and keeps my money in my wallet.

    Btw, my little cousins ignored their Nintendo, Playstation, and computer to play Spy Hunter, Pacman, and Dig Dug on an old Apple II my brother dug up for them. So did their little friends. They played that old Apple to death.

  72. cube Says:

    I bet that 18 million spent more last year than that 44 million every did.

  73. lakelevel Says:

    “I bet that 18 million spent more last year than that 44 million every did.”

    Defender and Pac-Man each made a Billion dollars (might not be true but try Googling “defender williams billion”). How much did the best selling video game make last year?

  74. Greg Says:

    I’ll drop a quarter in the arcade now, but only on games like Galaga, Ms. Pac-Man (fast version only), or Centipede.

    Nominations for original games: 720

  75. Says:

    Gaming and politics

    I will probably need to add a new category for games and violence/politics at some point here on I don’t cover them as thoroughly as Game Politics and others but I still follow it closely. (I’m little bit of a poltical j…

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