An Introduction To Video Games
An Introduction To Video Games
Bill Kunkel (Editor-in-Chief, "Tips & Tricks" Magazine) gives expert video advice on: What are the most influential first-person shooters?; What is one of the best strategy video games available?; What are some of the most influential role-playing video games? and more...
What is a "video game"?
A video game is an interactive gaming experience. You can play games with other people, but one of the virtues, I think, of the video game is that it will play you. You don't need another person, generally speaking, to play the game, and it's kind of a unique experience. The man who invented the concept of the video game is a gentleman named Ralph Baer. He was working for Sanders and Associates, and they had a contract with Magnavox (in fact, they produced the very first game system, the Odyssey, in 1971) and his idea was basically that we've got all these TV sets, millions and millions of TV sets, and yet everything that's coming through them is passive; we're sitting back, we're couch potatoes, we're watching and we're absorbing. There must be something we can do with those televisions where we can interact with them.
What are some of the early video games?
In 1971 to 1978, basically all you had were a variation on Pong; on ball and paddle type games. In 1978, of course, Space Invaders hit. That was also the same year that Atari released its famous 26 machine which was the VCS, which was the first programmable game system that they had made where you didn't just have the games that came in the system; you could buy cartridges and you would stick them in. Magnavox followed with the Odyssey 2.
What are some of the differences between video games and computer games?
Well, it's interesting because the history of the video games industry has meant that they have both been in the same place. I mean, when computer games first started, they were very weak attempts to duplicate arcade games. And basically, in the beginning, arcade games and the coin-operated games were the source for all the inspiration, because that's where the money was going. The Research and Development was enormous. They spent fortunes as every game was uniquely designed. The cabinet was designed that determined what kind of monitor would go in it. So, basically in the beginning, video and arcade games were both essentially trying to mimic what was going on in the arcades, but the computers couldn't do that very well. The problem was that a video game system with a miniscule amount of memory that's dedicated exclusively to producing images, animation and sound, can generally do that better than a computer, which is programmed to be a spreadsheet. It's got to be able to do all these other functions.
What is a "video game system"?
A video game system is a machine that's usually designed to appeal to as a wide of market as possible or as narrow a market as possible. There's one model for video game systems. For someone who buys a PlayStation 3, even if they also buy a Nintendo WII, the mind set behind buying those two systems is entirely different. The guy with the PlayStation 3, they're what you call the earliest adopters; the guy with the newest toy on the block. They want to be able to call up all their friends and say, “I've got the best. I've got the newest. I've got the hottest”. Then you have systems like the XBox 360 which are kind of aimed at the hardcore gamer; those teenage males and males in their twentys who love shooting things. I guess males never grow out of that. I still enjoy shooting things. It's that specific audience. Then of course you have systems like the Nintendo where they're family systems. It's like saying, what is a record player, or what is a VCR, or what is a DVD? They are really just pieces of hardware that are designed to play specific types of software.
What are some of the current video game systems and games?
We are at one of those points where the generations of video games are changing over and we've got three new systems that are the main primary console systems. They are the Nintendo Wii, the 360 Xbox - which has actually been out for over a year now - and the Playstation 3. The fact is that the most popular game system out there right now is still the Playstation 2. God of War 2 just came out on the Playstation 2 and I find that I'm constantly going back to these Playstation 2 games. In many ways I'm finding them superior to the next generation games that I'm playing, because with the next generation, the developers and the programmers have to learn a whole new system. They have to learn a whole new technology. Whereas by that point they've totally mastered the previous generation's technology and a good game is a good game. We've come a long way with video game systems, in terms of technology, if you look at what games looked like in the early 80s and what they look like now. The photo realism, the shadows, the lighting, the technology is just massive. However this doesn't necessarily make the game more fun to play. The Shakespeare comment that, "The play is the thing" is very much true in the electronic games. If that game doesn't hold up it doesn't really matter how beautiful it is.
What is a "handheld video game system"?
Handheld video game systems have been around of course since the days of Mattel back in the early 80's when they used LEDs, light-emitting diodes. There were little dots lit up on a screen that you held in your hand, basically. In fact, there were actually two generations of those types of games. There was the handheld and there was what they called the standalone, which was the tabletop game. Coleco made a whole series of imitation arcade machines, basically using either LCD or LED technology. They've been very popular for a long time because you can take them into the car with you, you can, take them on vacation with you, and take them to school with you whether you're supposed to or not. It's the transistor radio thing. Again, Nintendo had a brilliant absolute stroke of genius with development of the DS system, where instead of going for super wild, wow eye popping graphics, they went for games that were fun to play, and games that were easy to play. Using a stylus, for example, instead of an elaborate control system simplified things to the point where young kids could play it, and they pick it up very intuitively. Gamers of any age can play it. There are always two kinds of handhelds; there are the handhelds that run based on the quality of games that are on them (that the games are fun to play), and there are the handhelds like the PlayStation Portable, that are basically trying to be shrunk down video games.
Why was the Magnavox Odyssey such an influential game system?
Despite the fact that the Odyssey was a failure, it was such an influence due the fact that it was produced in 1971, and the fact that it was a programmable machine. It actually came with a series of different games on cards that you slid in and plugged in. It was way ahead of its time.
What are some of the influential games in the history of video games?
Well, obviously Pong, Space Invaders, and Pac-Man are some of the influential games in the history of video games. I think that maybe the greatest single video game ever developed was Tetris. A very simple game visually, it could be played on anything; it could be played on a cell phone, it could be played on a Blackberry. There's no system I can think of with so little memory that it can't play Tetris in some form or another; and yet, it's a game that could not exist outside the virtual world. I mean, you couldn't; what would you do? Drop blocks into tanks of water or something? How would you manoeuvre those blocks around? It's something that would clearly be impossible to imagine in any form but an electronic form.
What formula do game developers use to make games appealing for gamers?
There's a thing that people pursue in game development for which there's not even a name; it's the fun factor. Sometimes you can have two or three games. Id you put them side by side and looked at them, you say "I don't see five degrees of difference on these three games". If you sat down and played them, one of them might just be one of the greatest games you've ever played in you life and the others might be so-so. It might be the interface, it might be the control system, but sometimes there are these elusive things; trying to nail down what it is that makes this game fun and this other game that seems exactly like it not so much fun. It's the most elusive thing to capture. It's hitting the G-spot in terms of gaming.
What is a "first-person shooter" video game?
A first-person shooter comes in one of two flavours. They are either the kind where it is a literal first-person perspective, where you do not see yourself. In other words, you do not see your surrogate character; what you see are the hands usually holding the weapon and you're aiming and firing. The other type are often called pseudo first-person shooter or first-person shooters, and these are the kind where you can see your character moving along, but you you're still using a cursor to aim and that's what it's about. It's more or less a first person perspective; you're moving through an environment, you're finding different weapons, and you're killing a bunch of enemies that keep coming at you.
What are the most influential first-person shooters?
It was all invented by a company called iD who developed a game called Wolfenstein, a 3D that was based on a top-down game from years earlier called Castle Wolfenstein. I guess they thought, "Well, that's kind of cool playing it from birds-eye view, but how much cooler would it be if you could actually be walking down those corridors, running into Nazi soldiers and stuff?" Then they went on to do, of course; Doom, Quake and all those other games. It's now become certainly one of the three most popular categories of gaming.
What are some of the best first-person shooter video games available today?
I'm a big fan of "Lost Planet" on the 360. I think that is absolutely fantastic. It was done by the same developer, a Japanese developer, who did the zombie game "Dead Rising", a zombie game which is what they call a sandbox game, where if I'm in the game, I'm going to pick up this bottle and hit someone with it, I can do it. If I want to shoot bullets into the wall, bullet holes will appear in the wall. So, you're creating an environment that people can play in. Of course, "Gears of War", Cliffy B's "Gears of War" for the 360 is hugely successful, and just an incredibly entertaining experience.
What is a strategy video game?
Strategy games started out as basically war games. I mean they're directly descended from companies like Avalon Hill that used to make games like Stalingrad; where it would come in this big box, and there would be maps, charts, and troop movements. There was no action in the context of the game, it was simply, "I'm sending this army here to fight your army," and the computer will figure out who wins. It's not - I'm not aiming a gun at you and shooting. So that's how strategy games started, and they've since evolved and of course chess is a strategy game. So basically a strategy video game is any game where the action is abstract and symbolic. Chess is the perfect example, as you've got pieces which each represent certain powers and each piece has the ability to make certain moves. It's very much the same in computer and video games.
What is a "real-time strategy game"?
Today we have what we call real-time strategy games which are where things are happening in real-time. You're building fortresses and bases and things like that and it's all happening in real time. So, if you sit there, like in chess, pondering your move for a half an hour, by the time you figure out what it is you want do, that base is gone and they've set up a base there instead. So, real-time strategy is kind of the next evolution from standard traditional strategy games.
What is one of the best strategy video games available?
I'm a big fan of "Command and Conquer". I've owned the various incarnations of it. The new one, "Command and Conquer 3" just came out or is just about to be released and we just got a copy of it. I still love it. I'm not a big strategy game fan; I never liked those very abstract types of war games where you're moving from block, to block, to block, to block. That just never held any interest for me.
What is a "third-person shooter video game"?
A third-person shooter game is third-person in the sense that it is another person; it's not you literally, it's Lara Croft or whoever. Essentially the mentality behind it is very much the same. The only difference is that, say, you get a character rather than you being you. It's very hard for you to play Duke Nukem or some classic first person shooter, because it's very hard for you to develop who you are as a character, whereas if there's a character on the screen, especially if it's a woman, then that's striking. That's obviously not me, but I'm controlling this character. So a third-person shooter game is a variant, basically, on the first-person shooter.
What are the most influential third-person shooters?
I would say probably the Lara Croft Games have been the most significant third-person shooters, but there have been so many; Prince of Persia, for example. Again, it's to do with the whole idea of creating a character, because if you create a character you can merchandise that character. If you're the character, no matter what they call you, you're not really a character; you're you, doing what you would do. In fact you don't get many first person shooters; I mention Lost Planet. Lost Planet is actually a third person shooter because technically you see a character on the screen running around. So again, it gives you that sense of almost like being God, who is controlling and manipulating the fates of these characters. There's that little removal; there's that little bit of distance between you just being the character and you controlling the character.
What are some of the best third person shooter video games available today?
Definitely 'Lost Planet', or 'Gears of War'. As I say there are very few true first-person shooters that come out these days, because a lot of them switch off. Sometimes you'll actually be first-person and then they go to what are called cut-scenes, which are non-interactive scenes that provide the exposition for the game and conversations that go on between the characters. So, sometimes you'll play a game that's first-person and all of the sudden we're going to a cut-scene, and now I see myself; I see the character I've been playing, and they're involved in a conversation or argument. There may even be action taking place; without my control the character may engage in a battle. This happens in Gears of War all the time. So, it's really that they've merged. Shooters have kind of become shooters, but they like you to see the character, because again, they have a character that can become a franchise, become a brand, and become a series, theoretically.
What is a "role-playing video game"?
Role-playing video games are traditionally not action games, though there is action involved in them. A role-playing video game is basically building a set of characteristics into characters, and then running them through missions, or through quests, or rescuing the princess; that of course, is always possible. I don't know why those princesses constantly get themselves in those situations, but they do, and somebody's got to rescue them.
What are some of the most influential role-playing video games?
One of the most influential role-playing video games is Dungeons and Dragons, which has appeared in electronic form on numerous occasions. It's the single biggest role-playing video game ever, probably. College campuses during the 80s were just guys sitting in dorms playing Dungeons and Dragons, over and over, all night long. In terms of electronic games series, Ultima by Lord British is probably the single most influential role-playing game.
What are some of the best role-playing video games available today?
Probably "World of Warcraft" would be the most popularas it's got 8 million subscribers, however there are several. For example, in Asia there are games like "Lineage" that have millions and millions of subscribers. In fact, the first recorded incident of murder over a game occurred as a result of one of those Asian online games. Sometimes what they'll do is come up with a magical sword, and you can't get the sword any other way but by accomplishing some incredibly difficult feat. I gather these two guys were playing, and they were playing together, sort of melding their skills to get this magic sword. They played for months, finally, they won the magic sword. They got the magic sword, downloaded it onto the disk, and bang, it was theirs. A friend comes by and says, "You got the magic sword?" "Yes" "Let me borrow it for one night." "OK, but I've got to get it back tomorrow." "I just need it for one night." He takes it, and puts it up for bid on an online auction. The guy finds out about it, goes over and kills him. Now that's involvement, and certainly not where we want the industry to go, but it tells you the level and the depth that people can become involved.
What will video games be like in the future?
What video games will be like in the future is probably the most difficult thing to know. If you would've asked five years ago where video games would be in five years, I think you would have gotten, even from people who really know the field, a lot of incorrect analysis. I see so much right now, and what I just see is a lot of the same ideas being reprocessed over and over again, with better sound and graphics. At this point we've got a next generation of game systems, of game hardware, but we really haven't found out yet what it is they'll do that the previous generation of games didn't do. Where that will evolve is hard to know, because again, these developers have so much time that it takes them to develop these games. It isn't like making movies, where there are directors who've made 60 movies in their career because the technology just hasn't changed that much; you can tell the cameraman to use a different kind of film, or have the lighting guy light it differently, but you're still directing a movie. However, games have changed so much, and I would say have grown significantly more cinematic. I would say that a lot more games today are kind of movies that you're in.