Tag Archives: video games

The Black Tie Event Presents… Why Do We Die in Video Games?

There are stories that go around that most gamers have some difficulty completing a game on a single turn. Outrageous if you ask me. I’ve never done such a thing and I’d wager that losing a life in a simple contraption such as a video game leads to more issues in your life. Luckily I’ve never had such a weight hanging over my head. But it did get me thinking. What is the purpose of dying in a video game in today’s world anyway? To answer such a burning question we must journey to the past. A place that I am very familiar with given my station in the web-a-sphere.

Deep in the underbelly of malls, roller rinks and rooms full of plastic tubes and ball pits, floored a room with a special code. The room was dark, hazed with cigarette smoke (you could smoke indoors back then) and the sound of soft growls emitted from every corner. The only light came from an ominous glow of monitors flashed with colors from the entire spectrum. This, my fancy suit wearing friends, is the dinosaur known as the arcade.

 

The arcade was a special place where people from all over, of any age and religion could stand shoulder to shoulder in a battle of who was the best. The games played weren’t your mere lawn darts or bingo. No, these games consisted of bloody brawls, ships flying through space shooting down aliens or something as simple of a game of tennis. The only admission needed was a quarter. 25 cents could take you to a far away place or leave you crying beside the cabinet after a ten second failed venture. This quarter was the only currency recognized (although many would try to convert your change into useless tokens) and it was hailed that if you have a quarter, you have a game. I’ve seen a seven year old teach a businessman in a suit a thing or two about Street Fighter and college friends play for who’s buying beers on the Defender cabinet.

 

You have a quarter, you have a life. Just one. You lose that life in an epic battle of wits, you have to put in another quarter to go again. This is what is called a perma-death. Once you die, that’s it. You’re dead. No coming back, no continues, nothing. This is how all the arcade companies made money back in the day. By creating a game that allows for perma-death which wipes your high score or your place in line gives a reason to the death. It’s 25 cents. That was a lot of money back in the day especially if you were a kid like me. The worst was running to your parents begging for just one more quarter. Just one more game. This is why you died. To pump in more quarters. Staying alive the longest or not losing a fight was stretching that money making that loss even more prevalent.

 

Fast forward a decade and home console giants Nintendo and Sega are starting to make waves in the gaming sphere. Suddenly people aren’t going to arcades anymore. Arcades are coming to them. Sure the graphics aren’t as good or the controls feel a little wonky but it’s the game at its heart. And it was a one time fee. No need to pump more quarters into a slot and slamming the start button before time ran out. Now you start with multiple lives, a new thing called “continues” and a strange super secret password system that allows continued play after the machine is turned off. What?! You mean I can come back to my game days after I’ve stopped playing and restart right where I’ve left off? Are you a wizard? What kind of magic is this? Arcades were doomed. This was the first step in the decline in the arcade market. And developers started to get worried.

From here, the idea was to create a “home” experience but in the arcade. They were banking on the fact that the hardware was better than home consoles. That you can customize the controller to best suit the game being played rather than conform to a strict guideline of two buttons and a weird directional pad. You can’t play defender with a directional pad! Now continues starting making their way into arcade games. If you lost all your lives, rather than the perma-death, you had a countdown timer that gave you the chance to insert more quarters to continue your game. No more was the process a one and done. If you had the money you could continue till the end. I still remember pumping quarters into beat ‘em up machines like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the Simpsons and X-Men hoping that I would last long enough to make it to the end to see the final boss. It wasn’t a test of skill anymore but a test of how deep your pockets were. You could figuratively brute force your way through an arcade game. This was the band-aid that the arcade industry held onto until it’s ultimate demise of console hardware catching up and exceeding those at the arcades. A sad day indeed.

 

OK, history lesson over. Let’s take a look at gaming as it currently is. One thing that I’ve noticed over the years is that if you have to go into the Options screen, something is wrong. Either the controls don’t work like you want them to or the video doesn’t seem right. No developer puts extra lives and more continues in the option screen anymore. Every game it seems you have unlimited chances to progress through the game. There isn’t any perma-deaths. If you die or miss an objective you just start over from your last checkpoint. Your only means of knowing you lost, other than telling you, is a loading screen. That is your misfortune of dying in a video game today. A loading screen. Back during the launch of the first Sony Playstation (I know, more history), these loading times were excruciating. Some to the point where it would take up to a minute or two to load the game. With technology nowadays, these times are cut down to almost nothing. Most of the time you don’t even see things loading because it’s done in the background. Either way, you just restart and try again.

 

If this is the case (and it certainly seems to be) why would you die in the first place? It’s not like you have to pump money into it to keep playing. You just get another go. The story doesn’t change, you don’t get hinder in any fashion. Even in games like Diablo II where, if you died, you lose all of your weapons and items. But you can just come back to the spot you died and pick everything up again. There’s no consequence in losing a life. The only thing keeping you from playing is the idea of rage quitting. A point when you become so frustrated by the game’s mechanics or story or uneven enemies that you just shut it off. But, guess what? Your progress is saved up to that point anyway so coming back at a later time will just put you back to where you stopped.

 

With there being no consequence in dying with the exception of seeing a loading screen, why do developers continue to keep this element in games? Jonathan Blow, an independent game developer, tried to fix this with his smash hit Braid. The conception was creating after many talks with fellow game creators about manipulating time. So instead of falling down that pit where you would die, you could rewind time back to a point just before the death. No loading screens, no unnecessary menu options to reload your saved game, nothing. Just go back to before your mistake to try again. I don’t think this fixes the need for consequence from making a mistake but it proves that this can be patched or sidestepped in the gaming community for a new radical idea that works.

So what’s the solution? Do we go as far as putting in change boxes in every home where you have to deposit 25 cents to restart your game? Have someone come by every week to collect the money? Probably not. But what is important is to start the conversation about where we go from here. Games are suppose to be challenging, difficult, but more importantly fun. Not having something hang over our heads as we journey into battle against our foes brings a sense of accomplishment once the objective is met. If my only fear is seeing a loading screen or respawning from a checkpoint then there really isn’t a fear at all. Fear breeds creativity, the willingness to do something crazy with the small expectation that it might work, a reason to fight. Without fear, without consequence, we’re all just seeing who can last the longest without quitting by turning the machine off. For me, that’s not good enough.

The Black Tie Event Presents… Ready Player Two

Nobody likes a back seat driver. You build your success on your own or not at all. You think Steve Jobs really needed Steve Wozniak to form the empire that is Apple? Or that Emperor Palpatine needed Darth Vader to build the Death Star? No! They did it on their own. So why give the second player or “first loser” a place in the gaming world?

On today’s Black Tie Event presents… we look at how the gaming industry has cast Player 2 to the wayside without food or water begging them to battle uphill so that we can squash them again.

Single Player Games

The biggest slap to the face to Player 2 is simply not providing a 2 Player Mode at all. Most of these single player adventures are now cornerstones in the gaming industry. Games that new developers pray to for inspiration, guidance or maybe to create a cheap knock off. Games like Mega Man, the Legend of Zelda and Grand Theft Auto; these are the games that have become building blocks of the community. Anyone knocking these games will be destroyed by a vengeance of a thousand fiery suns.

They were too good. Too grand in their expectations that lead an onlooker in amazement wondering when it’ll be their turn to play. Never, is the answer. It will never be your turn, silly Player 2. We are just having too much fun. Just sit back and watch then grab me a drink from the fridge and pay the Pizza guy when he gets here.

Poor Sequels

Some of these once great single player games decided that it might be a good idea to add a 2 player mode to its sequel. Sadly, these sequels never match up to their predecessor. Not every series can be Empire over A New Hope (hell yeah! Two Star Wars references in one article!)

Let’s take for example, Tetris 2. Arguably one of the greatest, if not the best, game ever created. Developed by the Russians and stolen by the Japanese, Tetris even has its own accredited disorder known as the Tetris Effect. Players who were studied playing Tetris for long periods of time start to see different shapes in their thoughts, mental images, and dreams. Haunting, no? In a good way, I mean.

Fast forward to 1993, Nintendo releases Tetris 2 on the NES. One of its key features is a 2 Player Mode. Finally, you can play one of the greatest games with your imaginary friends in a heated head to head battle of shape moving and line building.

The main issue is… Tetris 2 sucks. Sure it takes some of the basic ideas from its older brother, but there’s a slight difference in gameplay. Rather than using adjacent type tetrominoes to compete, it instead uses colored tetrominoes to clear the board. This did two things to the gaming public: 1. By shifting the paradigm, players were extremely put off by the concept almost immediately and 2. it made any player who may be affected by a form of color blindness impossible to play. Now, I don’t know the statistics of the amount of gamers who are color blind, but even one is one too many to shun away from your game.

The real question behind this is why would Nintendo change Tetris so drastically for its sequel? Because they hate Player 2.

Alternating Turns

A more common concept in the yesteryear of gaming is making players alternate turns while playing. Usually this was spawned by the death of one player to shift to the other or finishing a particular section of the game.

The most common example would be Super Mario Bros. For the Nintendo Entertainment System. Selecting the 2 Player mode would allow for the second to play as Mario’s twin brother Luigi. For a gamer, this was great! A totally new character to play as that would otherwise be hidden if not for a second player. Sadly, Luigi was only a palette swap of Mario himself, giving him no differences or added abilities. Just a green Mario. A poor, insignificant green Mario.

I will admit that the alternating turns did give it one advantage. Since Player 1 always went first (and rightfully so) Player 2 was able to get a sense of direction as the first player made his/her way through the levels. Knowing where the first time through drops or traps, Player 2 could avoid these by learning from Player 1′s mistakes. Well played, Player 2. Well played.

The Right or Bottom Side of the Screen

As games progressed, they grew larger, more intelligent, and more mean. Jumping to the fifth generation of consoles, came the fighting juggernauts of the Nintendo 64, Sony Playstation and the Sega Saturn. All reaching and grabbing for everyone’s eyeballs, this generation really put the multiplayer concept to the forefront. The Nintendo 64 even went as far as having 4, count them, 4 controller ports to play simultaneously. But it wasn’t without its faults.

Playing more than two players at a time on one TV would create an issue for screen space. Usually this would mean that Player 1 would be on the left hand of the screen giving Player 2 the right. This would completely hide the far left and right sides of the gaming area. A big disadvantage for shooters by not seeing an enemy coming from your peripherals. Usually resulting in death every time. Thanks for nothing Player 2.

Let’s take a look at a true innovator in FPS’s: Goldeneye 64. Everyone’s favorite go to for the Nintendo 64. Let’s say you were only able to wrangle up 2 of your imaginary friends. Thanks to the addition of more players, you have cut your screen into fourths.

I think the thing that gets me the most about this set up is the fact that you have a perfectly empty square of blackness. Why the developers didn’t give player one the top half of the screen and the rest to fight over the bottom half I’ll never know. It’s like the game has to dumb down the view screen for everyone since there’s more than the supreme Player 1 gunning for video game action. At least they could have put “Sorry Player 1 for the screen. These A-Holes are messing things up.” in the blank square. I would have appreciated that.

The Fight for Guile

Some of you may know my love for Street Fighter II and the series already thanks to my rants on 1 More PodCastle and my review on “Review a Great Game Day”, but for Player 2 it’s a kick in the pants. And rightfully so.

First, by selecting the 2 Player Mode, you are subjected to the bland blue background of the character select screen. Gone are the days of the world map and the homelands of the fighting best. Thanks to Player 2, you are no longer worthy of such a commodity. No, we are now subjected to the “A Challenger Appears!” with only stats to look at. Like I care how many times I pwnd Player 2.

As a final flip of the finger (yes, that finger) to Player 1, Capcom was more than happy to NOT allow both players select the same character in a two player match. That’s right. Now, me growing up, the character to play was Guile. His cool hair cut, tight physique and love for the United States of America was the obvious choice. We always thought that Guile was the one who said “Winners don’t do drugs” in between the intro screens and we didn’t. Not if Guile was watching.

Starting the 2 Player Mode puts Player 1 as Ryu and Player 2 as Ken in the selection screen. It was now a race to see who could get to Guile the fastest. Luckily, Capcom was nice enough to make Player 2 have one more joystick stroke than Player 1, but if you weren’t paying attention, you could miss out on the glory that is Guile.

Then you would probably just be slated for E. Honda or Chun-Li. No one wants to be Chun-Li. And what does the “E” in E. Honda stand for anyway? Edward? Like in Twilight?! No thank you. Here’s your hundred-hand-slap.

Bang Bang, Now You’re Dead

My last example of game developers sticking it to Player 2, as it should be, is the notorious “Mode A/Mode B”.

One type of this situation is Double Dragon II: The Revenge for the NES. There were two modes of play labeled Mode A and Mode B. As many times I have played this game with my brother and others, I can never remember which one is which. One is torture and the other is commendable.

Torture came from selecting Mode A which allows both players to play nice together. None of the attacks from either player will result in lost health. What a pity that you can’t beat up on your imaginary friends. Mode B on the other hand was a totally different story. Selecting Mode B allowed you to dish out damage to your friend and even take their own lives after a righteous kill. Sadly, the downside being that Player 2 could do the same to you. Not like he/she would, mind you. They are, in fact, Player 2.

Let’s Be Real

Well, of course there are some great 2 Player Games out here. Games like Contra, Smash TV and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: the Arcade to name a few. Growing up with an older brother yielded me to always being Player 2. So I became close with those characters. I identified with Luigi, Jimmy and Lance “Scorpion” Bean. They were the characters I remember best. And it was great to see some of these characters, especially Luigi, really get a chance to shine in their own games. But let’s be real… being Player 2 still sucks.

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.

FIGHTWARE–The Ultimate Gaming System–Part 2

hardware

All right, let’s get down to the nuts and bolts of the machine. The idea here is to be slick and tiny. The motherboard, ideally, would be a mini-itx. They are small, cheap, and full of power. Preferably one with HDMI or RCA out. That way you could hook it up to a normal T.V. and play off your couch. USB ports on the front and back, built in Wi-Fi or Ethernet port (would be nice more on this later), fans and all that jazz. Hard drive would be a flash HDD. Less moving parts means less things to go wrong. Anything from a 4 GB to 1 TB would be more than enough to support the actual software running the system and space for games, DLC, etc. Built in Bluetooth would also be a plus for more choices of game pads to use or even your mobile phone. Cool idea right? I’m full of them.

Now that is a sexy piece of hardware.

The case itself again would be slick enough to put next to your DVR or your DVD player or even your other consoles. Then the normally stuff like a power button, reset button, USB ports on the front for controllers (4 for multi-tap play) and a DVD drive for games, updates, etc (More on this later).

Now, ideally, everyone could purchase the same unit so everyone has the same type of hardware. But, more or less, people want their machines to do different things. The average gamer probably won’t need 1 TB of space. I mean, that’s a ton of space. The software of FIGHTWARE can be placed on basically anything. The software portion will cover this more, but FIGHTWARE should be able to run on the minimal of hardware of any kind.

controllers

Ah, controllers. There are so many to choose from. And you can choose which ever one you’d want! By placing 4 USB ports on the front of the box will allow up to USB gamepads for 4 player action. Or with the built in Bluetooth adapter, it’s possible to use even wireless controllers with the same capability or even your mobile phone!

I chose you!

There have been great advances in pc gaming with Linux. There are even libraries that will allow you to use your Nintendo Wii Remote to controller your mouse. You can’t tell me that someone wouldn’t be able to mash this over to a gamepad for Duck Hunt, Time Crisis, or House of the Dead. Don’t you tell me that! Because it is possible.

Another great thing with Linux, is it’s able to name every bit of hardware that is plugged into it even if it has no idea what to do with it or what it’s suppose to do. Let’s say you plug in a Retro NES USB controller. Now FIGHTWARE has no idea what this is. Linux is able to at least name it something that’s legible such as “NES USB controller”. With that, it’s just a simple script to run and try to figure out what the hell it is. For instance, the NES controller has 4 face buttons and an 8-way directional pad. That’s 12 total buttons. Everyone of those buttons has a name as well such as Button 1, Button 2, Button 3, etc. Every emulator has a “map controller” feature to allow the program to assign what each button will represent on an actually NES controller. The script would do the same thing, save it in a text file somewhere that way when another emulator needs it to map the controller to the system it’s emulating, it’s just a small load away. On top of that, this text file can be uploaded to a main server and the next time that a player somewhere else plugs in the same controller, the user won’t have to map it again. Just select it from a drop down menu or list. Done and done.

online? not online?

You crazy kids and your online gaming. When I was a hardcore gamer, we spent weeks, saving up our allowances, finishing up homework, and begging parents to allow me and 3 of my friends to hang out on a Friday night, rent Goldeneye 007 for the Nintendo 64 to toss proximity mines all around and sit in a corner while my friends would  look for me only to kill themselves. Well, that wasn’t me actually it was another friend of mine but still!

Online gaming has defiantly taken a crazy leap forward with games such as Halo, Madden Football, and Call of Duty. I have also taken part in these crazy marathons and it’s hard not to consider a system that isn’t online.

As I have already stated (or will state. I’ve lost track already) most of these emulators have Netplay. Basically Netplay allows you to play 2 or 3 or 4 player video games online with friends or foes. With the invention of TeamSpeak, a software that allows you to chat with others, it would be a simple switch to set up an online game through the emulator, create a chat room in TeamSpeak and be able to play and chat with the players.

I’m not too big of a hardware guy so other than the above, I don’t have much to add. Hardware’s boring.

The next installment will focus on the software. Oh yeah.