Internet Killed Console Gaming — Point 1

 

The Internet (it is capitalized right?) has killed console gaming forever. It wasn’t something that the causal gamer saw coming, and in fact, very few gamers of any age can really see the implications of how gaming was infected and destroyed by the Internet.

Point 1: Physical Media

Classic_Game_Carts_by_NoSmokingBandit

Ew… gross… what are those disease carrying, oddly shaped things?

Those, my ignorant gamer of the future, are called “game cartridges”. Those use to be how we played games. They weren’t beamed down from a space station, through your body, to your T.V. set. No, the information was placed on these “carts”, we plugged the “cart” into the game system and played until our hearts content.

This might sound silly now, but I’m telling you, in no more than twenty years from now, no major game company will think about the possibility of placing their cutting edge game on any kind of physical media. Physical media has some major flaws that a business doesn’t want to be apart of anymore.

A:

netflix-wii

I have to buy them again!? But I can get the cart for $2 at my local game shop!

It’s a one time buy – Companies don’t want you to purchase their content once. They want you to purchase it as many times as possible. A game cart, if taken care of, can last the life of the player. Look at the some of the oldest games that are available at your local game shop (i.e. Atari 2600 games). These carts are decades old, but with care, they will still function. This is bad news for companies. The media has to be disposable, forgotten about, or unreliable so that, years down the road, when you want to play that “retro game for the Xbox 36o” you will have to buy it again via an software download.

Look at the popularity of the Xbox Arcade, Playstation Network, or Nintendo’s Wii Shop Channel. The games that are on these services already exist in one if not multiple versions stretch across many consoles and PC set ups. Game consoles you probably already own, maybe even the game itself, but people will buy it yet again for many reasons: convenience, minor updates typically in a graphical nature, rare if not impossible find, etc. The issue with this is that we are feeding the monkey. And it’s not a nice monkey. It’s an evil, evil monkey. By buying into this program, we are telling these game companies that it’s OK to release the same game year after year with little to no incentive to us and we will keep on buying.

B:

Stacks_of_money

Money – placing any kind of information on a disk, whether it be a cartridge or compact disc, is expensive and prone to failure over time. After coping so many discs with the same application, there is always a testing phase to make sure that the games actually work on the console.

Now you might be thinking, well I can get 50 CD-Rs for 10 bucks surely a major corporation can get a better deal on media than I can and I’d say you were right. And they more than likely add that additional cost into the price of the game itself at the point of purchase. But if we are so use to paying $50 and $60 dollars for the latest Xbox 360 game, why would we shake a stick at paying the exact same amount for the same game only to have it downloaded to a hard disk that’s attached to your console? With the blazing speeds that are available for the internet now-a-days including broadband and fiber optics, to download a 4 GB video game would be done in minutes not hours like in the past. Which would cut their production of developing a physical media all together. Less work means less workers means more money in the business’s pocket. Because the games sure as hell won’t cost less.

This type of model has been around for ages really pushed through by Apple’s iTunes app. Here’s my story. Many years ago, I purchased an album from iTunes that was recorded locally and was no longer in production for a physical copy. A few years later, my iPod had crapped out on me, so I went back into iTunes to download the album again. To my amazement, I had to purchase it again since so much time had gone by. But I bought it already didn’t I own it? No. I didn’t. Most digital media that is purchased online is actually only being “rented” from the company for an unknown amount of time. Meaning, if I lost my copy, I will have to buy another.

Now, this is similar to a physical copy as well in some small cases. If I own the CD, and I lose it, I no longer have that copy and I will have to purchase a new one. The difference is I have the ability to make a software “back-up” copy of the hard copy for just this case. Now, the laws of copyright can be read in either direction pertaining to “back-ups” but at the time I was allowed to have one backed up copy of any physical data that I owned.

Apple, and many other companies, use a security called DRM or Digital Rights Management that will only allow you to have one copy of the medium. You are not legally allowed to copy that DRM media from one source to another. Many other companies and just about everyone else is against this model of security but that doesn’t stop deep pocket companies from using it. And the only advantage is to the company not to the user.

In part two, I will be discussing the issue that has cropped up with console games that are just down right broken and how it’s considered “OK” now to release such titles.

Stay tuned!

Point Two

How to Fix Shitty Games–Bill and Ted’s Excellent Video Game Adventure

 

I’m a firm believer that there are many games out there that are just bad. Really bad to the point where there is no fun in even playing them because of design, game play, or plot flaws. A lot of these “bad” games can be enjoyed with fairly easy fixes. Below is one of those games that can easily be fixed so that the game is some what enjoyable.

220px-Bill_&_Ted

Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure is a 1989 American science fiction comedy buddy film and the first film in the Bill & Ted franchise in which two metalhead slackers travel through time to assemble a menagerie of historical figures for their high school history presentation.

The film was written by Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon and directed by Stephen Herek. It stars Keanu Reeves as “Ted” Theodore Logan, Alex Winter as Bill S. Preston, Esquire, and George Carlin as Rufus. Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure received reviews which were mostly positive upon release and was commercially successful. It is now considered a cult classic. A sequel, Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, was released two years later. An untitled third film is in development. — wikipedia.org

titlebillted

A Little History

Bill & Ted’s Excellent Video Game Adventure is an action-adventure video game that is part of the Bill & Ted franchise and is based on the film Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure that was released in North America by LJN for the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1991. The game’s plot is not an adaptation of the movie, but rather serves as an original continuation to the film’s events. – wikipedia.org

 

First Impressions

Let’s face it. This game is terrible. I mean one of the lowest of the low, a fierce competitor for E.T. on the 2600. OK, it’s not that bad but this game is pretty bad. The controls are loose, the physics don’t make any sense, and you have no idea what the hell you’re doing. How is any child who was a fan of the movie (I know you’re out there) suppose to enjoy such a horrible game? Tell me. You can’t. You just can’t.

The first dead give away is the publisher for the game.

LJN_logo

Now I’m not going to go into rants like AVGN, but he makes a valid point about LJN. Their shit games to passable games ratio is extremely high in the shit department. But that’s neither here nor there. Let’s get down to what can be fixed to make this game better.

 

1. The Intro

I love intros to games. I mean, how else are you suppose to know what’s going on in the game if you don’t watch the intro? Especially in this day and age where actually manuals for these retro games are hard to come by unless you are willing to spend a little more on a CIB. Intros are great. It gets everyone on the same page.

I have no issue with a game, that’s based off a movie, not follow the story line of the movie itself. This can end up being either a good or bad thing. It’s OK in this case. But the issue lies in the length and the lack of an option to bypass the story at the beginning. It’s nothing but text with the stupid lingo that I’m guessing was popular at the time. Lots of “dudes”, “dudettes” and “bogus” which does get annoying after a while.

So how does this get fixed? Well how about allowing the intro to the game to play while the player is sitting idle. Not a huge fix, but these sort of small things actually do make the game play speed up and allow the gamer to do what the game was intended to do after all which is to play it. And make the intro something that I would want to watch. Don’t hold me up on long and boring intros every time I reset it.

2. Phone book

Bill & Ted's Excellent Video Game Adventure (2)

Now this one is one of the biggest things that kills the game for me. The phone book has a list of phone numbers (well duh right?) that corresponds to a particular figure in history.

So what’s wrong with this picture? Well, what the hell am I suppose to do? There’s nothing but black around those edges. No “Press Select to enter a phone number”. No, “The one with the flashing number is the one you need to enter”. No nothing. Now, since I do not own the instruction booklet, it may very well be in there that explains what I’m suppose to do. Which is something the game designers weren’t anticipating. I can let that slide. I mean, nowadays with the internet, who needs these books, but back in the day, that was your only source of true information because you sure as hell weren’t going to listen to the fat know-it-all kid down the street tell you what to do in the game. No way no how.

I mean there’s just nothing. The book itself looks great in all it’s pixel glory. The character sprites have a unique look to them and you can tell what it is. I just don’t know what the hell to do.

Since the NES controller has only so many buttons, that after trial and error you’d figure it out. The flashing number is the number to dial. But it’s only after trial and error that you figure this out. And after having to sit through the fucking intro, you’re all ready set to kill this game with fire.

GIVE ME SOME INSTRUCTION ON WHAT TO DO NEXT. THIS ISN’T A SEQUAL. I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT THE BUTTONS DO BASED OFF A PREVIOUS GAME. SOMEONE HELP ME PLEASE!!!1!!11!

So yeah, just add some informational text around the border will clear that up.

3. Pointless game aspects

Bill & Ted's Excellent Video Game Adventure-2

What the hell is going on? I mean, really? If you are making me play this stupid “mini-game” because you couldn’t think of a better way to add the actual time travel in the game, then stop it. Just stop it right there. This whole part of the game is pointless and I have no idea what anything means. Are you going to take away 5 coins if I land in the 5 coin circle? I know I lose money when I land in the skull circles because that’s a worldly ideal: skulls = bad. And it has to be coins because I don’t have 5 of anything else.

But seriously? You couldn’t think of a better way of adding time travel to the game? If not, then don’t put it in. Just bypass the whole thing. I don’t remember Bill or Ted ever getting stuck in the “circuits of time” because they ran out of money.

Coins? So you were able to think ahead on the money idea. Well, a phone call will probably cost more than a quarter in the future so let’s just call them coins. If you thought that, you should have thought that no one would hold on to a tiny ass booklet that tells you exactly what to do screen by screen then either.

Just take it out. It’s not any fun.  Give me a sweet ass animated graphic of going through space and time with Bill and Ted saying something like “Dude, this is totally wicked.” “Yeah, Dude, but it’s making me totally sick at my stomach.”

I can relate.

4. Inviting graphics

72796-bill-ted-s-excellent-video-game-adventure-nes-screenshot-arrived

What am I looking at,you asked? Well it’s a lot of green. That’s it… Just a lot of green. Too much green. Way too much green.

Either give me something more pleasing to look at or get it out of my view. What to know how you fix this bit? Look below.

72796-bill-ted-s-excellent-video-game-adventure-nes-screenshot-arrived_smaller

Ahhh, so much better. Oh what’s that over there? Oh it’s a tree. Well that’s nice. Oh and a fence. Much more pleasing to look at. Yeah, all I did was crop out the crap you don’t have to see anyway. Most of the graphics on the outside of the “gaming area” is off limits anyway. You can’t walk over there. You just can’t. The game won’t let you. It just wants you to look, don’t touch, and the rest of the area is just a lot of puke green to enjoy. Yeah, I like it better this way too.

Now the graphics don’t have to blow my mind. I’m not expecting Final Fantasy or huge sprites like Final Fight. But something better than what you’re giving me. Give me some detail in the grass. Give me more than just one type of rock. Give me something. Put a fucking clown in there I don’t care. Well, I guess, a clown wouldn’t work for the time period, but a Jester would. Or some cattle grazing on the luscious non-existent grass. Something that’s not green.

5. Direction

So, you start the first level, and pat yourself on the back for that because we’ve lost 50 percent of the players all ready. But what do you do? Well you walk around talking to people. But they give you some of the most pointless information.

bat_strange

So… is it strange good? Strange bad? Which way is south? Heard something? Like from a person or an inanimate object? If you heard some from a tree then yes that it strange. What was it? Why won’t you tell me? I’ve got nothing.

You see this throughout most of the game. The game calls these “hints”. There is nothing there that I would call a hint. First, he says that he heard something. OK, but from whom? Someone important? Someone that I care to talk to?

Plus where is south? There’s no map, no indicator of where I am exactly in the level. These levels are actually pretty large to say the lest. To give just a general direction in a space where direction doesn’t technically exist, which way is south? How about this: “I’ve heard something strange can be found down south past _________” then give me a landmark. Like the pastor, or the dueling knights. Fucking something! I just need a little more information. Unless you’re going to give me a map.

72796-bill-ted-s-excellent-video-game-adventure-nes-screenshot-arrived_compass

Oh well, won’t you look at that. I know where I am because of this handy map I have and well look at that! A compass. Now I know which direction I’m going in. Man, this is going to be a fun adventure. I can’t wait to start talking to people and discovering the secrets of this level. Gee whiz. I hope they make a sequel because I’m already having a blast.

Final Thoughts

It’s games like this that make me sad. It just missed the turn. Even if this game wasn’t a hit (which it wasn’t) if the engine would have been designed good enough, another game dev could have taken it and made something great with. Something original; something fun. This game is not fun.

So, for those who know how to program, do me a favor: make this game fun. Because I truly believe that a game like this would be great. It was be a great mix between action and RPG. There’s zero violence in this game. I mean you throw pudding cups at enemies to ward them away. How awesome is that? But the train was missed. Thank you, LJN and your rainbow of shit.

FIGHTWARE–The Ultimate Gaming System–Part 3

software

Software is were my strengths lie. And since this console is based mainly on software (you can pretty much use any kind of hardware to make it go) this section will be quite a big larger. First off, what would be the base system? Well, Linux, of course.

It’s so beautiful…

Linux, for those who don’t know, is an operating system much like OSX or Windows. It’s considered a replacement to bulky and expensive OSs to preform much of the same tasks that you can do on your current machine such as web browsing, photo editing, and word processing to name a few. What you might not know is that LINUX IS EVERYWHERE!!! Not only running your phone (Android), but in the customer service industry, mainframes, and believe it or not, popular video game systems (Wii). The name “Linux” usually brings a bad taste to many a mouth. Images of the command line, incompatible Windows programs, jacked up graphics cards, and old guys with neck beards recompiling their kernels to be on the bleeding edge of technology. All of this is true. I also had a neck beard for quite some time and hung out with my local LUG discussing the finer points of reconstruction and free as in Free Beer not Free Speech. Oh the good ol’ days…

Linux proves to be the perfect base system for FIGHTWARE. It can be as big or as robust as a heavy hitting gaming machine to a simple, elegant top box for your T.V. or something has convenient as Raspberry Pi. Linux is beautiful and sexy and you should embrace the beauty and sexiness.

Many Linux systems with the minimal of the minimal already exist like Puppy Linux, Crunch Bang, and Damn Small Linux coming in at a whooping 50MB or less. Simply amazing. The reason these systems are so small is because they are not flooded with apps and processes you just don’t use or need.

Now with FIGHTWARE, even the smallest distro can be adjusted to fit just for what FIGHTWARE needs. Again this is a simple process especially with help from the Linux From Scratch or Reconstructor or by taking an existing distro and stripping it. So, what do you need? Other than what is required to run the hardware that is.

the driver

The main driver behind the entire FIGHTWARE system would be Python. This programming language uses plain text and has the ability incorporate pretty much anything: C++, C#, SQL, Java. You name it, there’s a wrapper for it. Python is also nice because it’s easy to learn and easy to change or modify. The driver will be the running everything that the player can see. From the icons on the dashboard to running the emulators or other launchers. I know that you could probably be better off using a more “down to the hardware” language such as C++ and C# but those are super hard to get into and not easy to get up and running right away. Remember, this is suppose to something that’s fairly simple that basically “anyone” can do.

dashboard

The dashboard is what will run on top of the Linux base system. It’s the graphics that launch everything you need from NES emulators, to the web, or even a social network like Twitter or Facebook. Every modern console has some type of dashboard.

Microsoft Xbox 360 dashboard

Nintendo Wii dashboard

The dashboard will connect the player to the different apps that are available to be used much like the existing consoles have. FIGHTWARE’s dashboard would be similar in that it will allow the player to select a certain type of emulator or game and play to their hearts content. While in game play, if the player would like to go back to the dashboard either to check updates or play another game, a simple button combination could be pressed to bring up a “submenu” of options such as powering off, reset, or back to the dash. This button combination would be similar to Sega Dreamcast’s soft reset (A+B+X+Y+Start).

The customization, or skinning, of the dashboard will be scripted using XML. Again, XML is super easy to read and change and will allow anyone to create skins from their favorite games as the base or copy another popular dashboard that already exists. This is super popular with a modded Xbox from the past. There where all kinds of “skins” you could download from the web and slap on your dashboard. Customization is awesome and allows the user to make their system whatever they want it to be. Which is the point of FIGHTWARE. It’s yours. Do whatever with it. I don’t care.

updates

Every system needs updates and FIGHTWARE won’t be any different. Again, we would have testers testing the shit out of a new update to make sure that it doesn’t break or crash the system. After that the update goes to the web. If the system is connected to the internet, a simple “Update Ready” message would appear to allow the player to update or not; your choice.

For those who do not have an internet connection to FIGHTWARE will be able to download the update and save it to a flash/thumb drive or even burn to a CD-R. Slap that bad boy into the system, click a button that says something like “find new updates” and bam! update done without an internet connection. You can’t do that with an Xbox 360. At least I don’t think you can.

emulation

Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Eric, there’s a ton of emulators out there. How are going to decide on just one?” And to that I will say “Why chose one? Let’s use them all!” At the moment of this writing there are roughly 17 different NES emulators. 17! And more than 90 per cent of them aren’t even updated or in active development anymore. They are left to die in the depths of the dark corners of the internet sitting alone until a hobbyist decides to pick them up one day and play.

Speaking just to NES emulators, every emulator has some feature it excels at but lacks somewhere else. It may either be great at processing pure 8-bit sound but have a small library of games it can run. Or it’s great at clarity and Netplay but there’s a ton of bugs in the software that makes the system crash periodically. All of this is OK. We take every emulator that’s available, whether it’s outdated or not, and test every game on every emulator. After that we make a list. Let’s say that Emulator A is over all better playing Legend of Zelda than Emulator B. When the player wants to play LoZ, Emulator A will be the one running. On the other hand, Emulator B is better playing Metroid than Emulator A. Well Emulator B will be the one that is launched with that particular rom. To the player, it will never be known which emulator is running because each game will be ran in full screen mode from the dashboard. Cool right? Seamless.

The game list will stay as current as possible with feedback from players throughout the world who are actively testing the roms on different emulators. With this type of fan base that will running these emulators, I would think that some of the projects would become active again to make FIGHTWARE it’s number one choice in emulation. I know I would.

As time goes on, there will be obvious emulators that just don’t keep up with the rest and if it doesn’t hurt the cause of “purest emulation” it’ll be dropped to make way for one that is succeeding. But if it does everything wrong except for running the closest equivalent of Earthbound on the Super NES, you better believe it’ll stay.

By using every angle from multiple emulators to different types of roms for one particular game, it will allow the player to experience the closest possible emulation of the game. Which is the whole idea of course.

apps

Everyone loves apps. All kinds of apps and FIGHTWARE will be no different. Apps can range from the very simple like a Twitter app to monstrosities such as a web browser or email client. Things like this are huge suckers on computing power and is sort of out of the scope of FIGHTWARE in general, but the possibility to have an “App Store” available for players to download content over the internet will give it more than just a gaming console. We are already seeing this with the XBox 360 allowing people to download movies, Netflick, Pandora, and others to make it more than just a gaming machine. It would be possible but probably would not be preinstalled on a basic system.

Every app in the “App Store” would be tied to a special FIGHTWARE ONLY! repository. For those who don’t know, a repository or repo, is a sever that has software up for download for a particular Linux distro. Ubuntu, Red Hat, and Suse all have different repos for their systems. By having a FIGHTWARE ONLY! repo will allow testers to test the app before releasing it to the general public. This helps keep down system crashing and virus or malware products. JoliCloud OS, a Linux netbook distro, uses something very similar and works like a dream.

The next part of FIGHTWARE will be based on “extras”. Stay tuned.