Curmudgeon Gamer
Curmudgeoning all games equally.
31 August 2006
Value of Simplicity ... how about making some sense?
Another day, another Eric Jon Rossel-Waugh post at Today we get The Value of Simplicity, which again laments (as do many of his pieces) how games were all so much more innocent and idealistic back in the 1980s.

The first paragraph bothers me a bit:
So lately we've been swinging back toward thinking about games as a medium of expression. It's not a new concept; way back in the early '80s, companies like Activision and EA put all their energy behind publicizing game designers like rock stars - or better yet, like book authors - and their games as unique works by your favorite authors. This all happened just after figures like Ed Logg and Toshihiro Nishikado started to extrapolate Pong and Spacewar!, incorporating more overt narrative frameworks and exploring more elaborate ways of interacting with the gameworld. From this initial explosion of creativity came Steve Wozniak and the Apple II, providing an easy platform for all of the early Richard Garriotts and Roberta Williamses and Dan Buntens to come.
Ok, let me get this straight:
  • In the early 1980s game developers were thinking of games as a new medium of expression? Sure, games were getting to the point that they could tell more than just rudimentary stories, but did those folks really consider what they were doing a "medium"? Did anyone ever refer to the "medium of videogames" at that point? It strikes me as unlikely, and I'd like some references to back this claim up.
  • More likely, in my mind, is that many games were (as they are today, to an extent) more of a case of "What can I make to play with using the new tricks technology has given me?" Those guys aren't thinking of it as a medium, but raw materials out of which to make entertaining toys. When you're working on the Atari 2600 with 128 bytes of RAM, I doubt you're doing much thinking about the narrative structures your new medium affords least not in those terms.
  • This new era of the early 1980s happened after Ed Logg and Toshihiro Nishikado did their stuff, building on Pong and Space War? This seems to be a reference to 1978, when Logg worked on Super Breakout and Nishikado worked on Space Invaders. Where is the "more overt narrative framework" in Super Breakout? Just that when the blocks are gone, the playfield resets and you get more blocks? Or getting a ball trapped above the blocks? Seems a stretch. And Space Invaders? Sure it stands atop alien invasion themes in science fiction, but where is the narrative structure in the game? Someone's fallen into his navel and can't get out.
  • From fire generated by Logg and Nishikado's work comes Wozniak and the Apple II? Eh? The Apple II came out in 1977, a year before Space Invaders and Super Breakout. Perhaps they inspired the mentioned developers (Garriott, Williams, et al), but not Woz and the Apple II.

That's it for now; I haven't had time to read the whole thing but this was enough for me to complain about.
--Matt Matthews at 11:17
Comment [ 3 ]

Comments on this post:

Still having problems with reading comprehension, are we?

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 01 September, 2006 19:45  

Might be worth reading up on Adventure for the 2600. Apparently Robinett's idea was to take old XYZZY Adventure and put it into graphic format. In fact, the difficulty of making an IF entry on the hardware may have forced game designers to think of the 2600 as a much different kind of medium, where pictures (iconography?) had to tell the story.

Might be worth emailing him if you can dig up the info I think I remember! ;^)

By Blogger rufbo, at 01 September, 2006 21:19  

"Medium" and "raw materials" are synonymous to me.

You might abstract some additional level out of the words by implying that there is some sort of class difference, but I reject such claims when it comes to art.

I think too much is made of the term "art" anyway. To me, the fact that these people were clearly refining their craft, adding additional layers etc indicates that they were engaged in an art. Art is constructive, science is reductive. You can study computer science, but if you're using that knowledge to build games, you're engaged in an artistic endeavor by definition.

By Blogger Jeremy, at 27 October, 2006 13:31  

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